Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ralph Peters on the Cultural Geography of the Middle East and America's Poor Understanding of It

Ralph Peters, the former Lieutenant Colonel who's redrawn map of the Middle East caused such an outcry, recently gave a talk to a group of geographers concerning his thoughts on the cultural geography of the Middle East and America's foreign policy's misunderstanding of culture.  Here are the key takeaways from a colleague's notes.

Ralph Peters' map came out in 2006.  Note how the proposal for Syria mirrors what is going on now with the Kurds going their own way and the coastal area becoming an Alawite enclave aligned with Hizbollah in Lebanon.
On Borders and the Wrong Side of History

Peters believes that for the first time in modern history the United States has found itself on the wrong side of history by working to sustain legacy borders and regimes that do not reflect the true historical, contemporary cultural, and nationality boundaries.  He believes that we are still in the early phases of the post-imperial era.  Imperial Europe drew many of the international borders in colonial regions with a straight line on the map that doesn't even take rivers and natural boundaries into account, let alone tribal, ethnic, and national boundaries. This has resulted in two problems: 1) it forced people together who do not want to be together and 2) it forced those apart that want to be together.  Peters stated we are prisoners of the Rand McNally paradigm and we need to see beyond the borders drawn on the map.

Women's Rights

Peters floated the theory that the lack of female empowerment in the Middle East was the cause for the region's inability to stabilize   Basically, the denying of rights to women in the Middle East means that 50% of your potential workforce is underutilized an the remaining male workforce is expending a lot of effort illogically to suppress women.

(Catholicgauze note:  Suppressing women had little overall impact on the Middle East when the whole world kept women out of the productivity cycle but as the rest of the world changes the Middle East is the last major area paying for this policy)

Religion, Identity, and Recognizing It

Peters stated Washington pretends religion does not exist.  When asking "who am I?" we default to faith and ethnicity.  Religion answers the fundamental need to believe in something, it provides a refuge.  Peters pointed out empires rise and fall but religion remains constant and continues to exist.  We need to take religion seriously.  We need to fix political problems before they become religious problems.  The Palestinian movement is an example of a movement that started political but has since made the shift to religious zeal which makes it much more challenging to deal with.

Human Nature and Nature of Cultures

Because the Middle East cannot fix their own problems we should not expect ourselves to be able to solve them.  Peters stated the tragic thing we do as humans is to deny human nature.  We cannot accept the fact that some thrive on evil and killing their enemy.  Man has the propensity for violence, but our sheltered lives permit our self-delusion.  Homer, the father of Western literature, illustrated the taste for blood in The Ilidad. Peters reminded us that the end of Troy was due to the Greek barbarians from the other shore and he ended his discussion with "Never underestimate barbarians from other shores".

1 comment:

Dina said...

This Peters certainly has a point!

Thanks for adding your comment to my post on Orthodox (and other!) Holy Week.