History Lesson

In today’s Daily Tar Heel, history major Jaron Fleming penned a column arguing that part of America’s problems in the middle east stem from a mis-understanding of the history of the region.

Fleming argues that the view of middle eastern history as a clash between Christianity and Islam is a simplistic view of things, and takes a few jabs at the Huntingtonist model of international relations. Instead of a clash of civilizations, he argues, relations between the west and Islam are a story of western aggression, domination and colonialism. And the people of the west mis-understand this.

If only that were the case. Unfortunately, Fleming’s column is rife with historical inaccuracies and misinterpretations.

He gives a history of colonial Iraq, which as he points out was created in 1920 as a British protectorate, with a constitutional monarchy. “Is this perhaps”, Fleming asks, “why the Kurds suffer so?”

In fact, the Kurds are currently suffering less than any other people group in Iraq. Their region is peaceful and has regional autonomy. The Kurds did suffer greatly under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but this was because Saddam was a paranoid madman with genocidal proclivities towards most of Iraq’s ethnic minorities.

What is strange is that Fleming explicitly rejected Huntingtonism in the beginning of his article, but later on he seems to imply that Kurds and Arabs can’t live together in the same country. Which is it? Are different cultures doomed to conflict due to competing interests and values (Huntington’s view), or are they not?

Fleming then questions Iraq’s independence in 1930, because “every time a coup took place in Iraq and the Iraqis showed some form of self-determination, the British would quickly put down the rebellion.”

I presume he is referring to Rashid Ali’s coup in April 1941. The coup was not “Iraqi self-determination”, it was a putsch by a small group of Army officers and a former Prime Minister. Rashid Ali then declared Iraq to be an ally of Hitler and invited German troops into the country.

Iraqi forces aided by German aircraft attacked British bases inside the country. In response, the British sent reinforcements, defeated the Iraqis and removed Rashid Ali from power. In the height of World War 2, Iraq was not territory that the British could afford to lose to Nazi Germany.

Eventually, the Iraqi monarchy was deposed by the Baathists, who began decades of terror which far surpassed anything done by the British.

It may be that some Iraqis see their history as that of being dominated by western powers. However, Iraqis who went to school before 2003 were indoctrinated by a violently anti-America, anti-Israeli and anti-Western dictatorship. This brainwashing takes a while to de-program.

But just know that reality is more complicated than Fleming’s slanted anti-Western history of Iraq.

3 thoughts on “History Lesson

  1. I agree that was a pretty weak column. It's difficult to sum up the history of western imperialism in Iraq in just a few paragraphs, and he wastes a lot of time saying very little — he doesn't even mention the US role as a major backer of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party from the 1963 coup right up to 1991.

  2. Lawrence of Arabia is playing this weekend at the Carolina Theater. You might learn more about middle east history from it than Fleming's ramblings. Oh and it has Obi Wan Kenobi in it.

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