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The ongoing problems of the Middle East are complex and difficult to understand. In Beirut to Jerusalem Thomas Friedman uses the different tools to assess the state of affairs in the Middle East. Friedman uses the social sciences to analysis the situation that he observed when he was in Beirut writing for The New York Times. Being that Friedman is Jewish I rode off the book as a one-sided view of the happenings in the Middle East. What I found was quite the opposite; Friedman took a neutral position. Analyzing the situation in the Middle East is by no means an easy thing. There have of course been situations like this in other parts of the world in other times but none have been as complex as this one. Here is a group of people who live in the same region of the world but have so many different religions and cultures that create many conflicts, making it nearly impossible for them to get along. Friedman takes the social sciences of history, geography, sociology/anthropology, psychology and economy to better understand the condition of the Middle East.
In the book, Friedman uses history to give us a background of what the situation in Beirut has been so that we better understand what is going on now. His use of biographical information on the persons that make up the historical points helps us to see the differences in culture and religion that started the conflict in the first place. Friedman utilizes these stories, at the same time, to remind us that we are dealing with human lives not just a death count. An example of these humanistic stories is the story of Friedman’s apartment and his friend Mohammed’s family. The story of the Mohammed’s family and the ugly death they all received gives a human point of view that a lot of times the media does not portray. The media focus on the actions of this country bombing this country but never on the human side of the story. Actual people are losing family members. We hear the media report about the bombing one day but the next day something new happens and the prior day’s bombing is forgotten, but it is not forgotten to those who lost a loved one in the tragic bombing.
In order to understand the complexity of the problem as a whole, we must first understand what role each character plays. Friedman makes sure we understand where each character is coming from and what his or her ideology is toward the situation in the Middle East. Friedman’s biographical assessments of different leaders such as Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon give us a better perceptive of the main underlying reasons for the struggle. Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had a very distinctive appeal about him. While he was neither physically attractive nor dashing in anyway, he had an appeal to the Palestinians that was not typical with everyday statesmen. Arafat can credit his political success to his great accomplishment and that is guiding the Palestinians “out of the deserts of obscurity into the land of “prime time.”” Arafat was a statesman for the people, he knows what the people are going through and he uses that down-to-earth quality to relate to the Palestinian people and gain their trust and support. On the other hand there is Ariel Sharon, a man that didn’t play with the enemy. The former Israeli general didn’t play any games at all. The European Jews had a merciless endurance to get what they felt they rightfully deserved. Sharon had the ruthlessness that the European Zionists felt necessary to get what they deeply felt they were entitled to.
We have talked about the conflict in the Middle East but we haven’t discussed what the conflict is exactly. Religion seems to be the primary source of tension. Before reading Beirut to Jerusalem my only source of information to the situation in the Middle East was the media and even though Friedman is a journalist, the book gave me a better comprehension of the condition of Lebanon. The news tells us that it is a religious conflict over what is consider the Holy Land, but as we read can see the Muslims, Jews and Christians seem to change sides regardless of their beliefs. Therefore, there must be a factor other then religion that influences their actions. As I stated before the issue of land is fiercely debated between them all. The Jewish of course want to regain the land of their ancestors and with it their historical and religious origins. The Muslims and Christians have similar claims and they are all very passionate about the land. The big issue with between the Palestinians and the Jewish is that they feel that without Israel they cannot afford for their people somewhere to set up their ancestry. The Jews and Palestinians believe that without the land of Israel they lose their sense of identity. The Palestinians hold the claim that they were there first and felt that they had to remain there or lose their own sense of identity. The Jewish people find the fact that the Palestinians exist on the land a harsh reality because it is “the Jewish people’s God-given right to the land of Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.”
The conflict in the Middle East is so complicated that it doesn’t just encompass geography and history; it also embraces issues such as sociology/anthropology, psychology and economics. Take the sociological aspect of the situation; not only are there many dissimilar religious ideologies but there are also so many different customs and cultural diversities that divided the people. Therefore each character that is involved in the conflict is looking to provide their people with a form of security by attaining land but each one has a set of rules they go by. Friedman believes that the politics in the Middle East consist of three different political traditions known as Hama Rules.
