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About a decade ago, most of my time was occupied with editing literature and teaching aspiring writers how to craft essays that didn’t put readers to sleep. For a short time, I had two students that were of Middle Eastern descent. I was working with one of them and asked why she didn’t associate with the other student from the same region. Her reply was simple and to the point: “My family hasn’t associated with anyone from that family in generations.”
I’m guessing that she chose the word “family” because she had been in America long enough to pick up the local vernacular. If we had been somewhere else in the world, maybe she would have used the term “tribe” or “clan.” The point remains the same, and it is an issue that makes dealing with political issues in the Middle East so difficult for Westerners. The arguments, battles, and wars in that region often have histories that stretch back hundreds of years.
The current situation in Iraq is not just about what has happened in that region in the past 20 years, just like the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein dated back to when a map was arbitrarily drawn by the British. Beyond the history that is driving the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), there are current religious and political issues in play that are intertwined throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The lines on the map are near meaningless to anyone except Westerners.
Of course, that means countries in the region fully expect Westerners to respect those borders. Libya is not pleased with the U.S. for breaching their borders to apprehend Abu Khatallah for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The history of the U.S. performing raids in Libya isn’t short, since it dates back to at least 1804. That doesn’t make things any better, though.
In addition to Libya being annoyed with the U.S., there is also Saudi Arabia. That’s a slightly longer issue, since they started warning the U.S. to stay out of Iraq last year. Of course, Saudi Arabia has also taken to warning Iran to stay out of Iraq, but since they’re using the term “outsiders,” it can be assumed it still applies to Western powers.
Keeping in mind that people in this region often hold grudges in one way or another for centuries, this does not bode well for America. Politicians keep debating whether a given terrorist organization in that region will ever attempt to perform an attack in the U.S. It’s probably better to just admit it will happen eventually, even if it turns out to be generations from now. Since ISIL apparently just claimed the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled, this might be the right time for some lawmakers in Washington to start getting a little nervous.
As for how those in the Middle East and North Africa look at Americans, we’re all at fault. They don’t tend to differentiate between our political parties, at least not when looking to avenge a wrong. We’re all equal, and deserving of repayment. Yes, there are peaceful people there, and we don’t need to worry about them. They’re not the ones waging civil war, or amassing weapons. They’re also not stopping the radicals that will eventually return the favor to us, and start some interventions of their own on our soil.