“What happened to us? The question haunts us in the Arab and Muslim world. We repeat it like a mantra. You will hear it from Iran to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and in my own country, Lebanon. For us, the past is a different country, one not mired in the horrors of sectarian killings. It is a more vibrant place, without the crushing intolerance of religious zealots and seemingly endless, amorphous wars. Though the past had coups and wars too, they were contained in time and space, and the future still held much promise. What happened to us? The question may not occur to those too young to remember a different world, whose parents did not tell them of a youth spent reciting poetry in Peshawar, debating Marxism in the bars of Beirut, or riding bicycles on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. The question may surprise those in the West who assume that the extremism and bloodletting of today have always been the norm.” SOURCE: The Atlantic
This opinion piece is a somewhat controversial, but that is part of its value. The core of the author’s thesis is that to understand the modern Middle East, especially if one is searching for a way to create a more democratic Middle East, we must look to the past to see how we got there. 1979 is seen here as the pivotal year that changed the trajectory of the Middle East, in large part because of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, but for many other region-wide changes. A nice pairing would be to also read this discussion from the NY Times about the rise of MBS as the key prince in Saudi Arabia, looking to reform society and reform movements in Saudi Arabia while crushing his opponents. Both are articles are book excerpts.
Questions to Ponder: What were the big shifts that occurred in 1979? What are things that you think that the author gets correct about their historical analysis of the Middle East? What are some positions where you disagree with the author?