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People of Violent Gods

 


Arthur James Balfour took a land belonging to one people and gave it to another people just by signing a declaration in 1917. Those were the days when the British Empire behaved as if the whole earth belonged to it.

The Jews were just 7% of Palestine’s population in 1917. Today that country belongs to Jews and its original inhabitants have been pushed into destitution. The recent bout of violence between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs prompted me to read up their stories. I bought two books, one written by Western writers and the other by a Palestinian though he was born in America.

Peter Mansfield’s book is a classical history of the Middle East originally written in 1991. The edition I have is one that was updated by Nicolas Pelham in 2019. The introductory chapter of this book gives us a glimpse into the history of the Middle East from the ancient days up to the Ottoman Empire. The very opening sentence of Chapter 2 is: “At the end of the eighteenth century, the balance of power between the European Christian states and the Islamic world represented by the Ottoman Empire had swung decisively against Istanbul.” Then we move on into a murky history of many wars and struggles.

The 20th century witnessed two world wars. The Jews were persecuted in many countries even before Hitler initiated the cruellest genocide in human history. The Great Britain decided to give a home to the Jews, the very home that their God had promised them: the Promised Land of Israel (which was far from what Yahweh promised: flowing with milk and honey).

The British Empire wasn’t motivated by altruism, Rashid Khalidi assures us right in the beginning of his book. They were motivated by anything but altruism. They wanted to reduce the Jewish immigration to their own country in the first place. They believed that “‘world Jewry’ had the power to keep newly revolutionary Russia fighting in the war and bring the United States into it”. They wanted to have control over Palestine for geopolitical strategic reasons. And so Balfour donated a country which was not his to a people who had nothing to do with him without consulting the people to whom the land actually belonged.

People like Mahatma Gandhi opposed the move strongly. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French,” Gandhi said in no uncertain terms. “It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”

That inhuman crime was committed anyway. It was followed by a century of exploitation and war and destruction. The plunder was consummated divinely, so to say, when Donald Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Jewish Israel. A plunder that was started by one imperial power was concluded by another imperial power. Rashid Khalidi’s book focuses on the history of that plunder while Mansfield & Pelham give us the bigger picture.

Both the books agree that the West committed many blunders and acts of political chicanery in the Middle East in the last century. Even if we relegate what the European powers such as England, Holland and Portugal did in the region earlier, we won’t be able to forget the evils perpetrated there recently by America. Mansfield & Pelham write that under America’s watch hundreds of thousands of Middle-Easterners perished in endless conflicts in Iraq, Algeria, Sudan and Israel/Palestine. America is the incarnation of Satan for the people of the Middle East – except the Israeli Jews.

This is not to say that the Arabs were blemishless. They had their own clannishness and petty politics. They were not united against the western forces. Even the Arab Spring that tore a ray of light in the dark horizon of a region of political and religious dictatorships and obscurantism and internecine quarrels failed to blossom because of the faults of the Arabs themselves.

Today the region, Middle East, stands in desperate need of redemption.

One of the many Arab apartments bombed by Israel

In 2014, say Mansfield & Pelham, the region accounted for only 5% of the world’s population but generated 45% of world’s terrorism, 47% of the world’s internally displaced people, 58% of the world’s refugees, 68% of the world’s battle-related deaths. The unemployment rate among the youth there is the world’s highest too.

History is always tragic. It is a series of tragedies created mostly by people who put themselves up as leaders or rulers. You can’t read these books without feeling pity for the human species whichever gods the groups may be worshipping. I consider myself fortunate that I have redeemed myself from gods at least. The earthly representatives of the gods, the political breed more than the religious, are the real problems as these and other history books show us. An ordinary person can only read about the tragedies created by these people and heave sighs.

Comments

  1. Hari OM
    The USA has only continued where the British Empire faded - and 'middle east' has extended through Iran/Iraq...Afghanistan. There is no evidence that we, as a race, are prepared to learn the lessons provided in our histories - however they told. Head-shaking indeed... YAM xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed the 'middle east' is a kind of virus!

      I've just started reading the book 'Doom' by Nial Ferguson whose starting point is that we never learn the essential lessons from history.

      Delete

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