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

Five Issues I Don’t Care About (Maybe)

We’re less than two weeks from the Presidential Election. Regardless of the outcome, it’s the end of the Republic. At least that’s the consensus on social media. That’s unfortunate.

People on social media have many, many important things to say about the upcoming election.  Some folks post dozens of times a day about it.  I don’t mind. Just because I don’t do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  I’ve watched every episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  Last night, I watched a full hour of Call of the Wildman.  I’m sure you wouldn’t do that, but it’s okay for me.

 I can read those political posts or ignore them, just like I do posts about kids or dogs or people with awful diseases.  Social media is the ultimate free speech zone.  The best thing about all of it is that it makes me think about the issues that matter most–or least–to me.

I live in Kentucky, where we have no say in the Presidential election.  By the time we have our primaries, both major parties have chosen their nominees.  In the general election, no one seems to care about our paltry eight (or whatever pitiful number it is) electoral votes.  I don’t think President Obama could find Kentucky on a map.  Mitt Romney has been here, but that was only to raise money.  So, my vote may not count, but I don’t really care.

I’m not a political animal, but I do vote. I’m fairly well-informed on the issues that matter to me. Those, of course, are the important issues of the day.

I’m concerned about the nation’s debt. Personally, I’ve never had debt problems. I live within my means and don’t borrow money. I would be a poor legislator.

I don’t like our country becoming a territory of the Chinese government. We owe them money, and they make all our stuff. Okay, not all of it, but a hell of a lot. They also control the minerals we need to make things like computers. Seems like a bad deal.

I don’t like our dependence on the Middle East for oil. Until we started sucking at their collective petrol teat, these countries were irrelevant. They’ve had us by the short hairs now for 40 years.

I’m also an unabashed supporter of the U.S. coal industry. The hate of coal is so virulent that we even have people who protest the exporting of coal. If you’re anti-coal, you don’t get my vote. Pretty simple.

There are also many, many issues which don’t move the needle for me. Now, understand that doesn’t mean they aren’t important nor does it mean that they shouldn’t be important to YOU. But this post is about ME. If that bothers you, try not to be so self-centered.

So, what DOESN’T matter to me? The list is almost endless. For brevity’s sake, I’ve distilled the list to the five issues which matter the least:

RELIGION:  Specifically, anyone else’s religion.  Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  Some people say the LDS church is a cult, although Billy Graham doesn’t list it as one anymore.  I suppose that’s progress.  My grandparents were Mormons.  So are a lot of my relatives.  I like Mormons.  That said, I’m not a Mormon, and I don’t really care if Romney is one. One caveat to this is if you don’t like him because he’s a Mormon.  Then, it matters but only in a contrarian kind of way.

So, I don’t care about a politician’s religion.  Okay, if someone were an avowed Satanist, I might care about that.  Obama is a Christian.  Good for him.  I don’t care.  Some people say he’s a Muslim.  If he were, it wouldn’t mean anything to me, either.

Now, if you insist that I believe your religion, I probably will care about that.  I wouldn’t vote for anyone who demanded that I believe as he or she does.  As Thomas Jefferson noted, whatever you believe won’t break my leg or pick my pocket.  I would note, however, that you might use it as an excuse to do both.

Now that I think about it, maybe religion does matter, at least to the extent that you try to shove it down my throat. Or break my leg. Hmmm.

PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST:  Here are some sample headlines I intend to trademark:

  • MARKETPLACE BOMB KILLS [fill in number]
  • SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS [fill in number]
  • UNREST REPORTED IN [fill in name of Middle Eastern country]
  • [fill in name of Middle Eastern country] THREATENS ISRAEL
  • ISRAEL VOWS RETALIATION AGAINST [fill in name of Middle Eastern country]
  • FERRY SINKS, KILLING [fill in number]

If I got a nickel every time a variation of these is printed, I’d retire in six months.  Any of these could have been a headline any day in the last 40 years.  Okay, maybe not the ferry thing, but have you ever noticed how many ferries sink in other countries?  I don’t know if it happens in the Middle East, but it seems like it would.

