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The Middle East

Anup Shah

Oil. That is what the modern Middle Eastern geopolitics have usually been about. Given the vast energy resources that form the backbone of western economies, influence and involvement in the Middle East has been of paramount importance for the former and current imperial and super powers, including France, Britain, USA and the former Soviet Union.

Prior to the discovery of oil, the region had been a hotbed for religious conflict, and wars over other rich resources and arable land. The interests that the West (primarily Britain and France during European colonial times and now the US) had was been due to the energy and resource interests and to battle against the Ottoman Empire.

As a result, for centuries, the western population has been acclimatized to a type of propaganda and vilification of the Arab and other people of the Middle East, and of Islam in general. This was especially so during the European colonial times, as so vividly examined by Edward Said, in his well-respected book, Orientalism. Both before and after the Ottoman Empire, geopolitically speaking, this negative stereotyping has served to provide justifications for involvement and to ensure “stability” for the powers that wanted to be involved in the region.

This cultural stereotyping and racism has occurred in the modern times too. Often, especially in the 1980s, war films depicting an Arab or Islamic group as the bad guys were common place. Even in the 1990s, those ideas continued, where the bad guy is often a despotic Arab from one of the “rogue states” and as a result of the terrorist attacks against the US in September 11, 2001 and the resulting “War on terror”, such imagery is likely to continue. Over such a long time then, such boundaries of discourse about the Middle East have already been framed. To overstep those boundaries is to be labeled anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, anti-West or some other equally negative label. For most journalists in the mainstream then, self-censorship is often the course, sometimes unknowingly.

To maintain superiority, control and influence over the region, the West has placed corrupt Arab leaders into positions of power and supported the overthrow of those that are not seen as favorable. This has also served to keep their populations at bay, in return for militarization, power and personal wealth of the elite. Sometimes this has been done in the name of fighting communism. The common theme underlying it though has been the struggle to control access to important resources such as oil.

The Middle East is the most militarized region in the world and most arms sales head there. A suppressed people that sees US influence as a major root cause of the current problems in the Middle East has led to a rise in Islamic militancy, acts of terrorism and anti-west sentiment, anti-US in particular. When looking at some of the actions of the US, it can often be seen why this is unfortunately so.