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

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

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: European Passerines by Tomasz Cofta

What We Are Reading Today: European Passerines by Tomasz Cofta
Updated 27 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: European Passerines by Tomasz Cofta

What We Are Reading Today: European Passerines by Tomasz Cofta

Opening up new frontiers in birdwatching, this is the first field guide to focus specifically on the identification of European passerines and related land birds in flight. Showcasing 850 stunning and remarkably lifelike color illustrations from acclaimed bird artist Tomasz Cofta, produced using the latest digital technology, backed up with more than 2,400 photographs carefully selected to show typical flight profiles, it provides detailed and unsurpassed coverage of 205 European passerines and 32 near-passerines. This cutting-edge book brings a new dimension to birdwatching, the concise and authoritative species accounts presenting novel yet essential information on the flight manner of individual birds and the structure and behavior of flocks — features that are key to identification, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. It also includes precise transliterations of flight calls, supported by sonograms, and links to a unique collection of hundreds of online audio recordings. Beautifully designed and written in an accessible style, this book will appeal to birdwatchers of all abilities.


What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval

What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval
Updated 26 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval

What We Are Reading Today: A Decade of Upheaval

Authors: Dong Guoqiang and Andrew G. Walder

A Decade of Upheaval chronicles the surprising and dramatic political conflicts of a rural Chinese county over the course of the Cultural Revolution.
Drawing on an unprecedented range of sources — including work diaries, interviews, internal party documents, and military directives — Dong Guoqiang and Andrew Walder uncover a previously unimagined level of strife in the countryside that began with the Red Guard Movement in 1966 and continued unabated until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
Showing how the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution were not limited to urban areas, but reached far into isolated rural regions, Dong and Walder reveal that the intervention of military forces in 1967 encouraged factional divisions in Feng County because different branches of China’s armed forces took various sides in local disputes.
The authors also lay bare how the fortunes of local political groups were closely tethered to unpredictable shifts in the decisions of government authorities in Beijing, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Eventually, a backlash against suppression and victimization grew in the early 1970s and resulted in active protests, which presaged the settling of scores against radical Maoism.


What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy

What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Updated 25 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy

What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy

In The Virus in the Age of Madness, world-renowned philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy interrogates the many meanings and metaphors we have assigned to the pandemic — and what they tell us about ourselves.

With medical mysteries, rising death tolls, and conspiracy theories beamed minute by minute through the vast web universe, the coronavirus pandemic has irrevocably altered societies around the world. 

Drawing on the philosophical tradition from Plato and Aristotle to Lacan and Foucault, Lévy asks uncomfortable questions about reality and mythology. He rejects the idea that the virus is a warning from nature, the inevitable result of global capitalism; he troubles the heroic status of doctors, asking us to think critically about the loci of authority and power; he challenges the panicked polarization that dominates online discourse. 

Lucid, incisive, and always original, Lévy takes a bird’s-eye view of the most consequential historical event of our time and proposes a way to defend human society from threats to our collective future.


What We Are Reading Today: War

What We Are Reading Today: War
Updated 24 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: War

What We Are Reading Today: War

Author: Margaret MacMillan

Margaret MacMillan’s War contemplates the existence of war: Why it occurs, and what it says about human nature.
War is always with us, even in peace. It has shaped humanity, its institutions, its states, its values and ideas. Our very language, our public spaces, our private memories, some of our greatest cultural treasures reflect the glory and the misery of war. War is an uncomfortable and challenging subject not least because it brings out the most vile and the noblest aspects of humanity.
MacMillan reveals the many faces of war — the way it shapes our past, our future, our views of the world, and our very conception of ourselves.
The book looks at the ways in which war has shaped human history and how, in turn, changes in political organization, technology, or ideologies have affected how and why we fight.
The book also looks at much-debated and controversial issues as when war first started; whether human nature dooms us to fight each other; why war has been described as the most organized of all human activities and how it has forced us to become still more organized.


What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century
Updated 23 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Author: Ahmet Erdi Ozturk

This recently published book explores, from a historical perspective, Turkey’s current political maneuvers and religious leverages in the Balkans under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It presents Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia as case studies of Turkey using soft and hard policy instruments in the region.

Author Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, an associate professor at London Metropolitan University and Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at Coventry University in the UK and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, wrote the book after a study in several Balkan countries that took more than three years to complete and included interviews with almost 130 high-ranking individuals.

It suggests that Turkey insistently interferes in Balkan politics using religion, state power and imaginary identities, dubbed by some as neo-Ottomanism, and that this presence gradually becomes a threat to the secularism and sovereignty of the countries it targets.

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, not only aids understanding of Turkish-Balkan diplomatic relations, but also the complex relationship between the regime in Ankara under Erdogan and the Muslim communities in the three countries.

Beyond that, it is about more than just Turkey and the Balkans; it also deepens our understanding of how religion can be used as a form of soft power in global affairs. It examines a number of political parties, for example Besa in Macedonia, that are linked to the regime in Ankara and the ways in which they interact with Turkish state apparatus.

The underlying strategy behind the construction of new mosques across the Balkans as a way to turn these countries toward Turkey rather than West is also examined in detail.