The borders of Muslim nations are artificial and fluid. The Muslim Middle East is not purely nomadic, but it is nomadic enough that large families stretch out across different nations and their tribal allegiances stretch with them. The Palestinians are a fraud, but so are the Jordanians, and to a lesser degree, the Egyptians and the Syrians. Every nation is an artificial entity ruled over by powerful families or old soldiers who are keeping the whole thing together with guns and bribes, not to mention imported bread and circuses.
The British treated the region as a grab-bag of clans, and backed any powerful family willing to throw in with them. That is how the Hashemite kings and the Arab-Israeli wars came to be. Unlike the Brits, the United States was not interested in an empire, just in oil rights, which is how we got in bed with one of the most powerful families in the region, who became far more powerful thanks to their association with us. And who repaid us by trying to conquer us in their own way.
At some point we forgot that the Saudis, the King of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and most of our so-called allies are just powerful families with territorial claims based on that power. And even slightly more civilized countries such as Egypt aren’t really any better; the invaders who overran them just absorbed more culture and civilization from their conquests and their proximity to more civilized parts of the world.
The only place that the Muslim Middle East ever goes is backward. The great achievement of the Arab Spring was to hand over power in Egypt to Mohammed Morsi, a man who not only carries the same name as a 7th Century warlord, but whose party is based on restoring Egypt to the values of that 7th Century warlord as a cure for the damaging modernism of civilization. And those values are tribal power, ownership of women and repression of outsiders.
Since all Middle Eastern Muslim power structures devolve to the tribal, personal power is the only power that matters. And personal power is a zero-sum game. No one can trust anyone else, because the only rule that counts is that the one with the most toys wins. That instability has led to a great deal of tyranny and misery, but it has also made it difficult for Islamic power to extend itself all that far.
Personal power is limited to a single tyrant and his feudal underlings. A highly effective conqueror can push his borders outward, but the whole thing inevitably collapses into broken emirates and then into backwardness and decay. The conquest may impose Islam on a population, but that just dooms the people under the yoke of the Koran to be less competent, less innovative and more backward than their neighbors.
A Muslim conqueror may begin by raiding infidels for plunder and glory, but usually ends by turning on his rivals in a conflict that creates deep fractures and divisions, some of which like Sunni and Shiite, last to this day. Despite all the professions of faith, the Jihad devolves into tribal power, and Muslim kills Muslim for a chance at the golden throne.
In the desert, nothing really changes. One day turns into another. The footprints of the past are buried by the next sandstorm, and tomorrow’s traveler arrives to marvel that his feet were the first to mark a path that lies buried just beneath his feet.
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