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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.