Plenty of patients but little patience as the war drags on…

For my post at Mena Tigningen, click here.

An Impish Desire for Imperial Déjà Vu

Daniel Martin Varisco, MENA Tidningen, May 27, 2015

A recent online commentary by Robert Kaplan for Foreign Policy displays the provocative title: “It’s time to bring imperialism back to the Middle East”. The punch line surfaces in the final paragraph: “Imperialism bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been”. Retrograde? How about brutal?

Let’s see: Mussolini made the trains run on time; Hitler brought Germany out of the humiliation of a World War I defeat; Genghis Khan lengthened the Silk Road by slaughtering just about everyone along the way. So let’s bring back the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Colonel Qaddafi and all the recently demoted dictators so we can have “order” again, the kind of “order” which is imperially blessed and apparently serves American interests.

Kaplan’s view of Middle Eastern history is about as top-down and lop-sided as you can get. Take the Sublime Porte, for example: “For hundreds of years, Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians, in Greater Syria and Mesopotamia had few territorial disputes. All fell under the rule of an imperial sovereign in Istanbul, who protected them from each other”, he writes. Really? What romance novel has Kaplan been reading? Was there such love for the Ottoman sultans that no ethnic group ever complained? Did all these subjugated people sleep peacefully at night knowing that the Janissaries would protect them from each other? But why stop with the Ottomans?! The caliphs in Abbasid Iraq must have been all made for a Disney Aladdin movie and their mercenaries nothing short of angels? And what barbarian would have dared speak against the glorious Pax Romana of the Caesars? Forget the out-dated Sermon on the Mount. According to Kaplan, blessed are the Machiavellian despots for only they can enforce peace in the name of order, at least in what used to be called the Holy Land. (more…)

There is a nicely done satire by Sean McFate on how to take over a small country. Check it out here. Note: Only the rich may apply.

The following illustration is preserved in the New York Public Library. It features Muhammad receiving a letter from Bazan, the king of Yemen. It was created for Murad III, Sultan of the Turks, 1546-1595 by Darîr Erzurumî, fl. 14th cent.

by Hind Aleryani, Your Middle East, April 29, 2013

We used to play at my aunt’s garden when we were younger…girls and boys, there was no difference… we grew up together… we used to race, play, laugh… sometimes we would fight playfully… we used to watch TV together… cry at the end of sad cartoons together… we grew a bit older… we began to study for our classes together… whenever we’d fight we used to threaten the other that we’d tell on them to the teacher… we used to play practical jokes on one another… we’d laugh with all our hearts…

And so the days went by…

My cousin and I are staring outside the window… we are looking at the garden where my male cousin and his friends are playing… this is the garden where we used to play together… they used to be our friends once upon a time… these are the boys we used to play with… what happened? Why are we prisoners at home, while they play ball outside with all freedom… what did we do? Did we grow older? Did our bodies change? Did we become an object of temptation that needs to be covered from people’s eyes? Aren’t those the boys we knew since we were children? What changed? Why are we strangers? Why do I run and hide whenever I hear one of their voices? Is it just because the pitch of his voice changed? Is that why we aren’t friends anymore? Are we supposed to act differently towards one another? Different to how we acted just yesterday? We started to act shy and anxious whenever we’d speak… we stopped playing with one another… My cousin and I began spending our spare time watching Mexican soap operas, as if we were in our 50s…

And so the days went by… (more…)

To add to Yemen’s woes, yet another wannabe player in the maelstrom of Yemeni politics has entered the picture, this time announced through a Youtube video picture. Out in the desert in Yemen about a dozen or so masked militia men wielding full battle gear go through basic training maneuvers choreographed for the video. The leader, or at least the spokesman, stands in front of his men about half way through the exercise and pledges his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS caliph who is apparently wounded and perhaps not even alive anymore. Move over al-Qaida, Huthis and loyalists of Ali Abdullah Salih, there is now a small group of video performers somewhere out in the desert who have extended the caliphate to Yemen.

Caliphate allegiance groups are now the rave and not just in Yemen. The ISIS franchise marketing strategy is pure video, sometimes slick but at other times — as in this video — rather poorly done. Imagine a dozen guys with kalashnikovs in a couple of pick-up trucks rolling into Sanaa and terrorizing the Huthis. The problem that the creators of this video face is that not that many Yemenis can see their call due to the lack of electricity. If they are planning to attract disaffected American and European youth, a better format would be a hiphop or rap production, showing a MacDonalds or KFC Chicken or Pizza Hut in the background (there actually is a Pizza Hut in Sanaa, so that could be an incentive for the foreign fighters to take the capital for ISIS).

I think I have seen an earlier version of this video, but with a better ending. Check it out here also on Youtube…

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