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Conflicts in the Middle East
September 11 was left of the old Roman Empire, which
historians call the Byzantine Empire. The Turkish
On the morning of September 11, 2001,
Ottoman Empire, whose name derives from
terrorists captured four American airplanes.
Osman, eventually conquered most of the Middle
Suicide pilots guided two of the planes into the
East and North Africa. At its strongest point it
twin towers of New York City’s World Trade
also controlled Greece, the Balkan Mountains, and
Center, while another was guided into the
most of southeast Europe. The Ottoman Empire
Pentagon near Washington, D.C. The Pentagon is
lasted until the early 20th century, a span of
the home of the American Department of Defense,
almost six hundred years.
the government agency responsible for the
American military. Reports indicate that a group The Ottoman Turks were Muslims, but they
of passengers forced a fourth jet to crash in did not impose Islamic law on non-Muslims. The
Pennsylvania. The passengers apparently gave Ottoman Turks generally allowed Christians,
their lives to keep the terrorists from Jews, and people of other faiths to practice their
harming any other innocent people. beliefs in peace, although the Armenian
America had been unrivaled as a Massacre of 1915-1917 is a cruel exception.
military power since the breakup of the Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Maronites, and
Soviet Union more than a decade Armenians all maintained strong cultural
before the attacks. If America could be identities within the Ottoman Empire.
attacked, anyone, anywhere in the
Two wars in the early twentieth century
world might be at risk.
(the 1900s) resulted in Greece, Crete,
Terrorism is the use of violence Serbia, Romania, and Macedonia leaving
against civilians. A civilian does not the empire. The weakened Ottoman
belong to the military. Terrorists often Empire was often compared to a “sick
view themselves as part of a resistance man.” European colonial leaders had recently
movement who hurt innocent people to advance seized most of Africa and were eager to exert their
what they believe is a more important cause. influence in the Middle East.
The Middle East is often called “the World War I broke out in 1914. Britain,
crossroads of the world.” This sparsely populated France, the United States, and Russia were united
region produced three religious faiths practiced by as the Allied forces. They fought the Central
half of the world’s inhabitants; Christianity, Islam, Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The
and Judaism. The Middle East is a gateway to Ottoman Turks assumed the Central Powers
India, the Far East, sub-Saharan Africa, and would win the war. The Turks believed Germany
southeast Europe. would keep Russia from taking land from their
declining empire, so the Ottoman sultans joined
In recent years, this region has been one of the
the Central Powers. Russia lacked a “warm water
most chaotic parts of our world. Many brilliant
port,” where they could ship goods in all seasons.
ideas came from the Middle East, but it is also a
All of Russia’s western seaports are in regions that
land of long standing hatred and revenge. This
are frozen for at least part of the year. The
unit is an attempt to explain some of the causes of
Russian people revolted in 1917 and Russia
the many conflicts in the Middle East.
withdrew from the war. Even without the
The Ottoman Empire Russians, the Allied Powers won.
In the fourteenth century, a Turkish military The Allied Powers of World War I were eager
leader named Osman defeated other Turkish tribes to assert their influence in the Middle East and
to become ruler of a small kingdom. A dynasty is North Africa at the end of the war. They hoped to
a family or group that maintains power for sell their manufactured goods to the people of the
generations. Osman’s dynasty conquered what region. They also hoped to exploit the natural
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resources of the region. Oil had not yet been fezzes so they could touch
discovered, but the Middle East and North Africa their forehead to the ground
had many exotic spices. Britain also controlled when they prayed. "The
India at that time, and they hoped to secure a safe people of the Turkish
route to India and other colonial lands in East republic," Kemal said in
Asia. Britain, France, and the United States 1919, "must prove that they
carved up most of the Ottoman Empire and left are civilized by the way they
only what we now know as the modern nation of appear." And that, he What is ironic
Turkey. explained, meant boots and about this picture
of Mustafa Kemal
shoes, trousers, shirt, and tie, Ataturk?
Kemal Ataturk jacket and vest. "And to
Ottoman sultans ruled Turkey for almost 700 complete these, a cover with a brim on our
years. After World War I, a period of chaos heads. I want to make this clear. This head
within Turkey ended when a popular, charismatic covering is called a hat." Turks who
general named Mustafa Kemal took control. He continued to wear traditional clothing were
was named Mustafa at birth and had no surname. arrested and imprisoned.
As a child, he was nicknamed Kemal by his • Kemal introduced a western alphabet and
mathematics teacher. Kemal means “the perfect ordered all newspapers, books, and street signs
one.” He earned his nickname because he was printed in the new script. Kemel believed the
able to memorize his lessons faster than any of the difficulty of the Arabic script his nation used
other students. led to illiteracy in Turkey and was difficult for
Kemal was convinced that Turkey needed to merchants and traders from other nations to
become a modern nation. He believed that if the learn. He traveled the Turkish countryside
Turkish people continued to follow their with a blackboard and chalk to personally
traditions, they would again be attacked by explain how the letters should be pronounced.
another western power. The popular Kemal often Many of the people Ataturk personally taught
traveled the countryside to encourage the people had never before held a pencil or a piece of
"Let science and new ideas come in freely,” he chalk.
often said. “If you don't, they will devour you."
