Showing posts from December, 2015

Why You Will Never Ever Understand the Middle East

Whether you are from Moscow or San Francisco, from Mosul or Riyadh, from Tehran or from Tel Aviv, you will have your personal understanding of the Middle East, but you will probably never understand the Middle East. It is a little like religions: the understandings cannot all be true. 

The cause of this disability that we all have is very simple to explain but nearly impossible to fix. It is called

You may have heard about it in your psychology courses. Very simply it is the fact that we tend to listen to conflicting facts and opinion, but after a while it hurts the brain, so we simplify beliefs.

Simple example: You want to buy a car but cannot decide between a Fiat and a Renault. They seem about the same. So you talk to friends who own Fiats or Renaults, read ads and articles in journals about Fiats and Renaults. Soon you have now filled up with contradictory opinions and "facts" from contradictory sources. It hurts. And you have to buy a car.
So on Monday y…

The Limits of Tolerance and the Limitlessness of Modern Ignorance

A very curious event occurred in Virginia recently. An entire school district closed its schools in a [perhaps justified] panic because of parental reaction to a calligraphy lesson ???

The students were being taught about Middle Eastern art, and the teacher asked the students to copy by hand the following collection of Arabic letters:

This is certainly an interesting and difficult exercise. The only problem for all concerned is context. All Muslims and some Christians may recognize this as the Shahada, the Muslim creed of faith.

There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of God.
In the context of a lesson in world religions or world cultures this might not have caused a problem: if the school was made up of families, administrators, and teachers who were not in the midst a panic about Islam as a religion with all of its political ramifications. Many of these parents in Virginia were convinced that the teacher was trying to convert their children to Islam.
In a certain cont…

Has Erdogan Taken Turkey off a Cliff?

We do live, as they say, in interesting times. The Turkish president, with the support of his Islamist supporters and his intelligence services, has created a situation in which his interests have more in common with any and all Sunni insurgents in Syria than with the Kurdish fighters in the north of that country. These PKK aligned Kurds are not friends of Turkey and they are not popular with all of the region's Kurds, but they are united in blood with about seventeen million Turkish Kurdish citizens. And they are an effective force against ISIS. Turkey has chosen to fight them rather than do anything effective against ISIS.

By encouraging the unraveling of the Kurdish peace process before the last elections, Erdogan has allowed the creation of a bloody chaos in Turkey's southeast. Now he has managed to turn the sympathy of most Kurds, except for the leadership in Erbil, against Turkey.

Erdogan seems to be stepping through a cow pasture spread evenly with dung. Every step he tak…