BBC Newsnight Discusses Middle East Turmoil; Ignores UK Foreign Policy
Newsnight on 30 July 2014 covered the ongoing situation in the Middle East and opened with a short film by BBC journalist Mark Urban which discussed 5 reasons that the "Middle East is in Turmoil" (video and full transcript is below). The discourse is worth noting, particularly as it fails to address entire episodes of contemporary history. The film is made for a British audience yet fails to inform viewers about British Foreign Policy which has undeniably influenced recent developments in the Middle East. References are made to the creating of states in the Middle East by European Colonial powers, however more recent history (including the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bombing of Libya), is all but ignored.
It does not even enter the discussion that UK policy towards Iraq, Libya, Syria and Israel can be partly to blame for today's violence in those countries. Instead, Urban credits the west with a supposed attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East:
Mark Urban: There is another thing that's become clear too, that trying to drop another western construct - liberal democracy - into the current cauldron of the Middle East simply isn't going to work.
The five reasons for the turmoil (the last of which, "Be worried", is not a reason) given by Urban are:
1. New ideology (the rise of political Islam)
2. Collapse of the Arab Spring (fragmentation of states; violence and turmoil)
3. New borders (ISIS, Syria/Iraq, Libya, Israel)
4. New alliances (Shia alliances and Sunni alliances)
5. Be worried
The final point, "Be worried", focuses on the threat that Europe and the US might face (Urban: "Should we in the west be worried? Yes and deeply. [...] whether or not we want to get involved, we will be affected."). Noting that parts of the Middle East could become a "home for piracy, extremism and perhaps even the next 9/11", Urban's film does not attempt to contextualise any reasons that this may be linked to western foreign policy.
Given that the BBC is tasked with serving the public interest, we might hope that such a film would at the very least incorporate publicly available factual information about the UK's role in the modern Middle East. Instead, the naïve understanding of the supposed role of western power – well-meaning but prone to mistakes – is upheld in this Newsnight short film.
Transcript: Mark Urban's five reasons why the Middle East is in Turmoil (Newsnight 30 July 2014)
Title Screen: "WHY THE MIDDLE EAST IS IN TURMOIL. THE 5 KEY REASONS"
Mark Urban: The Middle East is a house designed by Europeans but sat on the foundations of the Ottoman empire. Its Monarchies and ministries aped those of Europe, and for several decades that did provided stability. But now the region is in crisis, and It's the chaos caused by a new mutation of political Islam that is the first point in understanding this.
Title Screen: "1. NEW IDEOLOGY"
Ayham Kamel: Arab regimes across the region have failed, economically, politically, on the security front, they have failed to form a regional structure, any form of permanent prosperity or stability. Absent some form of channel where the Arab public can actually get involved in governance, Islamism has been the only gateway.
Mark Urban: So are the old ideologies embodied by ba'athist or military leaderships dead and buried, and will an Islamic caliphate sweep all before it? We don't know yet, but we do know that this new wave of Islamist politics is a threat to elites and states across the region.
Title Screen: "2. COLLAPSE OF THE ARAB SPRING"
Mark Urban: There is another thing that's become clear too, that trying to drop another western construct - liberal democracy - into the current cauldron of the Middle East simply isn't going to work. For now, at least, the so-called called Arab Spring is going nowhere.
Mark Urban: In some placeses, like Iraq, it has been trumped by the politics of identity. Whereas the old authoritarian Ottoman model, ruled by the Pasha or general, has shown its resilience in Egypt and Algeria. But where the old strong men are swept away, Gadaffi or Saddam, fragmentation has followed. And that means old borders coming into question too.
Title Screen: "3. NEW BORDERS"
Mark Urban: The most obvious example has been the erasure of the Syria-Iraq border by ISIS, which now proclaims it's new Sunni state. The Kurds have gotten in on the act too, pushing forward their historic quest for statehood. Libya also is in danger of fragmentation with the east, ancient Cyrenaica now already largely separate.
Mark Urban: So are the states contrived by the European colonial powers doomed nearly 100 years ago doomed? Quite possibly. But don't forget that even in Iraq or Libya, there are still leaders who aspire to control of the whole, not just some rump statelet.
Professor Toby Dodge: You find a tenacious commitment to the state as the unit of primary identity. Now there are a lot of other identities going on, religious, ethnic as well, but the state survives, and the state survives as the unit of primary identity across the whole of the region.
Mark Urban: And don't forget that other hangover of British rule, Israel. There has been a 100 year argument about its existence and borders, and that times like now that conflict can inflame the whole region. But new forces are coming into play.
Title Screen: "4. NEW ALLIANCES"
Mark Urban: New alliances in fact emerging in the Middle East, and where as outsiders are happy to sell weapons to these power brokers, regional players are key. So Iran has made itself the guardian of the Shia, forging a power block with Hezbollah in Lebanon, President Assad's regime in Syria and increasingly the rump state of Iraq. Saudi Arabia champions the Sunni Arabs, pouring resources into the Syrian opposition, and its cache has made a client of Egypt too.
Ayham Kamel: The Saudis are not necessarily fighting the Iranians based on religious foundations. In part this is a traditional conflict between two very important regional powers, rich states, which have a very significant influence, fighting over controlling the Middle East at a time when the US is disengaging.
Mark Urban: But this isn't just a simple binary Saudi-Iranian contest. Saudi Arabia's will has been flouted by Qatar, also Sunni, backing Islamists in Egypt and Gaza. Israel too makes its own rules. Some - dare I mention Tony Blair - say the west must take sides and ally with the Saudi block. The more general western attitude is to steer well clear.
Title Screen "5. BE WORRIED"
Mark Urban: Should we in the west be worried? Yes and deeply. Because there is turmoil in the Middle East and it is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. And whether or not we want to get involved, we will be affected.
Professor Toby Dodge: This is going to come back to bite you. If you think of the huge trouble of turning, of the United States and indeed the international community turning its back on Afghanistan, leading to the birth of Al-Qaeda and a transnational jihadi movement, it took days for a young jihadi tourist to move from Europe to Afghanistan. It takes hours - basically a charter flight to Turkey and across across the border to get into Syria. So clearly this problem is going to come back and bite Europe especially hard, but also the United States.
Mark Urban: Growing chaos in Libya or Iraq could raise energy prices and hit economic recovery. Refugees from Syria or Libya flee to the EU, airspace is becoming unsafe for the big chunks of the region. And as for the ungoverned space that is also opening up in several countries, it provides a potential home for piracy, extremism and perhaps even the next 9/11.
|Categories in which this article appears: Middle East | Iraq | Syria | Libya | BBC News ||
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