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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Faith in the Face of the Empire – The Geo-Politics of the Middle East

Chapter Three (“The Geo-Politics of the Middle East”) of Mitri Raheb’s book Faith in the Face of Empire: the Bible through Palestinian Eyes is brief but very necessary.   Maybe it starts to feel like a lot of preparatory work – the book’s title, after all, is about the Bible – and three chapters into it we’re still not to actually reading the bible yet. 

First – keep in mind that this is a short book, 166 pages – including the index. These chapters are brief.  But – Second – they are a necessary corrective against a long history that has ignored the concerns and viewpoint of the Palestinian people.  If Raheb spends the first few chapters reorienting (pun on purpose) us, it isn’t because he’s stalling. 

The chapter begins with a question: What do we mean when we say the ‘Middle East?’  “middle of where and east of what? (Raheb, 43) [i]  The term is a holdover from a European colonial understanding of the world – from a time when Europe was at the height of its imperial power (43).  The colonial past plus the imperial present are part of the equation that accurately describes the Middle East (44).  It is impossible to understand the situation without keeping this in mind.

In the past the region of Israel / Palestine has been controlled by 1 of 5 power poles – “albeit with different names, constellations, and degrees of power (46),” - Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Turkey and Europe.  And quite often the region was under the influence of more than one of these powers as they were fighting for ultimate control.

The situation today is a little different – the power poles (as Raheb describes them) are 1) The United States, 2) Israel, and 3) Oil (that is, “Saudi Arabia and Qatar, thanks to the influence of the petro-dollar (47).”

What do we mean when we say “Middle East”?  Middle of where, east of what?  Who is in control? Who has the power?  Who is exerting the influence fiscally and militarily?  These are questions that we need to keep in front of us as we approach the bible.

[i] Raheb, Mitri, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2014.

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