• Kemal decreed that everyone must have a
Greece attacked Turkey in 1921 and 1922, but
surname, or family name. In 1934, the
Kemal led the Turks to victory. By the mid
Turkish assembly gave Mustafa Kemal the
1920s, the Turkish leader began a modernization
name Ataturk, or “Father of the Turks.”
program in Turkey:
Ataturk was a very popular leader. Most
• Kemal said that in a modern nation, men and Turks accepted his changes, but some people
women must be equal. He ordered that girls be disagreed because Ataturk ‘s changes created a
allowed to attend school. Kemal also gave more secular society. Secular means non-
women the right to vote and take jobs in religious.
business and government.
It didn't matter if people disagreed with
• Kemal set aside religious law and established Ataturk. The Turkish leader allowed only one
a western system of justice. Turkey had been political party and did not permit people to openly
governed by Shariah until Kemal set up a legal disagree with his policies. Ataturk died in 1938,
structure that was similar European nations. but he is considered a national hero to this day.
He also forbid men from taking more than one
wife, although the practice of polygamy is Shariah
allowed by the Quran.
In many western governments, particularly the
• Kemal forbade the Turkish people to wear United States, there is a separation between
fezzes, veils, or other traditional Turkish religion and government. Many Muslims believe
clothing. The fez is a tasseled, cone shaped in Shariah, a term that means “path” in Arabic.
traditional hat. Many Muslims men wore Shariah law tells many devout Muslims what to
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eat, how to pray, and how to behave in public. countries. Al Queda’s terrorist operations have
Muslims believe the Shariah are commandments been funded largely by Osama bin Laden, a
from God (Arabic Allah). member of a wealthy construction family. Bin
Laden was last seen in public at his son’s wedding
Under Shariah law, people may not consume
in January, 2001, and is believed to be in hiding in
alcohol, borrow money at interest, or allow
Central Asia. He is the subject of a $25 million
women in their family to go out in public without
reward offered by the American State Department.
a veil. Shariah law allows a man to take as many
as four wives, provided his first wife agrees and The Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996
he is able to support all of his wives and children. to 2001. The Taliban continued to allow Bin
This provision of the Shariah is not often Laden to live in Afghanistan after he was accused
employed in even the most traditional Muslim of funding the attacks of September 11, 2001.
societies. The United States, aided by Great Britain and
other allies, attacked Afghanistan a month after
Saudi Arabia is the only nation that closely
September 11 and removed the Taliban from
adheres to Shariah law. Criminals who are
power. The Taliban remain a terrorist
convicted of murder, rape, or other violent crimes
organization fighting the American-backed elected
in Saudi Arabia can face public amputation of
government in Afghanistan.
arms or legs, or beheadings. Westerners often
argue that Saudi justice is cruel, but most Saddam Hussein led Iraq from 1979 until his
observers agree that violent crime removal from power in 2003. In 1980, Saddam
is less common in Saudi Arabia began a bloody war with Iran, hoping to seize
than in America. control of oil rich land. Iran and Iraq fought for
nine years, and as many as one million people
Devout Muslims defend
died, but the war ended without either side able
Shariah because their values have
to claim victory.
served them well for over one
thousand years. Saudi The war with Iran left Iraq with huge debts.
professor Dr. Hend Khuthaila Saddam needed funds to maintain his army,
said, “The West may be more which he used to control the Iraqi people. In
advanced in some areas like 1990, he decided to invade the tiny oil-rich
science, but I have never nation of Kuwait. A multinational military
believed for a minute that your force, led by the United States, responded to the
culture is better than ours…We invasion and liberated Kuwait in January 1991.
go to the United States and see
As part of the peace settlement after what
playgrounds, so we build swings
became known as the Gulf War, Saddam agreed to
for five thousand dollars and our
allow inspectors to ensure that he was not building
children don’t use them. Swings are not part of
weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was
our culture. We would rather spend time with our
already responsible for the deaths of millions in
families than be on a playground with strangers.”1
the Iran-Iraq war, and if he had access to nuclear
The War on Terror weapons, the results may have been disastrous for
the entire world. In a speech to the American
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 people in 2002, President George W. Bush stated
were a stark reminder of how vulnerable the world that it was his goal “to prevent regimes
was to terrorist acts. The Global War on Terror is (governments) that sponsor terror from
an ongoing campaign by the United States and its threatening America or our friends and allies with
allies to prevent international terrorism. weapons of mass destruction.” When Saddam
America’s most notable foe in the war on refused to allow weapons inspectors into Iraq, the
terror has been Al Queda, a violent organization United States Congress gave President Bush the
that seeks to end western influence in Muslim authority to invade.
