A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East-David Fromkin
Ideology is sometimes as powerful of a tool as violence and in some cases has been the direct cause of violence. In the Middle East, ideology has maintain a stronghold as it finds itself on a crash course with modernity. Those who live outside the Middle East are at times confused and mystified by the traditions and events that occur throughout the Arab nations. In fact, many of us here in the United States do not know how the modern-day Middle East came into existence. To them, I say that the key to understanding the Middle East is to retrace its history to see why and how it developed into what we know it to be today. David Fromkin lends us a helping hand in this incredible historical investigative account of the fall of the legendary Ottoman Empire and the creation of a region that would never truly know peace.
I find it a bit ironic that the title is called A Peace to End All Peace because when the reader has finished the book, he or she will see that is far from what happened. But the question is why not? To find that answer, we revisit Constantinople, headquarters of the empire, prior to the outbreak of World War I. Iraq and Jordan (formerly Transjordan) had yet to be created. Iraq was then known as Mesopotamia and Jordan was still part of Palestine. The Zionist cause was still in its early stages and it would be several years before the signing of the Balfour Declaration. Regardless, these nations were caught in the middle of a bitter conflict as Britain and Russia took on the German Republic for control of the Ottoman Empire. But as casualties mounted and victories were won, what was really transpiring behind the scenes? And who were the major players? As we step back into time with Fromkin, we are re-introduced to long-lost figures such as the famous Winston Churchill (1874-1965), former Prime Minister Lloyd George (1864-1945), U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)(1888-1935). Lawrence has been transformed throughout the years into a larger than life character but Fromkin provides a good biographical sketch of him and investigates his true role in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the British goal of conquering the Middle East. However, as Fromkin shows us, the heart of the entire stories lies in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret pledge between Britain, France and Russia to partition the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Germany in World War I. The agreement shaped relations between the nations for decades to come.
The story is an incredible from start to finish and after you have completed the book, you will better understand why the Middle East is the way it is today. You will further understand how the Zionist cause for a homeland grew in strength due in part to the actions of the British Government. The story of Palestine is especially important for the effects of the actions then are still being felt today. Fromkin has done an excellent job of researching the topic and it is evident in his writing. The book reads like a historical novel full of intrigue, mystery and ultimately tragedy. Further, the relationship between Russia and the nations of the U.S.S.R. are examined highlighting the cultural diversity that once encompassed the Soviet Union. The Bolshevik revolution is discussed but not at great length. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) make appearances but their story is only discussed regarding its relevance to the current topic. And throughout the book, developments in other nations are mentioned but the author never strays off topic. Like a master professor, he keeps us on course throughout a critical time in the history of the world that was complicated to say the least.
The book ends before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the start of World War II. And it would not be until 1948 that the nation of Israel was formally created. Readers may be surprised to reach the end of the book only to find that the story does not continue in the next decade. But the reality is that was never the intention and is irrelevant to the story at hand. True, the events in this book would affect the future in many different ways but that is a topic for another discussion. For those who wish to understand how an Empire came crashing down, the development of the modern-day Middle East and how several nations underestimated the power of the Islamic faith, this is a great place to start. And for others who have an active interest in the Middle East, this book is a much welcomed addition to any library.
“To the victor belongs the spoils” – New York Senator William L. Marcy
Many years have passed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq but the effects continue to linger. The conflict continues to rear its ugly head and provokes fierce debate. When Saddam Hussein was finally captured and subsequently convicted, many Muslims in Iraq and other nations breathed a sigh of relief. The region continues to deal with social and political issues, but the days of Hussein and his power-hungry sons are long gone. Stories of their inhumane treatment and the barbaric conditions of the country’s prisons are never-ending. Exiles from the country have opened up and revealed what they remember from their time under the brutal Hussein regime. This is the story of Mayada Al-Askari, a divorced mother of two who ran a local printing shop and was wrongfully accused of spreading anti-government. She was arrested, incarcerated and tortured on a regular basis by prison officials determined to find the source of the anti-regime literature. She was eventually released when it was determined that a subordinate of hers was the real culprit behind the printings.
After becoming friends with Jean Sasson, the noted author of multiple books about the Middle East including Growing Up Bin Laden, she tells the story of how and why she was arrested and the many horrors she heard and saw during her incarceration at the infamous Baladiyat prison. Finding herself crammed into a cell with a large number of other women, most of whom are also imprisoned on false charges, she forms friendships with several women who server as a keeper for one another fearful of the barbaric nature of the guards assigned to their floor. In the effort to create a sadistic and deadly environment, a daily regimen of physical and psychological abuse is enforced to break the spirit and mind of every inmate. From executions to severe beatings, the savagery and merciless abuse reveals a cultural mindset bent on submission at any price. The stories in the book are tragic and horrific and they served as a reminder of the dark side of the Hussein regime. The number of atrocities committed by Hussein are well-known and repulsive. Mayada’s story helps to give a voice to thousands of other woman and men who were falsely imprisoned in Iraq and forced endured treatment of the worst kind.