BBC World service Newshour Extra. The BBC’s Owen Bennett Jones hosted a discussion called “Borders, Oil and Power in the Middle East.”
Newshour extra. The blurb:
The map of the Middle East, established after World War One almost 100 years ago, is crumbling. Islamic State militants now control large parts of Iraq and Syria including the border region that divides the two countries, and their territorial ambitions have not ended there. Is Islamic State permanently re-drawing the map, or can the traditional regional powers retain their dominance? What are the consequences for the people who live within those borders and for control of the region's vast mineral wealth? Owen Bennett Jones discusses these issues with professors Fawaz Gerges, Rosemary Hollis, Sari Nusseibeh and Avi Shlaim, and John Hamilton, the London director of Cross-Border Information.
(Photo: A group of IS fighters in an undisclosed location in Iraq holding guns and wave IS flags. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Colourful fashions sported by IS fighters, from l - r :
Blazer and baggy pants combo accessorised with full-face kaffiyeh; khaki and stone baggy-pants look topped off with black full-face pashmina; nightie, tea-towel, sandals and AK- 47; combat ensemble and balaclava; black top-to-toe accessorised with bullet-belt and colour co-ordinated face-scarf; lounge suit, grey v-neck jumper and colour co-ordinated full-face kaffiyeh; flack jacket layered over hoodie, teamed with khaki low-crotch pants, full-face black mask and AK-47
I.S. flags, black edged with gold-fringing: retro look inspired by granny’s velvet curtains.
Although I’m not qualified to evaluate the panel’s comments about the political journey that led to the current situation in the Middle East, I was sorry to see that three members of the panel are from the anti-Israel school of historians and lecturers.
Somewhat more realistic was Palestinian Al Quds University ex-president Sari Nusseibeh, who ‘retired’ from his post last year, three days after masked supporters of Hamas marched through the Al Quds campus. Sari Nusseibeh spoke of religion, politics and human values.
At the time Tom Gross said:
“Mr. Nusseibeh should stay and show that he is the moderate that he purports to be, by engendering a spirit of tolerance and moderation among students on campus, rather than allowing military-style parades that encourage violence, and that other students, who simply want to study, find intimidating,” said Gross on Thursday. “Were he do to this, President Nusseibeh could play a significant role in helping create a better future for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
Fawaz Gerges is on the BBC’s speed dial, and has been known to assert that I.S. has nothing to do with (the real) Islam. He said Isis is on a course of self-destruction. “Once the dust settles you’re gonna see the collapse of this particular utopian project.”
Rosemary Hollis is a professor of Middle East Policy Studies, City University. She analyses the concept of ‘narratives’ (Israeli v Palestinian) in a scrupulously “even-handed” manner, but is inclined to be more ‘even-handed’ about the Palestinian narrative than the Israeli one. She chaired a Chatham House Q & A called: “What next for the Middle East Peace process?” during which a question was posed, beginning: “I want to thank Professor Mekelberg (a panellist) for his very succinct summary of Israeli policy: grab more land, sit and wait. I’ve never heard it so succinctly summed up.” (Just to give a flavour of the kind of event Rosemary Hollis seems to involve herself in.)
Professor Hollis questioned whether the western concept of nation states is as seminal as they like to believe. She said the Sykes Picot order should not stand.
Avi Shlaim had more to say about Sykes Picot.
“Britain made three irreconcilable promises, promise to the Arabs, Sykes Picot agreement to carve up the Middle East at the expense of the Arabs and The Balfour declaration. Palestine, the thrice promised land.” He opined that all the borders had remained stable except one. (Israel’s) Avi Shlaim, as we already knew, is in favour of the ‘one-state solution’, which he appears to believe, if implemented, would somehow bring about peace in the region. (albeit after thirty or so years.)
Apart from an introductory statement by Sari Nusseibeh there was virtually no acknowledgement from Owen Bennett Jones or the other three panellists of the irrationality of political Islam, so the discussion, in my view, was meaningless.
What started out as a programme about borders (in view of Islamic State’s recent efforts towards obliterating them all to create a worldwide caliphate) gradually morphed into a discussion questioning Israel’s legitimacy via a rather complex, specialised exposition of the current state of the oil industry.
All the speakers appeared to regard the Arabs, the Palestinians, various Islamist groups (bar I.S.) as rational beings, rather than religious, Jew-hating fanatics, many of whose raison d'être is the ‘removal of Israel’ (or more specifically all Jews) from so-called ‘Muslim lands.’