Here’s a pointer for anyone running for office:  THESE PEOPLE DON’T GET ALONG WELL!  They don’t geehaw, as some say.  They aren’t ever going to get along.  Ever.  Anwar Sadat tried to make them get along better.  What did he get?  The Nobel Peace Prize and shot to death.  There’s a lesson in that.

Here is what I want to hear a future president say:

Today, I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. has imported its last barrel of oil.  To our friends in the Middle East, I say, on behalf of all Americans:  You can kiss our red, white and blue ass from now on!

It’s possible that I might care about this if there were a candidate who said that he or she didn’t give a damn about it.  Then, you’d have my attention.  So, I guess I care about it to the extent that I want a candidate who also doesn’t care about it.

IMMIGRATION

Bitching and moaning about immigrants is as American as apple pie.  My German ancestors were despised in Pennsylvania.  The Irish were hated in New York.  Jews were despised for decades.  Italians?  You bet.  Vietnamese?  Bingo. Japanese?  Hell, we put them in concentration camps–and they were U.S. citizens!  We’ve even been prejudiced against Africans, and we FORCED their ancestors to come here.

Now, people piss in their beers about Hispanics.  Quit acting like it’s because of illegal immigration.  Our history shows that we don’t like immigration, period–legal or not.  Hispanic folks have the added disadvantage of looking different.  We don’t like people who don’t look like us, whatever it is “we” think we look like.

We’re all immigrants, except the Indians, who aren’t really Indians at all.  I’ll grant you that our borders shouldn’t be sieves.  That said, I don’t care how many Hispanic or other folks are in our country.  They’re here, and we don’t have any way to deport all the folks here illegally.  Quit pretending like we do.

Wow. I got pretty fired up.  I think I do care about it.  Weird.

JOBS

I need to explain this one.  I do, of course, care about unemployment.  It’s just that no politician can convince me that he or she will create jobs.  How, exactly?  The government has to spend huge amounts of money to actually hire people.  We need to spend less money, not more.

Even the most conservative politicians will call themselves as job creators, usually by pointing to some success in the business world.  What exactly are you planning to do–hire all the unemployed people?

Now, if you have a plan to strengthen our private economy, I’m all ears.  I may not be persuaded, but I might at least listen.

Now, that I think about it, I’ve always had a job.  Maybe I’m not the best person to weigh in on this one.  Of course, I’m not concerned about it.  I better reserve judgment.  Depending on the outcome of the election, I guess it could be an issue for me.

TAXES

Okay, I pay a lot of taxes and don’t want to pay more.  I do, however, understand that there could be times when tax increases are needed.  My problem is that my taxes are increased by a government that never decreases its spending.  It’s like loaning money to your drunk brother-in-law who will pay you back when he gets a job.  Of course, he won’t get a job because he’s drunk and keeps spending your money.  As long as he gets your money, why get a job?

I don’t believe any politician who says that he or she will never raise taxes.  Mitt Romney says that he wouldn’t increase taxes even if it resulted in a tenfold benefit to the government.  That’s hard to believe.  In fact, it’s impossible to believe.

I’m also dubious of politicians who increase spending and then make the case for higher taxes (see Obama, Barack).  If you decreased spending and then needed more revenue, maybe I’d be persuaded.  If you spend more, I would expect you to need more cash.  Try spending less and then check back with me.  Have you ever asked your boss for a raise because you owed a bunch of money to people?  Try it.

The fundamental problem is that the subject of taxes is fertile ground for lying.  No one ever won an election on the platform of “Vote for Me.  I’ll Tax The Hell Out of You.”  Whatever you say about it, you might be lying.  If you say you’re going to raise MY taxes, that’s probably not a lie, but–like any right thinking America–I can’t support that radical agenda.

Now, if you’ll cut my taxes, I’m down with that.  Now that I think about it, I’m against raising my taxes and all for lowering my taxes.  I guess I do care about it, at least in a completely self-absorbed sort of way.

So, there they are.  Things don’t matter to me, but maybe do now, upon further reflection.  I hope this is helpful to you when you vote on November 6.  If not, I don’t care.  I think.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012