Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Books of obsolete knowledge

Recently I have been finding a number of books about the Arab world, Middle East, Islamic culture, etc. in used bookstores. I have been gathering them as I feel that there is interest in the subjects and that Americans need to do a bit of research in order to form a better world-view. The book that I found most ironic was the one published in 2000 with the title "Iraq: Old Land, New Nation in Conflict" by William Spencer, published by Twenty-First Century Books (a division of the Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CONN.)

Looking through this book is like reading a book on typewriters published in the late 1990's, as that technology was being phased out. There are no American companies making typewriters. I believe that the last company on the planet to make a typewriter was an Italian firm and they stopped making them near the millennium step-over. Looking through this book had that feel for me of holding obsolete knowledge. The country described in this book is not the country that exists today, and yet the history of the nation of Iraq is a valuable read to anyone interested in how it was that a Saddam Hussein could rise to power in the first place.

In that sense, this is a completely worthwhile book. I am reminded of a book I found several years ago on the subject of the Spanish American world, written in 1899, full of American propaganda and feel-good fluffed egos. I remember as I found that book and held it in my hands that Gore Vidal has said that we had lost our way as soon as we became an Empire, and that we Americans don't like to think of ourselves as having an Empire and that this Empire of ours began with the Spanish American war and the taking of Cuba, Philippines, and the rest. THAT book represented the end of our innocence and the beginning of our self-denial.

Reading Spencer's book also has that feel of "divine intervention" and the blessing of what is about to follow. America was right and justified....blah blah blah. Poor Iraq, if only they could be like us. That sort of nonsense. The fact that the British carved Persia into two unequal pieces after the first World War, the fact that the CIA overthrew neighboring Iran's government in a 1953 coup, the fact that Europe has been meddling in the affairs of these "tribal peoples" for HUNDREDS of years seems to be glossed over, airbrushed out, forgotten - buried under the last sandstorm....except to the people who live in Iraq and Iran and across the Middle East. To them we are the great hypocrite. Promoting democracy in name only while securing our control over their natural resources (OIL)

In THAT sense this book is almost an embarrassment. Almost. Of course, the Bush-Cheney years has brought a naked ignorance/arrogance to the Middle East that will take years to undo. I am sort of interested to read a book written in late 2008 about the West's dealings with Iraq and Iran sometime in, say, 2015 or so when that book will either be accurate or woefully wrong.

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