Sunday, 25 January 2015

Introduction to the Middle East

In the past, my interests in history have mainly focused on the “east” and the “west” – China and Japan versus the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, and occasionally Russia.  But what of the area in the middle, the parts that connect the two ends?  For centuries, the middle east enabled and fostered trade from both sides.  I wondered, what was their history and relationships as the neighbours changed or stayed the same.  Were the tense relations with the west in recent years always the case in history?  What are its origins?

Below are my first attempts in looking for some answers.  They are only an introduction, and by no means is my study on the subject complete at the end of this post.  In fact, it opens more questions – this merely educates me on the background of the land, and the terms often used in conjunction with these cultures.

I felt in learning about the middle east it’s imperative to understand its predominant religion – Islam, and the establishment of Israel in Palestine, for these colour the political rhetoric, the legal framework, and fuel the fundamentalist cause. The material below reflects this focus, and so far covers the history of Jews, Arabs, Persians, but not yet the Turks.  This is merely a starting point.

Through it all, I have been equally fascinated by the scene of devoted and joyous Jews holding up their Torah up high and by a Muslim’s submission in prayer in practicing their faith.  While the Jews contributed greatly to the development of finance in Europe, the contribution of Muslims in preserving ancient texts made Renaissance Europe possible.  These are important peoples in history.

I hope you’ll find something below interesting.


Inside 9-11
(3 parts), by National Geographic

The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11, by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan



Science and Islam
(3 parts) with Jim Al-Khalili, by BBC
Explores the history of Islam during its golden age from around 9th to 12th century and its contribution to math, medicine, astronomy, and more
Inside Islam (3 parts), by The History Channel
Prophet Muhammad (3 parts), by BBC

The first feature length film directed by a female Saudi director, this is the story of a free spirited 11 year old Saudi girl who joins the Quran recitation contest at school with the dream of using the prize money to buy a bike and race with her neighbour, in a land that frowns on girls riding bikes.  It portrays the daily life of  Muslim women, including their devotion to the faith.



Iran and the West
(3 parts), by BBC
30 years after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iran’s relationship with the west is still uneasy.  This series describes the amicable relationship America had with Iran prior to the revolution, how the revolution changed this dynamic by the leader Ayatollah Khomeini, how his stern stance changed the power relations between the west and the middle east, and brings us to today.



The Story of the Jews (5 parts), with Simon Schama, by BBC
Israel and Palestine: a Divided Land (45 min), by Knowledge Unlimited – a concise introduction on the history of Israel
Defamation, directed by Yoav Shamir
Director Yoav Shamir, himself a Jew, wonders and explores in this film what anti-Semitism means in the world today.  He interviews ordinary Jews, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, and investigates anti-Semitic claims.  From it emerges a contrarian and entertaining view.

Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond, by Charles Patterson