The most recent (April) issue of IMES (Issues in Middle East Studies), the new digital version of the former bulletin of MESA, features an article by Jonathan Casey on posters and old photographs in the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Among theses are two early 20th century era French posters on Algeria, as shown above. The poster on the left is a prime example of the Eurocentric colonialist gaze. Not only is the Algerian pressed into service, but he has a proper nuclear family of wife and child. Of course, as the donkey in the background serves to remind, Algeria is a backward country in need of being civilized. The poster on the right needs no ethnographic context; come to Algeria and be as free as the wind, where the Algerians ride their steeds resplendent in flowing robes. This right one could easily serve as a poster for the 1921 Valentino film, The Sheik.

Of the various photographs, the one that struck my attention was of a British soldier named George Mackenzie. This shows the young Lieutenant with his “chums” on the train from Beirut to Damascus. Once again the “Orient” is civilized via the gun. A world war (that did not unfortunately end all wars) that was not caused by anything in the Middle East would change the shape of the region in a dramatic way that is still playing out. To talk of an “Arab Spring,” it is important not to forget the wintry blast that carved up the Ottoman Empire into colonial pieces before oil and the modern state of Israel entered the mix.