The Platform

Two British soldiers guard the entrance to the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1938.

It’s incumbent upon us to understand the cadence of history to safeguard our future from its most destructive patterns.

The expanse known colloquially as the Middle East, yet more accurately termed Western Asia, cradles the seminal birthplaces of the three intertwined Semitic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Each proclaims deep spiritual roots in this ancient soil, each with sacred sites entwined with their origins and identity.

A land scarred by conquests, from Roman invasions to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire post-World War I, has perennially been a crucible of religious fervor—a battleground where the adherents of these faiths have often clashed.

The geopolitical upheaval began anew with the Balfour Declaration and subsequent UN resolutions, which carved the British-mandated territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states—a response to the horrors of the Holocaust. This led to the establishment of Israel and the invasion by neighboring Arab states: Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. The resulting Arab defeat ceded even more land to Israel than the UN had allocated.

This moment, known in the Arab world as the Nakba, or ‘the catastrophe,’ resulted in the mass displacement of Palestinians and the usurpation of their homes by Israeli forces—homes that now fell within the borders of the nascent Israeli state. As a result, approximately 85 percent of Palestinians were uprooted, with over 700,000 relegated to the enduring limbo of refugee camps since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Arabs remaining within Israel found themselves marginalized, their movements curtailed, their neighborhoods impoverished by design, and their status diminished for nearly two decades—marked by their ethnicity and faith.

Out of this pressure cooker, diverse Palestinian factions coalesced to form the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, with Yasser Arafat at its helm. Its secular stance belied its commitment to guerrilla warfare, echoing the revolutionary tactics of Mao and Che Guevara. High-profile attacks and plane hijackings were the PLO’s dramatic means of bringing their plight to the world stage.

British soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1938
British soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1938.

In 1967, the preemptive strikes by Israel against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan—intended to forestall Arab aggression—triggered the Six-Day War. The aftermath left the Arab states with significant territorial, economic, and political losses.

Reports indicate that Hamas emerged as a counterbalance to the PLO’s influence, initially rooted in Sheikh Ahmed Yassin’s community-focused organization, Mujama al-Islamiya. The group’s influence grew during the first Intifada in 1987, a period of intense Palestinian resistance.

Curiously, Israel had earlier sanctioned the establishment of the Islamic University in Gaza in 1978, a territory it had occupied since the 1967 conflict.

The Palestinian intifadas—the first (1987-1993), the second (2000-2005), the third known as the “stabbings intifada” (2015-2016), and the most recent, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, this last month—reflect the deep-seated grievances of Palestinians over their dire circumstances and perceived neglect by Arab nations, the Israeli state, and the international community.

Within the Muslim collective consciousness exists a sense of grievance toward the Western world—a belief that Western nations unite against Muslim interests, intervening in Muslim countries on pretexts often viewed as dubious.

Post-Islam’s advent, tensions with the West grew, fueled by Islamic conquests that spread the faith but also incited Western resistance, culminating in centuries of crusades aimed at reclaiming Jerusalem.

The Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I presented the victorious Allies an opportunity to reshape the Middle East for their strategic aims, forever altering the region’s destiny.

The latter half of the twentieth century saw many countries shaking off colonial rule. The discovery of vast hydrocarbon reserves in the Middle East thrust these nations into the geopolitical spotlight, making them coveted arenas for international power plays.

The Muslim diaspora in the West has become an integral, constructive force within these societies, contributing economically and socially. However, this diaspora is not immune to the policies of their adopted homes, as sporadic violent acts signal protest and disillusionment from individuals within these communities.

Nevertheless, the broader Muslim populace in the West is often well-integrated and law-abiding, though provocations—such as the desecration of the Quran or the creation of offensive caricatures—can stir unrest.

Rudyard Kipling once penned, “East is east and west is west, the twain shall never meet.” Yet this persistent divide serves neither the interests of Muslims nor the West, threatening to exacerbate a “clash of civilizations” and erode global harmony.

History’s arrow moves inexorably forward, and as Mark Twain wryly noted, it doesn’t repeat—but it does rhyme. It’s incumbent upon us to understand the cadence of history to safeguard our future from its most destructive patterns.

Murtaza Kaleem has 15 years of teaching experience in history and politics. Murtaza's academic interests lie in the complexity of human nature when it comes to world politics and how that it is linked to our everyday lives.