The Post Ottoman Syndrome

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The Post-Ottoman Syndrome: A Never-Ending Problem

In the novel War and Peace In the Middle East, author Avi Shlaim argues that Arab nations have been unable to escape the post-Ottoman syndrome. In particular he describes how the various powers inside and outside the region have failed to produce peace. While some of Shlaim's arguments hinder the message, I agree with his overall thesis that the Middle East problems were caused and prolonged by the failure of both powers and superpowers to take into account the regional interests of the local states.

The story begins by Shlaim breaking down the conflict into four periods: the Ottoman, the imperial (British/French), the Cold War (US/USSR), and American (present day). He then traces how these foreign powers have shaped the region and intruded in the relations among the local states. He argues that the post-Ottoman syndrome refers to the inability of the Middle East countries to achieve peace following the onset of imperialism.

According to Shlaim, the conflict begins during World War 1 when the British made various promises to both Jews and Arabs while simultaneously plotting with the French to divide all the territory into spheres of influence . The British assumed that Palestinians and Jews could leave peaceably in a single state, but Britain's obligation to the Jews could only be met at the expense of the Arab majority.  The British carved up the territories under their mandate without regard for religious, ethnic, or linguistic composition of their inhabitants. The British installed rulers who lacked legitimacy from the very start, which basically set the stage for the series of violent convulsions that followed.

The writing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 served as a catalyst in the violence that has hampered the region ever since. The document is very significant because it gave Jews the authority they needed from the British authorities to colonize Palestine. In 1948, the Jews...
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