United States and the Middle East: A Comparative Review of Power, Faith and Fantasy and The Age of Sacred Terror

United States and the Middle East: A Comparative Review of Power, Faith and Fantasy and The Age of Sacred Terror


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            Although the relationship of the United States and the Middle East had a turning point in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers at New York City, the US has had important presence in the Middle East throughout the pages of its history - United States and the Middle East: A Comparative Review of Power, Faith and Fantasy and The Age of Sacred Terror introduction. Michael Oren’s Power, Faith, and Fantasy is a well-researched account of what went on between the US and the Middle East from the founding of the former until the present time. On the other hand, Benjamin and Simon’s The Age of Sacred Terror explores the roots and the dynamics of the war of fundamentalist Islam waged against the United States.

The Authors

            Michael B. Oren resides in Jerusalem, Israel as a fellow at the Shalem Center, which engages in research and studies concerning Jewish intellectual and public life. He has been the recipient of several fellowships from the US Department of Defense. He has also served in the Israeli government in various capacities, including the Inter-religious adviser of Yitzhak Rabin’s government. Because of his apparent sympathies with Israel, his analysis may have been affected (Shalem Center, n.p.).

            On the other hand, Daniel Benjamin has served in the counter-terrorist efforts of the US government. In fact, from 1994 to 1999, he was the in the National Security Council for Bill Clinton. Steven Simon, on the other hand, also served in the National Security Council for five years after serving in the U.S. Department of State in Middle Eastern affairs.

Muslims and the United States

            According to Oren (20), three main issues have shaped the relationship of the United States with the Middle East: these are political and economic power, religion, and ideals that were largely based on the Christian religion and its sympathies with the Jewish nation.          In the founding years of the United States, it had brushed against Barbary States with their religious fervor. The US, of course, responded by developing its naval power and by developing its religious fervor in converting other peoples to the faith it professes. Religious prejudice against the Muslims was also developed as a result of the early relationship of the US with Muslim countries. Thomas Jefferson, ironically regarded as a pacifist, directed the war against the Muslim Barbary states and sanctioned the establishment of naval presence far from the shores of the US.

            One of the most central acts of the US in its relation with the Middle East is the establishment of the Jewish State in the Middle East. Such an act was not in accord with “realist” principles in international relations. According to Oren, despite the repeated warnings of academics and the refusal of the allies of the US concerning the Jewish state, it still pursued what it pursued as its God-given mission of restoring the Jews to their ancient homeland—Palestine. In this regard, religious conviction, more than just national interests motivated this single act of the US. Rather, the dynamics of the nation’s religion and culture helped it arrive at such a decision. This act of the US, however, brought it into direct conflict with the rest of the Arab world. As Oren cites the first pro-American king of Saudi Arabia, Arabs will endlessly resist the Jewish State established in Palestine. Indeed, they have.

            Oren’s book was seen through American eyes. Although the author presented several historical accounts and sources, his interpretation appears to lean towards justification of the attitude of the US towards the Jewish state in Palestine. He attempted to describe the act of the US in terms of the dynamics of culture, tradition, and religion. It appears, however, that he is providing a justification for the United States’ interventions in the Middle East and argues that such interventions created less harm than good and is necessary for the benefit of the Middle East.

Although his praise of the American presence in the Middle East is a controversial pronouncement, Oren’s book is an important study in an important chronicle of the relation of the United States and the Middle East. It yields important insights in the historical development of the US and the dynamics of its culture, heritage and tradition in the unfolding events in the Middle East and in the world.

The Age of Sacred Terror provides a supplement to Oren’s work as it sought to explain the origins of Islamic fundamentalism, particularly the Al-Qaeda in the 1990s. they do not only outline the development of the Al-Qaeda but they connect it with the deeper thinking of Muslims in the modern world. They did this by looking into the ideas and concepts developed by Muslim thinkers in the past such as Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyya and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, whose ideas were influential in shaping much of modern-day Islam.

Benjamin and Simon (35) explained that the US and its allies have recognized the specter of this terrorism, yet they have been slow in responding to such a phenomenon. Although written in retrospect, the authors argue that the September 11, 2001 attacks could have been prevented. More than that, they argue that if the US and the West do not take precautions, such attacks may happen again.

Many Islamic nations show support to Islamic terrorist groups one way or another. The authors show that religion is a binding force among these countries and the terrorist groups. These countries, according to the authors, show lip service to the efforts of the US in fighting terrorism.

The most important contribution of Benjamin and Simon, however, may be the explanation that they put forward as to why Muslims and the Middle East in general hate Americans. The extent of this hatred is staggering and terrorist movements were mobilized in order to wreak havoc against Western civilization. They also proposed several strategies in dealing with the terrorist threat.

Benjamin and Simon’s book was written in hindsight through the perspectives of two National Security Council operatives who are no longer there. They provide an understanding of what the US is facing today from Al Qaeda and from Islamic fundamentalists. Implicitly, they offer a justification of the war that the US is waging against Afghanistan and later Iraq.

Together with Oren’s work, Benjamin and Simon’s book provides a comprehensive look at the contentious relationship that the US has with the Middle East. The prospect they paint is one of further conflict and friction in the coming years. As such, they call for the US and the rest of the Western world to prepare for more of such.

Works Cited

Benjamin, D., & Simon, S. The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America. New York: Random House, 2003.

Oren, M. B. Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present. New York: W W Norton, 2007.

Shalem Center. Michael B. Oren, http://www.shalemcenter.org.il/education/?aid=3cb211aae4730ab0175b1392a5cf2d6d&did=20 [accessed 11 December 2007].

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