The United States its allies forced Saddam
Quoted in The Arabs by David Lamb, Random from power in 2003. The dictator was later
House 1987. Pages 265-6.
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captured and put on trial by the newly elected States allowed the Shah to come to New York
government of Iraq for “crimes against humanity.” City for cancer treatment, Iranian students
He was found guilty and executed in 2006. stormed the American embassy and held 52
Weapons inspectors later determined that Saddam Americans hostage for more than a year. Iran has
Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction also supports the violent Hezbollah, a group that
in Iraq. has called for the destruction of Israel.
In December 2005, the Iraqi people held The current leader of Iran, Mahmoud
elections for the Iraqi National Assembly. Nouri Ahmadinejad, has called for the destruction of
al-Maliki was chosen by the Assembly to be the Israel and the development of a nuclear program
nation’s Prime Minister. Unfortunately, several in Iran. Ahmadinejad argues that a nuclear
armed groups continue to fight for control in Iraq. program would allow Iran to produce electricity,
Some observers believe that the resistance within but some observers believe Ahmadinejad would
Iraq is strong enough to be considered a civil war, like to use Iran’s nuclear program to create
or a war within a nation, but President Bush nuclear terror in other nations.
Iran The Hebrews were the ancestors of the Jews.
Shah Reza Pahlavi ruled Iran until 1979. Shah They lived on the eastern shore of the
is a Persian word that means king. Iran is an oil- Mediterranean Sea until AD70, when the Roman
rich nation. The Shah used his oil wealth to army forced the Jews to leave. For almost the
modernize his nation as Ataturk had done in next two thousand years, the Jews lived as
Turkey. He allowed women to vote and hold minorities in different lands. Through the
jobs, built big cities, and created a more secular or centuries, they were often unwelcome guests in
non-religious society. their new countries.
The Shah was very unpopular with many The Jews faced pogroms, or organized
Iranians. Iran is a very traditional Muslim nation, massacres, particularly in Russia and Eastern
and many of the Iranian people were displeased Europe. In the late 1890s, writer Theodor Herzl
with the changes the Shah imposed upon them. formulated the ideas of Zionism. Zionists felt that
Many people close to the Shah were corrupt. the only way Jews could be safe would be to
Anyone who disagreed with the Shah was forced recreate a Jewish state. The ancient homeland of
to leave the nation or face SAVAK, the Shah's the Jews was at that time known as Palestine and
brutal secret police. In 1971, the Shah held a was populated by Arab-speaking people.
three-day celebration that is believed to have cost
The British took control of Palestine after the
over $50 million. The Shah hosted leaders and
collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of
celebrities from around the world as parts of his
World War I. By this time, many Jews had settled
nation was struggling with poverty and drought.
on land their ancestors called home. Violence
In January 1979, religious leaders gained broke out between the Jewish settlers and the local
control of Iran in a revolution and forced the Shah Arab-speaking people known as Palestinians.
to flee. Iran became an Islamic republic. Boys
At the end of World War II in 1945,
and girls were no longer allowed to attend classes
representatives of fifty countries formed the
together. Alcohol and western music were
United Nations to “save succeeding generations
forbidden. Men could not wear T-shirts, short
from the scourge of war.” In 1948, the United
sleeved shirts, or neckties. Women and girls had
Nations created the modern state of Israel as a
to wear long, dark garments that covered their hair
homeland for Jews. Five Arab states immediately
and body. Religious police severely punished
invaded Israel. The Jews fought back and
anyone suspected of opposing the revolution.
extended the borders of their new nation. After a
America supported the Shah, and the leaders second war in 1967, Israel occupied formerly
of Iran’s revolution denounced the United States Arab lands along the West Bank of the Jordan
as the “Great Satan.” Shortly after the United
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River, near the city of Gaza, and the Sinai Other people in Israel believe that withdrawal
Peninsula. from the occupied territories will give terrorists
more freedom to attack Israel.
In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat
became the first Arab leader to agree to a peace Israel built fortified barriers along its borders
treaty with Israel. Israel returned the Sinai with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Supporters of
Peninsula to Egypt and the long dispute between the barrier argue that the barriers are a necessary
the nations ended. Many Arabs saw Sadat as a tool to prevent future terrorist attacks on Israel.
traitor for making an agreement with Israel. Five Opponents argue that the barriers isolate
years later, Sadat was assassinated by Egyptians Palestinians and will be the cause of more
who did not believe he should have agreed to discontent and violence in the region.
peace with Israel.
