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The Mahdi Army defeated the British Empire in Sudan in 1885.
Now a Mahdi Army battles the American Empire in Iraq in 2004.

Today the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani returns to
Najaf to "Save the Burning Holy City"

National Public Radio (NPR)

MER - Mid-East Realities - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 25 Aug 2004:
Every once and awhile one of the major media groups does come through with something of special important and something other than simple-minded regurgitation of the slogans and twisted perspectives the politicians and lobbyists are so busy manipulating, financing, and pushing.

That's not to say that this National Public Radio series doesn't pull some punches, cater to Western and especially U.S. sensibilities, and minimize the critique of their own that many others in the world would instead emphasize.

With that in mind, listen to the radio report, take a look at the enlarged map and associated materials, and remember that it was at the end of this period of direct Western imperialism and colonialism that the international Peace Conference of that era -- now known as "The Peace To End All Peace" -- created so many of the tensions and divisions that are today exploding throughout the Middle East region.

NPR's Middle East History Series is actually a six-part historical review of well-produced and well-presented programs even if sometimes the emphasis is not what it should be and even if some important things, especially relating to more modern times and the U.S. and Israel, are not dealt with adequately. Indeed, NPR's coverage of contemporary affairs is much too often much too muted and dishonestly 'balanced' to conform to the extensive political and financial pressures that are so prevalent in the United States today. But that of course is in the nature of Washington at this time in history and always has to be factored in to really appreciate what is truly going on both in the critical Middle East region as well as in the world's only current superpower. Prior in Middle East history there was Rome, then Instanbul, then Paris and London, and now in the modern-era, Washington is the central focus of political debate and dominating military as well as economic power.

The summary and links to all six parts of the Middle East History Series are provided below after the focus on Part III, "Carving Up The Region", which is in fact crucial to understanding how today's Iraq came to be and what has happened to this ancient land in the past century. Broadcasting of the NPR series concluded yesterday. The references to the Mahdi Army that defeated the British in Sudan more than a hundred years ago are of special interest at this particular historical moment in Iraq.

The Middle East and the West:
Carving Up The Region

audio iconAll Things Considered audio
(use link from NPR page which above is linked to)

Launch Photo GalleryPhoto Gallery: Europe's Middle East Adventures

Charles Gordon
Commanding Gen. Charles Gordon, who died fighting an Islamic revolt of British control in Sudan in 1885.
Credit: Michael Nicholson/Corbis

Map of European expansion in the Middle East and Africa
Inset of map showing the European expansion in the Middle East and Africa as of 1914.
Credit: Geoffrey Gaudreault, NPR
View Enlargement

Aug. 19, 2004 -- Napoleon's foray into Egypt in 1798, in the midst of the French Revolution, began a long string of European adventures in the Middle East, leading to colonization, resistance, and eventually war.

Eventually, the British would take Egypt, Sudan and the small states of the Persian Gulf. France would seize Algeria and Morocco. And Arab resistance to European encroachment would prompt much bloody violence.

The story of European moves into the region is the latest in a six-part series by NPR's Mike Shuster examining the troubled 900-year history of Western involvement in the Middle East.

Napoleon's effort to conquer Egypt "had little to do with Egypt and the Egyptians, who were then nominally part of the Ottoman Empire," Shuster says. "It had everything to do with Europe and his rivalry with Europe's other great powers."

Egyptian defenders were little match for Napoleon's disciplined French troops, and the defeat was a major blow for the Arab world.

"It had lasting effects," says Rashid Khalidi, professor of Middle East history at Columbia University. "Among other things it shocked people in Egypt, in the Arab world, who suddenly realized how weak their states were when facing the power of Western armies and fleets."

But the British navy soon joined the battle, opposing the French forces, and proved a far more challenging adversary. Napoleon was defeated and quickly left Egypt, although some of his troops remained.

Resistance to the French in Algeria and the British in Sudan provided the first hints of Arab nationalism, a movement that would sweep the Arab world in contemporary times.

Still, by the early 20th century much of the Middle East and Africa -- which had previously been under control of the Ottoman Empire -- was ruled by the Europeans.

1098 - 1291

The Crusades: Two Centuries of Holy War

Saladin; Credit:  Bettmann/Corbis

Aug. 17, 2004 In the late 11th century, the Pope of Rome declares a crusade to seize Jerusalem from the Arabs, who have held the Holy Land for centuries. In just a few years, European knights seize the city, slaughtering most of its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants and launching two centuries of holy war. | Map | Bios

1453 - 1683

The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Suleiman the Magnificent; Credit:  Bettmann/Corbis

Aug. 18, 2004 Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Ottoman sultans dominate the Islamic world -- ruling over a region stretching from Iran to Morocco. The Ottoman Empire becomes the most powerful state in the Mediterranean, seizing European land in the Balkans and Hungary and twice laying siege to Vienna. | Map | Bios

1783 - 1912

Europe Carves Up the Middle East

Napoleon in Egypt; Credit:  Christie's Images/Corbis

Aug. 19, 2004 In the midst of the French Revolution, Napoleon seizes Egypt in 1798, setting in motion century-long European scramble for the Middle East. Eventually, the British would take Egypt, Sudan and the small states of the Persian Gulf. France would seize Algeria and Morocco. And Arab resistance to European encroachment would prompt much bloody violence. | Map | Bios

1914 - 1936

World War I and its Aftermath

Lawrence of Arabia; Credit:  Bettmann/Corbis

Aug. 20, 2004 World War I sees Europe complete the seizure of the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany, is crushed by Britain and France. The territories of Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine fall into European hands. The French and British draw the borders of the modern Middle East, and the League of Nations sanctions their domination of the region. | Map | Bios

1945 - 1973

The Rise of the U.S. in the Middle East

President Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with Saudi King Abdul Aziz in 1945; Credit: National Archives

Aug. 23, 2004 As World War II ends, the United States becomes the great outside power in the Middle East, with three main concerns: Persian Gulf oil; support and protection of Israel, founded in 1948; and containment of the Soviet Union. The goals prove difficult to manage, especially through the rise of Arab nationalism, two major Arab-Israeli wars and an Arab oil embargo. | Map | Bios

1979 - 2003

The Clash with Islam

Osama Bin Laden; Credit:  Reuters/Corbis

Aug. 24, 2004 In 1979, Iran's Islamic Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan foreshadow a rise in Islamic radicalism. Violence intensifies, with the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf war. By the mid-1990s, America faces a new enemy: Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. involvement in the Middle East is deeper than ever. | Map | Bios

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