The first is the tradition tribe-like politics. To understand tribalism we must first understand that the people of the Middle East have a “life in the desert” way of living, everyone has to secure the food and shelter for their own tribe even if it means at the expense of another tribe. To them, they cannot live in peace with each other because they are constantly competing with each other to survive. The second political tradition is the concentration of power in a certain elite group. This can be accredited to the tribalism, which believes in loyalties to the men who protect them from enemies. There is of course more then one type of authoritarianism; Friedman named one gentle authoritarianism and the other brutal authoritarianism. The third tradition is a tradition that was imposed by the Europeans and that is of a modern nation-state. As one can see it is relatively hard to have a tribal sense of tradition and also try to have a modern nation-state. What the concept of nation-states did to the Middle East is divide the people even more because now they don’t just have the separation of tribes but the Europeans imposed land barriers that divided people by countries. That takes us back to the issue of who has a right to be on the holy land. Before the Europeans imposed land barriers every tribe had a piece of the land, however small.
At the start of the book Friedman explains how Beirut is theater were everything is dramatic and people don’t seem to grasp what is going on around them. A reason for this can be the culture and how the leaders of the conflict use this to manipulate the actual circumstances. A good example of how situation or games can be cultural is Arafat and how he played the conditions to his advantage. Friedman recalls the afternoon in 1979 where someone tried to kill a Christian leader with a car bomb that exploded to early. When Friedman visited him he noticed flowers from Arafat. The two of them were on opposite sides of the game but in Beirut it is all a game.
The crisis is the Middle East is a very difficult one to understand and economic is a very important aspect in interpreting the relations in the Middle East. Whenever there seems to be a growing conflict in one country towards another country, the surrounding countries take into perspective what impact that conflict will have on their own country. Economics is so important in studying international relations because of how closely nations deal with each other and impact each other. I believe it wasn’t Friedman’s idea to make the focal point of this book be economics but nevertheless amongst his exploration of the social science economy was sure to come up.
The United States has had a very long economical relationship with Israel. Due to that fact, the United States has to approach the problems that have come up in the Middle East with caution as not to upset their investments there. The United States must proceed with caution because the Middle East holds a very important weapon that they could use against the United States, the oil embargo. The Middle East knows that their oil brings them a significant amount of wealth and power and they also know that depriving the West from oil could influence many decisions about Israel. The United States of course decided to be the stronger government and attempt to counsel the countries into making a peace end.
The international economy is the bigger picture of the economic happenings in the Middle East; we mustn’t forget what is going on internally. The most outstanding example of the economy on a smaller scale is the stories that Friedman tells about the American Jews that visit the Middle East. These American Jews are far removed from the situation in Israel but still feel that this is the land were they came from and they have a right, as a Jew, to donate as much as they can to the cause. The American Jews go to the Middle East and donated lumps of money for a cause that most of them don’t understand. They vacation there and take pictures with soldiers but never get a complete grasp of what the crisis is really about. The thousands of United States dollars that they donated are never turned away of course, they help promote the cause and fund the Jewish.
As I mention prior I was pleasantly surprised to find that Friedman was reporting impartially and that his assessments of the Middle East were fair and evenhanded. The fact the Friedman is Jewish and American made me wonder, at the start, what type of Middle Eastern reporter he would be. In the start of the text he mentioned his passion Israel and how honored he felt that The New York Times allowed an American Jew to report on the happenings in the Middle East. I was surprised that The New York Times allowed him to. First of all, I thought that Friedman would have a basis opinion because he is Jewish and most probably side with the Israelites, but on the contrary, he actually seems almost apologetic when he describes the brutalness of the Israelites. The second reason that I noticed was that he is American and as I stated in my last paragraph, Americans have a narrow perceptive of the occurrence in the Middle East. Also what the media portrays is not always what is correct. We must remember that Israel is an ally to the United States and Americans should feel that they can do no wrong because the United States would never be a ally with a uncivil country.
Friedman’s reports are very interesting and that made for an easy read. He uses biography and personal stories to give us a better understanding of the crisis in the Middle East. This novel gave me more insight that any news show could ever give me. Friedman’s unbiased account helps us decided for ourselves who we believe has the genuine right to be in the Holy Land. Friedman does not blame any of the countries that involved in the conflict; on the contrary he puts the partiality on the people. Friedman feels strongly about the people who lose their loved ones in this heated battle and it seems that he calls on the people to make a change and to stop playing the games that kill people and settle nothing.
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