Cleaning Up On The Mideast Cesspool

The lead story in the Sunday L.A. Times was on a topic I heard an expert speak about the day before – on the God-awful mess in the Middle East.

The story was about panic in Saudi Arabia over “The Arab Spring” uprising that started in Tunisia, then spread to Egypt and elsewhere. The uprising threatens the Mideast power elite because it might bring some democracy to the region.

Amatzia Baram at METal. Photo by Cooper Bates Photography

According to the L.A. Times story, Saudi Arabia has been dolling out billions of dollars to Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and elsewhere. It’s also offering Jordan and Morocco entry into an exclusive boy’s club called Gulf Cooperation Council that offers investments, jobs and weapons. The reason is simple. The good old House of Saud – the pinnacle of power in the Mideast cesspool – wants to maintain the autocratic grip it’s held on citizens for centuries. The Arab Spring threatens to crash that party.

Amatzia Baram, professor at the Department of Middle Eastern History and director of the Center for Iraq Studies at the University of Haifa, Israel, presented at the METal breakfast Saturday in Los Angeles on the topic.

One of the things Saudi Arabia is trying to do, said Prof. Baram, is create a Sunni fortress to counter the Iranian backed Shiite front. Saudi Arabia is shelling out billions of dollars to neighbors in hopes they will resist political change while trying to strengthen ties with Sunni monarchies.

Saudi Arabia is packed with Wahabi people, a branch of Islam that thinks Shiite people are just icky.

“To Wahabis, the Shiites are idol worshipers, they are not Muslims,” said Baram. “They believe every Shiite deserves to die because they left Islam.”

Now, the Wahabi and the Sunni are not quite bedroom buddies, so let’s use the axiom that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The Sunni’s think the Shiites suck as well. Hence, the boys of Saud are willing to be pals with Sunnis in order to thump the heads of those undesirable Shiites.

What happened?

Many centuries ago, it seems this giant group of Muslim people went separate ways. Before then, they were happy followers of Mohammed, who created the religion of Islam. Like many religions, it started when Mohammed got a visit from above. Sort of like what happened to Moses, an angel dropped by and presented a vision, and it became a religion.

Everything seemed to be going OK until Mohammed died. Unfortunately, Mohamed did not have a succession plan. The result was the followers started arguing over who’s in charge and – poof – the tribes split.

So now we mainly have the Shiites vs. the Sunnis. Mix religion with politics and you get one big stinking mess. But it seems the people have had enough.

“The Arab Spring is a result of years of people who are tired of tyranny,” said Baram.

A big part of the problem is the Arab world is only producing about half the number of jobs needed and many of the jobs pretty much suck.

“At some point it had to explode, and it did,” said Baram.

One solution to the problem, said Baram, is more and better education that emphasizes job skills and not religious doctrine.

Seamus Conlan at METal. Photo by Cooper Bates Photography

When the METal breakfast was over I had a conversation with Seamus Conlan, a photographer who has chronicled wars and conflicts in places all over the world. In 2001 he created World Picture Network, which became the 4th largest photo agency in the world, with 5,000 clients and 700 photographers. At the breakfast, hosted by Ken Rutkowski, he presented a slide show of his photographs chronicling the downfall of Saddam Hussein. He is now co-founder of Objective Cinema, an online content distribution network.

In my conversation with Conlan he presented a view that wars and conflicts are part of the process of the powerful attempting to weaken the weak. The more fortunate in this world are able to maintain a pleasurable lifestyle because groups of subjugated people will work for pennies.

So let’s bring it on home. One line in the L.A. Times story said that the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia which has held up for 70 years will continue for this reason: “Saudi oil for U.S. military protection.”

The Saudi leaders get military protection to maintain stability and we get the assurance of oil.

In the process a lot of people over there are getting screwed. There’s something wrong with this picture.

Strength & honor,

Brian

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