Book review: A 17th-century solution for conflict in the Middle East

Updated 22 November 2018

Book review: A 17th-century solution for conflict in the Middle East

  • The Peace of Westphalia brought reconciliation, order and peace to central Europe — “such a feat is worth emulating,” the authors conclude

BEIRUT: “Towards A Westphalia for the Middle East” by Patrick Milton, Michael Axworthy and Brendan Simms provides the framework for a solution to years of conflict and unrest in the Middle East. This refreshing discussion is based on the Peace of Westphalia, the treaty that put an end to the Thirty Years War in Europe in 1648.

Ralf Beste and Maike Thier mention in the preface that German diplomats’ interest in this treaty did not originate at home, but in the Middle East. Former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is now the country’s president, participated in a symposium with Arab intellectuals during a trip to Jeddah some years ago, during which a young man exclaimed that the Middle East needed its own Peace of Westphalia.

The remark was impactful and eventually the Korber Foundation, in cooperation with Germany’s Policy Planning Unit of the Federal Foreign Office and the University of Cambridge, initiated a project, “A Westphalia for the Middle East,” to search for constructive approaches and creative ideas in the search for peace.

The authors argue that both the Thirty Years War in Europe and the conflict in the Middle East consist of a series of separate but interconnected struggles and detail their belief that the 17th century treaty’s success was due to its peacemaking techniques and diplomatic lessons — to include bigger powers, to be innovative, creative, willing to compromise and, finally, to negotiate for as long as it takes until a peace deal is signed.

David Petraeus, the former director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, and German leader Angela Merkel, to name but a few, have endorsed the Westphalia project.

The book itself has gained recognition from international scholars, with Peter Wilson, professor of History at Oxford University, calling it a “lucid, critical discussion of how the historical example of the Peace of Westphalia might encourage more constructive solutions to current conflicts in the Middle East.”

The Peace of Westphalia brought reconciliation, order and peace to central Europe — “such a feat is worth emulating,” the authors conclude.


What We Are Reading Today: Race Is About Politics Jean-Frederic Schaub

Updated 21 January 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Race Is About Politics Jean-Frederic Schaub

  • Schaub argues that to understand racism we must look at historical episodes of collective discrimination

Racial divisions have returned to the forefront of politics in the US and European societies, making it more important than ever to understand race and racism. 

But do we? In this original and provocative book, acclaimed historian Jean-Frédéric Schaub shows that we don’t— and that we need to rethink the widespread assumption that racism is essentially a modern form of discrimination based on skin color and other visible differences.

On the contrary, Schaub argues that to understand racism we must look at historical episodes of collective discrimination. Built around notions of identity and otherness, race is above all a political tool that must be understood in the context of its historical origins.

Although scholars agree that races don’t exist, they disagree about when these ideologies emerged. Drawing on historical research from the early modern period to today, Schaub makes the case that the key turning point in the political history of race in the West occurred not with the Atlantic slave trade and American slavery, as many historians have argued, but much earlier, in 15th-century Spain and Portugal, with the racialization of Christians of Jewish and Muslim origin.