Hamas Afghanistan is a poor, mountainous,
The Israeli government had landlocked nation in Central Asia. Many
encouraged settlers to move to land armies have invaded Afghanistan, but no
they occupied after the 1967 war. The army has ever been able to survive the
occupied territories included land along rugged land or dominate the fierce, proud
the West Bank of the Jordan River and Afghan people for a significant period.
the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is a
The Soviet Union invaded
narrow piece of land along the
Afghanistan in 1979. More than 100,000
Mediterranean Sea. Palestinian
Soviet troops used sophisticated weapons
resistance to Israeli occupation of the A woman and brutal repression to control the cities
West Bank and Gaza in the late 1980s wearing a burqua and transportation routes, but the Soviet
became known as the First Intifada.
army was no match for the mujahedeen,
Intifada is an Arabic word that means uprising.
the Afghan warriors who used their knowledge of
The violence declined after Israel signed a 1993
the land to inflict damage on the Soviet forces.
peace agreement with some Palestinians that
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989
allowed the Palestinians to have limited self-
and would soon cease to be a world power.
government in the occupied territories. The
government in the occupied territories is known as The war was a tremendous drain on
the Palestinian Authority. Afghanistan, and about a third of the population
fled. The Soviet legacy in Afghanistan would be
A Palestinian group known as Hamas objected
thousands of land mines. The small explosives
to the 1993 peace agreement because they did not
were designed to control the mujahedeen, but
believe Israel has the right to exist on land they
today the weapons continue to destroy many lives
consider to be theirs. Hamas encouraged a second
as the Afghan people search for firewood or tend
intifada and has sponsored several violent acts
to their animals.
against Israel. Radical Palestinians strapped
bombs to themselves and detonated the bombs in The withdrawal of Soviet troops led to a civil
crowded Israeli areas. Hamas provided financial war in Afghanistan. A civil war is a war within a
support to the families of the suicide bombers. nation. Several competing interests fought for
control of Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew
In 2006, the Palestinians living in the occupied
their troops. A group of Islamic militants known
territories elected Hamas to run their government.
as the Taliban became popular with many Afghan
International aid to the Palestinians from Israel
people. Taliban is an Arabic word that means
and most western nations stopped because of
“students.” Many Afghan people initially
Hamas’ sponsorship of violence against Israel.
supported the Taliban. The Afghan people hoped
Israel ended decades of occupation in the that returning to the traditional customs of their
Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements in ancient land would erase the unhappiness of the
2005. Many Israelis hope to see a Palestinian civil war.
nation that can co-exist peacefully with Israel.
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Afghanistan is a traditional nation, where world see America as a violent, permissive
many women wear burquas. A burqua is a cloak society. In his book Jehad vs. McWorld,
that covers all but your hands and feet. A small Benjamin Barber argues that the culture of the
crocheted area allows one to see, but covers their United States and other western nations has
body in modesty. In the last fifty years, many replaced the traditional values of some societies.
women have stopped wearing burquas, and have Young people around the world are wearing
gone against the traditional customs of western clothes, listening to western music, and
Afghanistan by being educated or taking jobs adopting western attitudes.
outside the home.
In 1873, Jules Verne wrote an adventure story
Once the Taliban took power in most of titled “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Today
Afghanistan, they began a violent rule. The it is possible to circle the globe in less than a day.
Taliban outlawed television, radio, even kite- People who were once isolated from one another
flying; under rule of the Taliban, Afghan women are now part of a global community. Through
seen in public without their burqua faced severe television and the Internet, we have instant access
beatings or death. to almost any part of the world. With that access
comes a responsibility to understand other people
When the United States was attacked on
and cultures. By learning about and
September 11, 2001, the American government
understanding one another, we can hope that the
traced the incident to Osama bin Laden, who had
citizens of the world can develop a sense of
taken refuge in Afghanistan. The Americans
tolerance and respect for one another.
demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden
and other suspected terrorists, but the Taliban
refused. The United States led a multinational
bomb attack in 2002 that forced the Taliban from
power in Afghanistan.
The Afghan people held national elections in
2004 and chose Hamid Karzai as President of a
democratic government. A democracy is a type of
government where people citizens choose their
leaders. Women were allowed to vote and run for
office for the first time in the nation’s history.
Afghanistan continues to face many challenges.
The nation is very poor and does not have a good
road or railroad system to transport goods. The
Taliban and Al Queda remain threats in the nation.
Since the attacks on New York and
Washington on September 11, 2001, many
Americans are confused. Why would anyone hate
us? The answer may partly lie with how America
is perceived in many parts of the world.
The United States is the world’s richest nation.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union more than a
decade ago, America is the only military
superpower. America is a model for tolerance,
diversity, and democracy. Nevertheless, many
people disagree with American values.
In traditional cultures with low crime and a
strong family structure, many people around the
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