The only piece of real estate in the ME not floating on oil…

By skepticlawyer

… And still they keep fighting over it. The graphics were originally produced by ‘Maps of War‘, who do a nice job of this sort of thing. One thing that stands out to me: how late and brief European Colonialism was, which suggests that many of the people now moaning about it may be protesting a little too much.

(One thing; this version appears to have been doctored by some Turkish nationalists, who claim credit for it at the end; I’d have included the original off the Maps of War site, but unfortunately I can’t make the file embed).

UPDATE: Reading some of the comments made me think of this poem, which one of my Indian friends told me about on the anniversary of Partition (1947) a few years ago:

Borders are scratched across the hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen
And when the borders bleed we watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map turn red.

~ Marya Mannes, Subverse: Rhymes for Our Times, 1959


  1. Peter Patton
    Posted March 28, 2010 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    That is one truly powerful presentation! What I found particularly useful was how the visual started each new empire from its source. So, for example, we see the sudden oozing of blue rush across from Mongolia to Byzantium. The two that really stand out are Rome and European colonialism, as they appear so remotely related to where the main imperialist game has always been; the “orient.”

    And you’re right. European colonialism touched the near/middle east only very, very briefly.

    I wonder if anyone has done one that takes in the entire globe?

  2. Posted March 28, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Have a wander around the Maps of War site; if anyone has made one, it will be them. There’s a pretty useful history of religion map there, IIRC.

  3. Posted March 28, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Christianity offers salvation, which has no geography. Islam is about falah, success in this life and the next. Losing formerly Muslim lands (regardless of how they were required) is an offense against that: a cosmic insult. Hence Osama bin Laden actually refers to the loss of al-Andalus (Spain and Portugal) in his speeches as a burden against Islam. But al-Andalus was always on the edge of Islam, Palestine is close to its heart.

    Christians can, of course, get territorial (witness the Crusades) but it is not inherent in the religion. Judaism has a specific (but deferrable) commitment to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Zionism hooked onto that in its proposition (demonstrably true) that Jews were not safe in Europe (or the rest of the Middle East).

    So, all the economics does is fund the conflict which exists for other reasons. The EU bribing Palestinians to have babies and funding (along with the UN) Palestinians as third- and fourth-generation “refugees” does its bit to make it worse.

  4. Posted March 28, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    It is a fun presentation. Niall Ferguson has pointed out that empires have been getting shorter in duration. But European colonialism is a relatively recent offense against falah while targeting it allows Western progressivists to blame the West for everything and Arabs to avoid responsibility for anything. Doing so while taking on a target almost no one will now defend. A very convenient scapegoat therefore.

  5. Posted March 28, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I have the solution. I do:
    1. Somebody really clever, invent time travel.

    2. Go back to sometime before all this started

    3. Offer the Palestinians all of the money that will be spent on this Giant Clusterfuck par Excellence in advance to move.

    4. Guarantee Jeruslem as a multi-faith Holy City

    5. Sell bagels and baklava in Tel Aviv.

  6. Posted March 28, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Probably won’t work.

  7. Posted March 28, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Hey, anything’s got to be worth a try, Adrien. I do think it’s unfortunate that we managed to get our missionary religions from the middle east. I mean, look at the Greeks and Romans; the former ate half of India and the latter almost got there. Guys, couldn’t you have brought home Buddhism? You know, a few less dead bodies…

  8. Peter Patton
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    I love the way, the huge Persian empire grows westwards, ending precisely at the moment the huge Greek/Macedonian empire spreads eastwards over the exact same space.

  9. Peter Patton
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo I think the whole era of imperialism/colonialism was really about bringing some sort of civilizational equilibrium across the whole globe, whereby the strategically well-placed and savvy took advantage of the civilizationally flabby.

    Now that we are virtually there, I wonder if humanity is in the midst of some new form of geographic ‘exploitation’, or projection of power, whose precise form and nature we are as yet not fully cognizant?

  10. Patrick
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    omg lol pp’s last coment top+ english

  11. Posted March 29, 2010 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    PP I would love to try and answer your question, if I understood it a bit better.

    Imperialism is about organisational advantage. Imperialism is as old as rulership. One would grab peasants to exploit and trade nodes to tax up to the territorial limits of one’s effective power, including pushing raiders further away. (Edward I’s conquest of Wales is a classic example of imperialism to stop raiding where control was consolidated by creating new–controlled–trade nodes: that was a big part of what those castles were about.) Practically every rulership did imperialism to the extent they could.

    I would argue that empires have been getting shorter because (1) organisational advantage is converging and (2) the returns from technological & institutional development are higher than from grabbing trade nodes or territory. Of the two, the latter is more important: the US could easily conquer the Middle East if it wanted to, but it really would not be worth the bother. Including the moral bother: there are reasons apart from the loss of comparative benefits that imperialism is in bad moral odour given the widening sense of moral community.

  12. Posted March 29, 2010 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    On the Middle East conflict, I would also point out the value of “the Zionist entity” as a scapegoat. A scapegoat for regimes to justify militarisation, control, lack of freedom, lack of prosperity. A scapegoat for the Arab “street” to express the angst they are not allowed to express for their own regimes.

    Various regimes have made the calculation that peace with Israel is now a better option: in part because it does not require them to entirely give up the scapegoating. Other regimes, not so much.

    People forget that the influx of Jewish capital and labour had a positive economic effect on Arab incomes in Palestine, to the extent of attracting Arab migrants from elsewhere in the Middle East. The option of cooperation (i.e. jointly benefiting from institutional and technological development) existed (and had Palestinian supporters). But rising wages and influx of newcomers undermined the status and position of the landowning elite (significantly based on debt bondage as it was). The Grand Mufti used anti-Jewish agitation to try and bind the newcomers to the existing elite. “Blame the Jews” has been the “glue” of Palestinian politics ever since.

  13. Posted March 29, 2010 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Way back when Ricardo argued that comparative advantage nullified any advantage accruing to sea-borne imperialism. That said, he also pointed out that if an empire was contiguous and also understood comparative advantage, it would be unstoppable. There is nothing to be gained for the US in conquering the ME, trade is better.

    There is, however, something to be gained for the US in having a tamed Mexico and northern states of South America. Even conquest may be worthwhile, if those states look like going communist (say).

    There is something to be said for meddling in your own backyard; foreign adventurism, not so much.

  14. Posted March 29, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    SL Hence the US, Russia, China and England being the major “still going” imperialisms. With the US having the advantage that there is no part of its (now) metropolitan territory where a majority does not identify with the US.

  15. Posted March 29, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    (I should have mentioned the Javanese empire, aka Indonesia too.)

  16. Posted March 29, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Guys, couldn’t you have brought home Buddhism? You know, a few less dead bodies…
    Yeah 🙂

    Adrien, the question is: how far back in time would you have to go to stop fighting in the area? Would 4000BC be enough? (probably not)

    No. There’s something in the water. Israelis think they’re not accepted. They are. Welcome home cousins say the Arabs. We all hate each other here. Remember?

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