I try not to comment on global issues too much on this blog. However, I, like every other schmuck, have my own opinion on what is currently happening in the Middle East and what it means for the future of the planet and America in particular. I would say that I know more than the average bear as I have spent a lot of time studying world cultures; Arab culture and the proliferation of Islam through the Sahara/Fertile Crescent region has always been a point of fascination for me. I've spent a lot of time reading and trying to garner any video/film scraps I can acquire on the history and culture of the region.
I had the good fortune of spending a couple of weeks in Dubai several years ago but I can't really count that as a true learning experience when it comes to the Arab world. Dubai is a simulacra....it's like Las Vegas without the vices. Still, it left me thirsty for more knowledge on this culture of which Americans know so little.
Since no one in this country reads any more, most of our knowledge of Arab culture comes from the moving image. Yet the offerings we've been given are highly skewed and woefully inept. There are so many amazing stories from Arab culture that Hollywood dare not touch; America must avoid the risk of glorifying a conveniently portrayed hostile adversary. With the exception of a handful of gems, like "Syriana", most of our exposure to Middle Eastern culture has been through they eyes of a CIA agent or an American soldier cautiously patrolling through an IED infested village in Iraq....refer to "The Kingdom", "The Hurt Locker", "Body of Lies".
Perspective is everything.
Case in point, a film boldly entitled, "Lebanon", was recently released which turned out to be a story told from the sole perspective of an Israeli tank commander. Can you imagine creating a movie entitled, "Mexico", which was told from the sole perspective of an American border patrol agent?
Well....yeah...I suppose you probably can....but do you get my point?
Anyway, I had the good fortune of working at the Smithsonian Institution when I was a younger lad. It paid for shit, but I consider the experience to be better than any college in which I could have obtained a post-grad degree. I got to meet some incredible scientists who not only studied in my undergrad discipline of anthropology....some of these folks actually defined it.
Right after the storm, I was asked to edit some video footage from a 2002 symposium honoring famed anthropologist, Magaret Mead. The symposium consisted of scholars from around the globe and the topic of discussion focused on Mead's legacy and how it related to the post 9/11 world.
The words from those scholars have been ringing in my ears for the past month. I went back to review them tonight and I just wanted to pluck a few bytes out of the series which are eerily prophetic considering what is happening right now...nearly ten years later. So instead of ranting on a subject I'm not really qualified to rant about, I offer you some insight from folks who do know what they are talking about.
The first byte is from William Watts, President, Potomac Associates, former Senior Staff Member, National Security Council under Henry Kissinger:
The next three bytes are from Judith Kipper, Middle East Forum, Council on Foreign Relations; Co-Director, Middle East Studies Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, consultant, ABC News:
Petro-dollars and education....I think Kipper called this moment ten years ago. While this country is looking on in awe of what seems to be a spontaneous revolution throughout the oil rich Arab countries, the truth is this movement has been a long time coming...we were just too busy playing fantasy football to see it. Trust me, we will take notice now. We're about to put our desire to spread democracy through the Middle East to the true test...not by war...but by economic sacrifice.
If the lives Americans have sacrificed in the Middle East over the past few decades were truly about democracy, this revolution is a triumph. If the lives we sacrificed, and took, were about oil...things could get really ugly. I only hope we have the courage of our alleged conviction.
If you have the time you can sift through the other bytes on the Library of Congress website. It's really enlightening material.