My taste in reading has changed as I got older. These days I find myself drawn to history books. Which probably explains the almost constant sense of deja vu that pervades my waking hours.
Because we've been here before. Oh, not literally "us," but previous us's .. the European and American "us's."
As belated as it may be, it's now the turn of Middle Easterners to undergo the very long, very painful and abhorrently bloody process of change.
It's reformation time for the Middle East. And, like any inevitability that is been put off for too long, it's going take longer and result in more bloodshed than it would have had it happened in a more timely manner.
The drivers for this Middle Eastern reformation are the same as they were when the entire European continent roiled for hundreds of years' tribalism, religion, tribalism, ignorance, poverty, colonialism. It took a thousand years before the European continent achieved some semblance of equilibrium. And really, even that imperfect solution came only after two early twentieth-century wars, in which modern weaponry threatened to leave nothing left worth the winning.
It's good to keep in mind these days, when you hear politicians wringing their hands over the a few hundred people dying in Syria or Iraq or anywhere else in that region, that when the dust settled in 1945, an estimated 85 million had died during that final great European war. Say it again - 85 MILLION.
Now don't me wrong - I'm not saying that the ever-mounting body count in the rash of Middle Eastern conflicts is insignificant, or not worthy of disgust and dismay. I am just saying lose the "dismay" part, otherwise you will spend at least the next ten years in a continual state of dismay. Because that rodeo hasn't even begun yet. What we are seeing in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, et al... are just the warm up rounds.
So, as Western leaders try to figure out how to respond to respond to the mounting violence in that region, it would be useful for them to remember the much-maligned Neville Chamberlin. In 1937 Chamberlin was sure he could head off second European war with diplomacy. It was a laudable attitude, but it never had a chance of success. The wheel of history rolled right over Chamberlin. Europe's new order had not yet been settled. The last vestiges of Europe's old order, old ideas, old rivalries had not yet been purged. And so 85 million more people died.
We can sit around all day and argue over whether all that blood really had to be shed, what "coulda or shoulda" been done. But, to quote the Rubiyaat:
"The moving hand writes, and having writ moves on. Neither all your tears, nor all your wit, shall lure it back to erase half a line, nor change a word of it."
So now that process will play out in the Middle East. Well- meaning or conniving Western governments can do nothing but further delay the inevitable. History is on another roll. Reordering is the order of the day. One of mankind's "decks" is long overdue for a reshuffling.
This did not just happen. The fuse was lit way back after WW I, by none other than some of the very Western nations doing the most complaining right now, when they arbitrarily drew the borders of the very Middle Eastern nations now in turmoil.
So, we've done enough damage there already. The combination of colonialism, ancient tribal disputes and unreconstructed Islam has at last ignited a conflagration of historical scope, importance and horror. Unleashed now are all the horsemen of the Apocalypse. And woe be those foolish enough to think they can stop them by grabbing at their reins.
Not that some in that region will not beg us to do just that. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and other oil-rich states have prospered by catering to the West's thirst for their oil. They now see that gravy train threatened. They are already asking us to "do something" about the growing turmoil around them.
But the fact of the matter is that the old order, the black-gravy train, is coming to the end of its line too. It may take awhile before the fake "royal family" that has run Saudi Arabia for a century figures that out, but their days are numbered, just as the Romanov's days were numbered in 1918. The "moving hand" is again on the move, this time for the Middle East.
Then there's Israel - yet another Middle East ticking time bomb created by a guilt-ridden West in the wake of WW II. I have no idea what lays ahead for Israel. But any reader of history knows that the disappearance of entire nation states during epic periods of change is hardly unknown. I am not making any judgement here about the 5000-year old deeds everyone argues over in that region. I'm just looking at what's coming and wondering what will be there after the desert dust settles.