By Chet Yarbrough
Narration by: Tamim Ansary
Born and raised in Afghanistan, until 16 years of age (when the author moves to America), Tamim Ansary is well suited to offer a perspective on Middle Eastern’ history through Islamic eyes. Ansary colloquially explains the beginning and current importance of Muslim religion to the Middle East; a religion of 25% of the world population. It is a colloquial perspective because Destiny Disrupted comes from Ansary’s education and life experience; i.e. personal experience not unduly clouded by the illusions of western history. (This is not to denigrate western history–all history has the bias of the story-teller and facts selected.)
In the book’s introduction, Ansary acknowledges his story is not a scholarly treatise but a reflection of his personal memories and understanding of what he calls “middle earth” history. It is a history reaching back to the beginnings of Muslim religion but it is told through memories and research of a middle-aged man, raised in Afghanistan but matured in America.
Ansary calls the Middle East “middle earth” because it is bounded by Europe on the west, Russia and China on the north and east, Southern Africa and the waters of the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal on the south. The boundaries reflect isolation from different cultures based on geography and birth of a new religion, a religion that initially combined and politicized Middle Eastern’ tribes, but eventually fragmented “middle earth’s” society.
The Islam religion, like Christian religions, are not pacific; i.e. all are founded on belief in one God but break into many parts that result in as much violence as can be conceived by humankind. Ansary focuses on Islamic religion because that is the official religion of Afghanistan, the country of his birth and youth. Islam is the second largest religious group in the world. It dominates religion in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel (land between the Sahara Desert and the Sudanian Savanna in Africa), and some parts of Asia.
Ansary takes listeners from the dawn of Islam in the 7th century to modern times to suggest “middle earth” destiny has been disrupted by western culture. In the mind of Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, there is a war between Islamic unity and western culture. Al-Afghani is the first Islamic leader (1838-1897) to posit that belief. Ansary suggests this remains the underlying conflict between western culture and the “middle earth”.
Ansary exposes listeners to the many faces of the Islamic world. After introducing the beginning of Islam with God’s only messenger, Muhammad, Ansary explains there are two distinct religious movements.
One is reflected in the beginnings of Wahhabism; i.e. Sunni Islam’s orthodox, puritanical, reform movement that decries all forms of modern life and insists on the re-establishment of a Sunni Caliphate, an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader. The second is Shia Islam’s politically attuned Islamic movement that relies on modern interpretations of the original messenger’s statements about the right way to live a Godly life. Both factions insist on western withdrawal from the Middle East.
Ansary explains the history of modern times and how it affected the Middle East; i.e. he writes about growth of 19th and 20th century industrialization. Ansary places Middle Eastern’ culture in the middle of Western nations’ drive for modernization–the growing demand for energy victimizes the ideals and the politically un-represented classes of the Middle East. Human greed supplants and suppresses Islamic’ religious belief; i.e. the ruling classes in the Middle East succumb to the moneyed interests of the West; at the expense of its citizens.
WWI and WWII hugely increase the demand for oil. Middle Eastern nations are created out of whole cloth to provide negotiating partners for the purchase of natural resources. In 1916, the Sykes-Picot Agreement divided the Middle East into spheres of influence that were to be controlled by England and France, with the assent of Russia. There is no political room for Middle Eastern self-determination.
Wahhabism that desires an un-bordered caliphate to lead all of the Middle East is undercut by Western decisions to separate the region into spheres of influence. After WWI, self-determination for indigenous populations is touted by President Wilson’s “14 Points” but ignored by world powers in the settlement of war; new borders, never desired by Wahhabis’ Sunnis, are ignored by most Islamists.
Southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are allocated to France. Jordan and Iraq are controlled by Britain. Russia receives Istanbul, the Turkish Straits, and the Ottoman Armenian vilayets (provinces). Saudi Arabia and Egypt are set up with new Arab leaders who are bought off by western powers at the expense of Saudi Arabia’s and Egypt’s citizens.
The West supports leaders of Iran that are willing to sell mineral rights to feed the West’s insatiable demand for energy. The Shite population smolders with discontent over loss of political control and self-determination. Ultimately, they revolt with an Ayatollah bent on re-establishing an Islamic state.
The common theme is “the Middle Eastern” desire for independence and self-determination”. However, the direction of independence and self-determination is split between Wahhabis’ repression and regression, evident with movements like ISIS (or ISIL), and the drive for modernization by Iran in the context of Shia religious belief. The common characteristic of both movements is exemplified by Al-Afghani in the 19th, and Al Qaeda and ISIS in the 21st century—both movements are saying western culture is to stay out of “middle earth’s” territory.
Ansary suggests the disconnect between the West’s democratic institutions and “middle earth’s” religion-based governments is that the first idealizes freedom posited by Ayn Rand while “middle earth” demonizes freedom that engenders greed and sexual license of an unfettered Ayn Rand philosophy. Both hemispheres desire freedom but talk past each other with respective myopic views of freedom.
This is only a small part of Ansary’s book; i.e. he addresses many more subjects, including Israel, the Armenian holocaust, examples of Western’ bribery and misdirection in “middle earth”, and the issues of equality and modernization in the Middle East. It is too much to absorb in one listen but it is an excellent exposure to the Middle East through Islamic eyes.