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Borders, bloody and otherwise

I read this piece in Armed Forces Journal by Ralph Peters with its Big Bright Idea. I disagree with many of the things said in it, but above all with the belief that the problem with establishing a more "peaceful" Middle East is, for example, to weaken Israel (any further weakening of Israel will whet Muslim appetites), its inattention to the problem of Christians scattered about in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and its assumption that most of the problems are those that can be solved with border changes. Borders are not entirely trivial, but the main problem was, is, and remains Islam. If the prescription were to be followed -- and it is simply a fantasy, fun apparently to write -- and all those borders were somehow to be realigned, how would this weaken the camp of Islam? If every Muslim state in the Middle East no longer has to worry about internal conflicts, because of a conscientiously-applied program of border adjustment and large-scale rearrangement of sectarian and ethnic minorities, why would that make things better for the West or other non-Muslims? Would Islam itself be more peaceful, would its doctrines have changed?

I don't like these kind of fantasy articles, especially when they appear in military journals and temporarily find enthusiasts for the wrong things -- it is not the Saudi mismanagement of Mecca and Medina that is the basis of unhappiness with the regime, it is the entire regime, and its appropriation of much of the nation's wealth, and in order to protect the continuance of corruption, its compensatry . I don't agree with much of it, including its implications for Lebanon and Israel.

The question I would ask is not whether the individual Muslim states would have an easier time of it, but whether the Camp of Islam, as a whole, would be weakened as a result, or not. The one important goal that Peters mentions, as has been mentioned by all kinds of people, is the usefulness of creating a free Kurdistan. He argues for it on moral grounds (36 million Kurds, etc.). He says nothing about the importance of establishing an example of a non-Arab Muslim people throwing off Arab domination, and thereby inspiring other non-Arab Muslim peoples, such as the Berbers or the black African Muslims of Darfur. Nor does he consider the possibility that constant unsettlement of Syria and Iran, by its Kurdish population, might occupy and preoccupy both of those countries, and the effects would be better than if somehow, magically, the Kurdish-populated areas were to become part of Kurdistan.

Finally, his analysis of what is the source of discontent is often flatly wrong. In Saudi Arabia he thinks it is the Saudi role in Mecca and Medina. That may annoy people outside Saudi Arabia, and Sami Agarwal the Saudi architect, and a few others may deplore the destruction of old Ottoman forts and even older sites in both cities, but the real fury is directed at something unlikely to change: the appropriation of much of the country's oil wealth by the 30,000 or so princes, princelings, and princelettes, who have no intention of giving it up, as little as they would their role as Guardians of the Two Holy Places.

This suggested scheme to rearrange all the borders of the Middle East is fantasy, but not useful fantasy. It ignores the real problem for Infidels, which is Islam, and were it somehow to be carried out it would not necessarily weaken, and might even strengthen, the individual components, the Muslim-dominated "nation-states" that in Islam possess less significance than they do in the non-Muslim world, for to Believers it is the Umma that matters, and the nation-state an artificial and unnecessary construct.

As a fantasy, it is little different from those lists made by young girls, as they sit dreaming in class, in which they take their own first name, and then ring changes on the last names, supplying those of potential husbands: Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Wentworth Miller. And during that class period, during which Mrs. Caruso was boringly talking about tomorrow's test and what they should study for it, by the time the bell rings, all that Kimberley has to show for the hour is a sheet of paper with her name, and ten or fifteen possible married names -- Kimberley Depp, Kimberley Pitt, Kimberley Miller. Fun for Kimberley, but when she has to take the test tomorrow, she won't be laughing.