The Garden of F****** Paths
The situation in the Middle East is so complex that it is impossible even to come up with a single adequate metaphor: Borromean rings? Russian dolls? the Chinese finger trap? Jenga? Pick up sticks? Evidently, an epic poem on these events will have to written in fractalic hexameter. But I will be told it’s all really very simple when you factor in:
The energy crisis, fundamentalisms and other versions of reactionary modernism, the injured pride of Islamic nations, the unresolved stress of modernization, sexual politics, globalization, various ghosts of the 19th Century’s Great Game, the desire of the Persians to finally get even with the Arabs, the cyclic struggle of the nomads and the city dwellers (ibn Khaldun!), the mutual hatred of Sunnis and Shias, America’s quest for the mirage of ultimate safety, the forceful imposition of liberal democracy overseas sponsored by people who hate liberal democracy at home, climate change with accompanying drought and environmental degradation, the final collapse of the Sykes Picot agreement as part of the ongoing demise of the Westfalian system of international relations, the clash of civilizations, demographic trends (too many adolescent males), Facebook and Twitter, the covert alliance of the Saudis and the Israelis, the inability of states to control their intelligence apparatuses, irredentist nationalisms (Turks, Israelis, Kurds, and Syrians), the revived Cold War between Russia and U.S., the aspirations awakened during the Arab Spring, the persistence of archaic forms of government (sheiks and kings), the activities of irresponsible plutocrats, political paralysis in America, European disunity and economic stagnation, state breakdown in Pakistan, entrepreneurial terrorism, and whatever else I’m too lazy to write down.
People search for the basic cause of every great historical catastrophe, but the true explanation of such explosions is precisely the absence of a single basic cause. The French Revolution, the outbreak of World War I, the current impasse in the Middle East are crises made out of crises, knots of imbricated contradictions too intricate to unravel except with a sword. Unfortunately, there are always many would-be Alexanders around who are likely to lose patience at the same time. Hence the otherwise inexplicable suicidal stupidities that characterize such conjunctions, mostly committed by leaders trying to be statesmen when the situation calls out for politicians.