The Middle East: A Simple Guide from a Simple Man

As always, the Middle East in the news. The government of Egypt has been overthrown (again) and the USA is threatening something against Syria. Apparently, the Syrian government gassed some of its citizens. At first, it sounded like we were going to wipe them out.  Then, it sounded like we might just block them on Facebook.  Now, it sounds like we’re doing nothing.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t know nearly as much about the Middle East as you should. After all, other than occasional lunacy from North Korea, the Middle East is pretty much where all the world’s trouble originates these days. I’ve penned this short primer to help others gain my limited knowledge of this troubling region.

DEFINING THE MIDDLE EAST

What is the Middle East? Well, first off, it’s not continent or a country. It’s actually a bunch of countries, mostly in Western Asia and a tiny part of North Africa. So, the Middle East is actually Western Asia and small speck of North Africa. Understand?

Below are all the countries that comprise the Middle East, along with my brief comments on what I know about each of them:

  • Bahrain: Didn’t know this was a country. I thought it was a city in Iraq.
  • Cyprus: Never heard of it. I don’t think we’ve ever attacked it or attacked anyone on its behalf. Thus, it’s safe to assume that 1) It has no oil; 2) It hasn’t attacked Israel; and 3) It isn’t another name for Israel.
  • Egypt: Egypt is actually in Africa. Did you know that? It was ruled by ruthless dictator Hosni Mubarek who was ousted from power by people who were then ousted from power. Most of what I know about Egypt is from The Ten Commandments. Looks like a bad place. They once had someone win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated.
  • Iran: The biggest of the troublemakers. Iran used to be called Persia and was known for its fabulous rugs and house cats. Now, it’s known for political and religious fanaticism and occasional wild threats against countries which could wipe it out in about a day and a half.  It’s only modern contribution to society was former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s embrace of business casual attire.
mahmound

Iran’s former president may have been nutty, but he made every day Casual Friday.

  • Iraq: Also known as the 51st state of the United States. Of course, it was once ruled by evil ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein. Now it is ruled by God knows what.  Hussein was the kind of well-balanced leader who tried to repel an America military attack by firing rockets at Israel.
  • Israel: Sort of like the United States’ little brother. It gets picked on a lot but always knows big brother has its back. Like a little brother, it also talks tough and doesn’t hesitate to threaten others. Beloved by evangelical Christians who somehow don’t care that a vast majority of its citizens reject the most basic tenets of Christianity. It has never been ruled by a ruthless dictator, but it has been governed by ruthless democratically elected leaders. Americans aren’t allowed to publicly criticize the Israeli government. Oddly enough, Israelis criticize it openly and often.
  • Jordan: I don’t know much about it, other than they seem like they’re friendly enough. I just found out the King Hussein died in 1999. He seemed alright to me. I was excited to learn that Abdullah is now the king–until I found out it wasn’t Abdullah the Butcher.
abdullah

King Abdullah The Butcher of Jordan (I wish!)

  • Kuwait: They have a lot of oil and a king or emir or something like that. They were invaded by Iraq 20 or so years ago, causing us to kick some Iraqi ass back to Baghdad. Since then, they don’t cause trouble for the U.S.
  • Lebanon: Beirut was once considered the Paris of the Arab World. During most of my life, it’s been a hotbed for troublemakers. Apparently, it still is, as it is the home base of Hezbollah, a disagreeable group whose sole purpose is the destruction of Israel.  Then again, no country is perfect.  We have the Westboro Baptist Church.  Oddly, though, Lebanon is a democracy–probably because it doesn’t have any oil.  Their constitution requires that the highest government officials belong to varied religions.  This keeps any one group of loons from taking over.
  • Oman: Hmmm. They’re too small to cause much trouble, I guess.  It sounds a lot like Onan, which makes me giggle.
  • Palestine: Not really a country, but it used be. That’s one of the big problems over there. They want to be a country again, but there isn’t enough land. So, they fight with the Israelis.  A lot of it has to do with the Gaza Strip, which sounds like an exotic dance, but it isn’t.
  • Qatar: Here’s what I know. The name is pronounced “Gutter.” Sometimes. It has a lot of oil (surprise!), but it’s a tiny little piss ant of a country. They seem to keep to themselves.
  • Saudi Arabia:  It’s a kingdom and also lousy with oil.  People wear robes and fabulous head wear.  They have a royal family.  May be best known as the home country of Osama Bin Laden, the lanky terrorist mastermind who had his sorry ass blown away by Navy Seals.  They’re heavy-duty Muslims, allowing religious leaders an official role in the their government.  Supposedly friendly to the U.S., but I have my doubts.  They remind me of friend who would sleep with your girl friend, and then blame her (not that I ever knew anyone like that or anything).
  • Syria: Doesn’t seem to get along with anyone, except Russia.  It is said that if Turkey and Syria ever go to war, they will fight until the last drop of Iraqi blood.  They’ve had a civil war going on for a couple of years now, but no one seems to know who is fighting whom.  There may not be any good guys.
  • Turkey:  Turkey is a democracy and has been for some time. It’s almost all Muslim but not Arab. They’re Turks, of course. They’re very sensitive about Armenians, so don’t bring that up around them. They’re best known for their wonderful baths and horrific prisons.  A friend of mine went to Turkey and ate a big bucket of cherries causing some sort of severe gastrointestinal reaction.
  • United Arab Emirates: This isn’t a country but a group of country-like states. They might just be cities. They’re all ruled by emirs and sheiks. One of the sheiks has a horse farm not too far from where I live. I’ve seen him at the race track. Dashing fellow that sheik. The best thing about the UAE is that it’s where former Iraqi Information Minister Baghdad Bob lives.
  • Yemen: It is the Unemployed Brother-in-Law of the Middle East. It’s real close to running out of oil which would pretty much turn it into the set for the next Mad Max film. They seem fairly friendly with the U.S., as do most impoverished nations. On the other hand, Yemen is a hot bed for terrorists resulting in the occasional lethal drone strike.  They don’t seem to mind.

