Understanding the Middle East

Even in relatively stable and quiet times, the Middle East is puzzling and unsettling, not to mention unsettled. Heavy media attention first on Tunisia and now on Egypt has stirred a lot of interest and anxiety but little genuine understanding. American news manufacturers are typically reactive and seldom give attention to the background of developing events. What are we to make of the protests spreading through the Middle East?

The ordinary purpose of this blog is to challenge Christians to make their faith work in practical ways. This post will temporarily diverge in order to inform readers of a valuable source for understanding the Middle East. Christians have a natural interest in Middle East events, given that history began there, its central events occurred there and history will end there. However, while the Bible is our ultimate guide to history, it does not give specific knowledge of current events.  

Understanding the causes and meaning of current events enables Christians to make prudent evaluations of our country’s policies. It empowers us to accurately inform others. It prepares us to place the events of our times within the grand sweep of God’s sovereign direction.

There was a tiny number of people who were not surprised when the September 11 terrorist attacks occurred. Daniel Pipes is one of those few. For years he had warned of the growing threat of radical Islam, but those warnings were dismissed. Now many are paying attention.   

Pipes lived in Tunisia and Cairo in the early 1970’s, immersing himself in Muslim culture and learning to speak and read Arabic. He then earned a doctorate at Harvard in Islamic history. He now is director of the Middle East Forum and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. His very heavily viewed blog carries penetrating analyses of key Islamic developments in the Middle East, Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Because he has a deep understanding of Muslim thinking, Pipes avoids the naïve conclusions that dominate commentary about the Middle East. For example, he does not assume, as Western liberals do, that when Islamists (radical Muslims), speak of democracy, they mean the same thing that we do. Pipes recently observed that Islamists have learned to support democratic movements—until those movements bring them to power. The closer they come to power, the less they have to do with democracy.

In the Middle East, the past is ever-present. History continues to influence the thinking and actions of all who live there. Pipes combines a mastery of Middle Eastern history, both ancient and recent, with an astute sense of how that history invades current events. He consistently reminds us of key events that we have forgotten or were never told by the so-called mainstream media and shows how they explain the present.

As always, read with discernment. Pipes lacks an understanding of the theological foundations of freedom, so I don’t agree with him on Islam’s compatibility with democracy. Occasionally he misses key predictions.

But generally Daniel Pipes is a reliable guide who can help us make sense of confusing events.  His column republished from yesterday’s Washington Times is a good place to start in understanding Egypt and how it is affecting the Middle East. Also check the “New Postings” interviews and columns from earlier this month shown on his home page.

History offer valuable lessons. Learn them from one of its outstanding professors.

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