Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reflections: From Beirut to Jerusalem

Many years ago, while attending Valencia Community College (now Valencia College), I wrote a research paper titled "Little Israel."  At the time it was a culmination of years of fascination and study for one of the most intriguing and captivating events in modern history.  Since then my study and focus on Israel has waned, but I've never lost what seems to be an innate interest in the country, its people, and its circumstances.  Thomas L. Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem was a reminder of why that region of the world is so bewitching.  Friedman's detailed and excellent personal account of his time in Lebanon and Israel feels like an indispensable part of my personal education on those important places and the Middle East overall.

The most striking thing about Friedman's book is that it was published in 1989.  The reason that is so striking is because the book feels like current history.  It's a testament to how entrenched conflicts are in the Middle East, how far back and how deep they go.  The Middle East, as From Beirut to Jerusalem showcases, is a world apart from common-place Western ethics, morals, and politics.  Friedman's accounts and experiences are extraordinary when read from a Western arm-chair but all too familiar when read from a Middle-Eastern one.  On so many levels, we just don't truly understand how things operate over there.  It is a world of constant moves and counter-moves, of ageless rivalries, tribal conflicts, and Bedouin conflict management, which mostly means if you have a bigger stick and swing it harder than your foe, then you successfully manage the conflict to your personal or tribe's advantage.

From Beirut to Jerusalem is akin to a book like Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville in a way.  For example, Tocqueville was an outsider, a French political thinker and early sociologist, who came to America, observed people, circumstances, and conditions, wrote it all down, and shared it with the world.  Friedman feels the same to me.  Although he is an American Jew, Friedman, as a journalist, fits the definition of an outsider who goes to a foreign, a truly foreign place, makes observations, writes it all down, and has shared it with us all.  Friedman's commentaries are interesting, reasonable, and, at times, quite profound.  There is plenty to aggravate both Israelis and Palestinians and their supporters in this book.  What From Beirut to Jerusalem does very well is to show a level of nuance to the conflict and peoples that is rarely, if ever, highlighted in normal newscasts or newspaper articles.  My feelings toward the ongoing conflict have largely stayed the same since reading the book, but my understanding of those who disagree with me has been greatly enhanced.

The Middle East and its peoples, especially Israel, is a small hinge upon which a large door of world politics and American interests swings.  It is no mistake that so much conflict revolves around such a small area.  There is a history, secular and religious, wrapped up in little Israel and its neighbors that touches the hearts and souls, to say nothing of national interests, of literally billions of people.  From Beirut to Jerusalem may only focus on a particular decade, in this case the 1980s, but its insight and value extend far, far beyond that limited time-frame.  This is ancient and modern history so tightly knit together it's sometimes hard to tell them apart.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Democracy in America
Reflections: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Bosom Buddy Books: Exodus and The Haj

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