Where to Now?
After the Iranian government agents mobilized fundamentalists, students and others under their sway to storm the U.S. Embassy in 1980 and seize the embassy staff, followed by the disastrous Desert One operation to rescue the hostages, I was one of many military service members assigned to the Rapid Deployment Task Force as it grew to become Central Command, stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The Joint Chiefs of Staff assigned the new unit that swath of earth that begins with Afghanistan and reaches across to Somalia. Operations and exercises gave me a glimpse of the pyramids, a flyover of Aswan to then-classified locations. The harshness of winter storms off the Sahara introduced me to the terrain. The people were another thing.
A second assignment to the 101st Airborne Division followed, then the old military ping-pong back to Central Command. By necessity I again became a student of the Middle East - the geography, people and especially the cultural differences from main-stream Americans. I say "again" because, ironically, as a Second Lieutenant I had taught Middle Eastern culture and geography to my platoon in the early '60's, before the 101st Airborne Division's area of planning and interest shifted to Vietnam. Across the years the Middle East continued (still) to be an enigma to Americans. We just plain think and reason differently than the people of the Middle East - not that there is universal homogeneity among the peoples of the Middle East or a lot of the world.
The people of the Middle East are defined first by a gathering of families and clans, historically often wandering across land of no significant value (that is - before oil was discovered under the desert). Arabs are one of the racially discernable peoples of the Middle East, primarily from the deserts of Arabia. Then there are Muslims, racially diverse people bound together by a single religion. The two definitions are often blurred, especially by their opponents, but are not fully inclusive by any means and even in this definition divided by sects (Shiites and Sunnis) and a wide spectrum of orthodoxy.
Alliances today, as they have for centuries, follow family ties and tribal allegiances more than any geographical anchor.
Whenever a particular river crossing or conflux of caravan routes attracted tradesmen and their families, communities rose and fell. Oil, and to a lesser degree precious stones, are the commodities that today dominate who has and who doesnít have power in the Middle East. Those who donít have mineral resources use agriculture as their source of buying power - fruit along the Mediterranean, poppies in Afghanistan - the latter unfortunately a product that generates vast criminal wealth for a few, but enough for the poor farmers that they often become dependent upon the drug trade for their livelihood. The wide disparity of wealth distribution encouraged the old Bedouin tradition of raiding - for camels, for slaves, for women. This warrior tradition, as it has grown to encompass the old dynamic of war, shaped the lives of many.
Thousands have lost members of their families, or been orphaned by the conflicts, in Afghanistan, Palestine, Washington, New York, across the world where the forces of evil are at work.
The survivors in many of those countries often turn to the most fundamentalist aspects of Islam.
(Click below to continue the Flight to Adventure.)