Were you as surprised as I was to find out that Libya isn’t part of the Middle East, at least according to Wikipedia?  It sure seems like it should be with all its threats and saber-rattling over the years.  The late Muammar Gaddafi (Khadafi?  Qaddafi?) certainly qualified as a ruthless dictator.  I don’t get it.  Let’s just throw Libya in there anyway.

Libya's late strong man was certainly a bad guy, but the world misses his style.

Libya’s late strong man was certainly a bad guy, but the world misses his style.

Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan are in the Middle East, and we can’t stretch the definition to include them.  Remember this rule of thumb:  None of the “Stan” countries are in the Middle East.

GOVERNMENT

Middle Eastern countries have a vast array of governments from democracies to theocracies to monarchies to dictatorships.  They all seem to have one thing in common:  They like to threaten and fight with each or, at the very least, Israel.  Generally speaking, they also seem to despise the United States–and we ain’t too fond of them, either.

All Middle Eastern nations brag about their armies who typically provide little resistance to invaders (Israel excepted, of course).  They quickly surrender and often join forces with the invaders.

Strong men and ruthless dictators have always been popular.  They’re usually fairly despicable, although the United States has been friendly with some of them.  The Shah of Iran, for example, was a fast friend of ours.  One good thing about these folks is that they are able to keep the religious nuts out of their governments, which is more than we can say for our own form of government.  Of course, if you’re like the Shah, you may be unfortunate enough to thrown from power by the religious nuts.  That also happens sometimes in our country, but it’s through elections.

Some of the countries follow Sharia law, which is a form of theocracy incorporating Islamic law into the secular laws of the country–or something like that.  You may have heard Glenn Beck and others of his ilk decrying the possibility that Sharia law will become the law of the land in the United States.  Some states have even passed laws to prevent that.  If you voted for anyone based upon that, please consider not voting anymore.  Thanks.

RELIGION

If Middle Eastern governments are varied, their religion is not.  The countries are predominantly Islamic, with exception of Israel, which is mostly Jewish.  I don’t know about Cyprus.  Lebanon used to have more Christians than anyone else.  I assume that’s still the case.

As we all know, we’re not to discuss religion in polite company, but religion is a big deal in the Middle East.  Most of the countries don’t want any religion but Islam.  Of course, many Americans don’t want any religion but Christianity, but we are certainly more tolerant, if not any less hateful about it.

Some Americans think all Muslims are terrorists. It’s like people who say all conservatives are racists. Although there may be quite a few who are, the overwhelming majority are not.  Facts don’t matter.  People believe what they want to believe.  It’s sort of like religion.

My son has a close friend who is Muslim, and he seems harmless enough.  We have millions of Muslims in the U.S., and I’m reasonably certain they aren’t all terrorists.

We in America talk about radical Islam or Muslim extremists.  I’m not sure how you define those terms, but read the Old Testament and take every single rule and law literally.  You’ll probably be an extremist.

A lot of the fighting in the Middle East is between Muslim groups.  There are Shiites and Sunnis.  I don’t know the difference and don’t intend to find out.  I have a hard enough time with all the different Christian denominations.  Here’s a good guide for you.  If your church suggests that you blow yourself up or blow up other people, consider checking out another group.

CULTURE

I don’t know much of their culture.  They like soccer, so much so that Iraq once executed its national soccer coach.  They also play buzkashi, a game where you throw around a goat carcass (maybe that’s Afghanistan).  They probably play cricket.

I’ve never heard any of their music, but I imagine sitars.  If they make movies, they’re probably anti-American.

They don’t treat women very well or at least most of the countries don’t.  There is a lot of capital punishment (very American, too) and hand chopping (not American).  When excited, they randomly fire weapons.  Lots of Americans do the same thing.

American flag burning remains popular, too.  Throwing shoes is their idea of a cutting edge insult.

ECONOMY

Oil.  Tourism for Israel and Turkey. Oh, and don’t forget American foreign aid.

SO, WHAT NOW?

That sums up all my knowledge about this fascinating and controversial region.  I have never visited the Middle East and don’t intend to do so.  You may visited there or even be a native. If so, you are likely appalled by my ignorance and outright fabrications.  Well, too bad.  I’m an American, and I don’t have an obligation to learn about every foreign country on Earth.  I know a little, and so does everyone else who read this. Just don’t throw a shoe at me.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

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