By Chet Yarbrough
A Concise History of the Middle East, Ninth Edition
By Arthur Goldschmidt and Lawrence Davidson
Narrated by Tom Weiner
Messieurs Goldschmidt and Davidson have created an insightful overview of the origins and impacts of an area of the world not well known or understood by much of the American public.
Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. (Author, historian)
Lawrence Davidson (Author, History professor)
History is made up of facts but never the whole truth. Events are reported out of the context of their historical era, a time which can never be fully explained; even by the most knowledgeable historian.
So, why is understanding the Middle East important?
In the Middle East, more than a million human lives have been lost from war since 2001.
Since 2001, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syrian conflicts have killed over 6,700 Americans, nearly 3,000 NATO coalition soldiers, an unpublished number of Russian and Turkish soldiers, 182,000 Iraqis, 111,000 Afghans, and 400,000 to 570,000 Syrians.
MORE REASONS ABOUND
From an economic perspective, there is the importance of oil imports from the Middle East.
IRAQ INVASION’S COST
There is the cost of military intervention in foreign countries. The cost is in both lives and international relations.
America’s reputation in the Middle East has fallen dramatically because of our invasion of Iraq. In 2o22 the center of Middle East attention has moved from the slim possibility of democracy to reification of authoritarianism.
The perception of militant interest groups has exacerbated Middle East conflict, largely because of religious difference and economic disparity. Two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran have replaced America’s pre-Iraq influence in the Middle East. Syria is run by a brutal dictator supported by Russia. The plight of the Middle East is for many to live in poverty under authoritarian leaders interested in power and eternal control, more than their citizen’s general welfare.
From a religious and cultural perspective, the Muslim religion is the second most common in the world. Iran is principally Shite, while Saudi Arabia and Syria are Sunni.
SYRIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY (Turkey spends $30 billion on Syrian refugees.)
Countries like Turkey are overwhelmed by the cost of housing and feeding refugees from the Syrian war.
From a humanitarian perspective, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been created. Where do they go? How will they live. There are many consequential reasons for a better understanding of the Middle East.
This audio book provides some history and, more importantly, perspective on religious belief, ethnicities, and secularism in the Middle East; i.e., it explains some of the differences within and among Middle Eastern countries.
Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand the difference between a Muslim Sunni and a Muslim Shiite. Their history gives the listener a better appreciation of the importance of an Imam to a Shiite and what happens in Shiite dominated Iran versus what might occur in a majority Sunni country like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Syria is somewhat of an outlier because the Alawite, a minority in the Sunni religion, is in control of the government.
Goldschmidt and Davidson point out that Shiite’ beliefs are evolving because they are Imam’ interpretations of the Koran while Sunni’s beliefs are more static and grounded in literal readings of the Koran.
The authors reflect on religious conflicts among believers in Islam, the creation and growth of the state of Israel, the secular leanings of Turkey, the Kurdish conflicts between Turkey and Iraq, the history of Iraq and its makeup of Kurds, Shiite, Sunni, and Christian factions. They report on the Hezbollah and Palestinian movements surrounding Israel which are supported by Iran. They touch on our 2001 New York tragedy and the hostility of al-Qaeda and its influence on American perception of the Middle East.
“A Concise History of the Middle East” is an eye opening journey through centuries of border conflicts, colonialism, nation building, and evolving nationalism.
There is little doubt, considering what has happened in Iran (and is presently happening in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Syria), that there is a growing discontent in the Middle East, a burgeoning desire for freedom; a freedom that is forged by a variety of belief systems, tempered by the will of its indigenous people.
Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand that, like America, there are many conflicting beliefs in the Middle East that have led to misconceptions, tragic mistakes, civil wars, and violent actions perpetrated and perpetuated by committed believers and brutal authoritarian leaders. Both believers and authoritarians are either vilified or commended by the passing of time and the distance of recorded history.
ANCIENT MIDDLE EASTERN MAP
The Middle East is shown as the world power it once was; its devolution into a variety of colonial and/or monarchical nation states; and its re-growth as an oil producing behemoth.
The Middle East is working its way into the 21st century as a new world power. One is drawn to the conclusion that this new world power is in a state of creation from a variety of competing Middle Eastern nation states that may or may not survive the 21st century.
What Goldschmidt and Davidson remind one of is the folly of outside military intervention in countries of which one has little understanding.
Goldschmidt and Davidson’s writing is a gift that makes reports of the Middle East more accessible to the general public.