The historian Timothy Snyder, with his usual insight, challenges us to re-think our assumptions about the Holocaust: “Seeing the Holocaust as an encounter of general anti-Semitism and local statelessness helps us to make sense of the two great geopolitical disasters of our century: the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. In part because Americans misunderstood the Holocaust as the oppression of a minority by an authoritarian state within its own boundaries, they could believe in 2003 that regime change by force of arms in Iraq would automatically bring positive consequences. By the early 21st century, we had convinced ourselves that the Holocaust was caused by an authoritarian regime acting against a minority within its own borders, which in the main it wasn’t, and that we acted to stop it, which with a few minor exceptions we didn’t. The Holocaust was the mass murder of Jews beyond the borders of prewar Germany, in a zone from which conventional political institutions had been removed, and the Holocaust was largely over by the time Americans soldiers landed on Normandy. American troops liberated none of the major killing sites of the Holocaust, and saw none of the thousands of death pits in the East. The American trials at concentration camps reattributed prewar citizenship to the Jewish victims, helping us overlook that the eliminations of citizenship—usually by the destruction of states of which Jews had been citizens—were what permitted mass murder. A large body of scholarship on ethnic cleansing and genocide concludes that mass killing generally takes place during civil wars or regime changes. Nazi Germany deliberately destroyed states and then steered the consequences toward Jews. Destroying states without such malign intentions creates the space for the kind of disaster that continues to unfold in the Middle East: in its civil wars, religious totalitarianism, and refugee crisis.”
Read his entire essay here: Holocaust history misunderstood: It has provided moral cover for the wars in Iraq and Ukraine.
In a New York Times article David Motadel examines the role of religious protectorates past and present to help shed light on current events in the Middle East. Several powers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries declared themselves protectorates of coreligionists in other states. For example, Russia declared itself the protector of Orthodox Christians within Ottoman territories and then used this as leverage to intervene in Ottoman affairs. As Motadel points out this type of “politics of religion…subverted states, fueled divisions within them — and often ended in violence.”
Currently in the Middle East it is Iran and Saudi Arabia who are engaging in the politics of religion. Motadel argues that “Iran’s attempts to become the global defender of Shiite Muslims and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to lead the Sunnis have become central in their battle for mastery of the Middle East, transforming the region’s international system from an order of states to an order of faiths.” And just as in the past this political maneuvering is destabilizing the region and fueling the violence. Obviously the causes of instability in the region are many, but I think Motadel has indicated an important contributor to the current unrest. Read the entire article here:
‘Defending the Faith’ in the Middle East – NYTimes.com.
“An anonymous painting of Turkish Emperor Mahmud II leading his troops. Credit Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images “
William R. Polk’s great advice at the HNN that we unfortunately won’t follow:
“Adding up these points, I argue that the more they are attacked, the stronger the salafis become. Even if we kill their leadership, cut off their supplies of arms and food and overwhelm their followers, we cannot destroy their movement. I believe that the history of religious movements proves two things:
The first it that, religious wars are never “won.” That is the “bad news.”
Second, the “good news” is that even violent, radical, ugly religious movements “mature.” That is, they are forced by their followers and even by some of their leaders to become “civilized.” This is a process, slow to be sure, we can see in all radical movements.
Thus, what we need to do, in my opinion, is to ease our pressure to enable internal changes — those that are beneficial to them and to us — to take place.
Admittedly that is a long-time strategy. It is far less popular than attacking: most people love war, soldiers like to win glory and promotion and arms dealers want to sell their goods. So our leaders may not have the strength or the courage to try a long-term strategy, but I think it is far and away the most likely to accomplish our objectives.”
Please read his entire post at:
History News Network | Letter to My Friends: Why We Can’t Expect to Win a Religious War in the Middle East.
William R. Polk argues for a different kind of foreign policy: “The bottom line is avoiding aggression. Of course, we must defend ourselves. But, as recent history makes clear, defense and aggression often are hard to distinguish. What is defense to one is often aggression to the other. Mutual respect and mutual forbearance should be our objective. This is not, as Mrs. Thatcher would have said, to “go wobbly,” to appease, to pussyfoot or to be just weak-willed liberals. It may be a matter of life or death and certainly can help us avoid catastrophes. But, we should realize that adopting a strategy of avoiding conflict will often be difficult. Public angers are far easier to whip up than to dispel. Demagogues multiply like rabbits and sometimes we follow them like lemmings. All the polls tell us how ignorant we are as a people. And, looking around us, we must ask ourselves where we can find today the wise leaders we need to guide our actions. I confess that I cannot identify them.” I agree with Polk’s conclusion even though I come to it from a different historical perspective. Polk’s article is long but worth reading. We need to abandon our short-sighted, knee-jerk, punitive approach to foreign policy.
History News Network | Foreign Policy: Can’t Anybody Play this Game Better?.