One Man’s Folly

Did you read Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s review of Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle-East? (The review requires registration. Use for a free login.) Take a deep breath, let me walk you through it. Here’s how it starts:

Even those of us who are not optimists by disposition have to admit that there are good reasons for being cheerful when we look around the world today.

Why, yes, we’re governed by an idiot, our civil rights are going to hell, poverty is on the rise, we have global warming, we’re in the process of rolling back women’s rights, we’ve invaded a country we had no business invading, but other than that, everything looks just peachy. Moving on:

North America and Western Europe enjoy peace and prosperity unimaginable by historic standards, and if the picture is less rosy in Latin America, and often tragic in Africa, then one must admit that whatever happens in those places doesn’t threaten global stability.

No matter that hundreds of thousands have died or are dying in conflicts in Congo, Angola, Namibia, or Somalia, never mind the continuing genocide in Darfur, forget the civil war in Colombia, set aside all the AIDS death in South Africa. As long as Wheatcroft and his people are OK, then the world is OK. But, wait, there’s more:

And now Japan is being joined by China and India in an explosive economic development (with whatever untoward social and environmental consequences) that may yet make this the Asian century.

Because, really, who cares about those social and environmental consequences? Fuck the environment, fuck the journalists rotting in jail, fuck Tibet. As long as he has his cheap, Chinese-made toys, he’s happy. Oh, wait, there’s a problem:

There is, in fact, just one region on earth that gives grounds for the deepest gloom. We unhelpfully call it the Middle East, although what’s really meant is Western Asia, the area between the Mediterranean and the Indus, bordered in the north by the Black Sea, the Caucasus and desert, in the south by the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. That region is in the throes of a historically immense, pathological crisis whose character we only partly understand, although we can perceive easily enough that what is already perilous may turn catastrophic, and could yet engulf us all.

See, I didn’t realize that the earth revolves around the Middle-East and America. They left that part out of my geography classes in high school.

If you’re curious what this provincial preamble has to do with Robert Fisk’s book, well, you’re not alone.