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Student Paper: The Iranian Revolution: Comparing “The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran” by Charles Kurzman with “A History of Modern Iran” by Evrand Abrahamian by a Student…

March 26, 2015
Mohammed Mossadegh, Iranian prime minister who nationalized Iranian oil and was overthrown in an C.I.A. orchestrated coup d'etat in 1953

Mohammed Mossadegh, Iranian prime minister who nationalized Iranian oil and was overthrown in an C.I.A. orchestrated coup d’etat in 1953

(Note: What follows are a number of student papers from a class I taught “History of the Middle East Since 1800″ at the University of Denver – January 5 – March 12, 2015. Among them, were several I considered polished-to-publishable. The assignment was to compare two books on the same subject within the course’s framework. This paper by a student, compares two books on the Iranian Revolution:  Charles Kurzman’s , The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran. Cambridge with Evrand Abrahamian’s A History of Modern Iran. )


The Iranian Revolution

In his book, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, Charles Kurzman gives a detailed account of the Iranian revolution, specifically looking at the events of the two years leading to the revolution of 1979. Kurzman’s main argument is that no one predicted the Iranian revolution, not the stable government, not the Iranian people, and definitely not the CIA and Jimmy Carter’s administration. After all, how could a “stable regime, led by a monarch with decades of experience, buoyed by billions of dollars in oil exports, girded with a fearsome security apparatus and the largest military in the region, and favored by the support of the world’s most powerful countries” fall (Kurzman 1)? It was a revolution that remained unthinkable because the government was so stable and since it remained unthinkable, it remained undoable (Kurzman 172). In fact, Mohammad Reza Shah’s security chief recalled that the idea of a revolution in 1977 had become an inside joke and quite amusing (Kurzman 172). However, the revolution took everyone by surprise, because the Iranians began to ‘“think the unthinkable”’ and looking at the revolution as a viable movement (Kurzman 142). Once the revolution had occurred, everyone was preoccupied with understanding how this revolution had occurred. In a report after the revolution, internal State Department had argued that the U.S. was not prepared for the fall of the regime because the U.S. didn’t want to know the truth (Kurzman 4).

In addition to the confusion of the CIA and U.S. government, Charles Kurzman presents a detailed explanation of the revolution’s impossibility from a political, organizational, cultural, economic, and military perspective and how the Iranian revolution was of a different trend than the other famous uprisings, such as the French revolution. From a political perspective, Kurzman argues that revolutions occur when a government loosens its pressure and allows the oppositionists to successfully mobilize. In the case of Iran, this should have come after Jimmy Carter’s campaign for human rights and shah’s relaxed policies. On the contrary, the mobilization came after Muhammad Reza Shah rescinded his liberalization (Kurzman 6). From an organizational perspective, revolutions were supposed to happen when oppositional forces had preexisting organized resources to “contest the regime’s hold,” but in Iran, the “mosque networks” was not preexisting, rather they were constructed during the revolution (Kurzman 6). From a cultural perspective, revolutions happen when a movement can draw “upon oppositional norms, ideologies, beliefs, and rituals in a society” (Kurzman 6). In Iran, the movement was based on Shi’i Islamic ideologies and practices and was modified to fit the revolutionary ideas. Based on the economic perspective, revolutions happen when economic problems cause uproar. However, in Iran, the 1977 recession that came after the oil boom of 1973 wasn’t worse than previous ones (1975). Additionally, the people who were hit the hardest, wasn’t necessarily the most revolutionary (Kurzman 6). From a military perspective, revolutions took place when state’s military cracked down on opposition forces but in Iran, the shah didn’t break down definitively, rather suppressed the protests (Kurzman 6). Read more…

Student Paper: Leftist Narratives on Israeli Occupation and Apartheid: Comparing “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” by Max Blumenthal With “Gaza In Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians” by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe. Paper by Austin Michaels

March 24, 2015
Illegal Jewish Settlements in West Bank

Illegal Jewish Settlements in West Bank

(Note: What follows are a number of student papers from a class I taught “History of the Middle East Since 1800″ at the University of Denver – January 5 – March 12, 2015. Among them, were several I considered polished-to-publishable. The assignment was to compare two books on the same subject within the course’s framework. This paper by Austin Michaels. Michaels   compares two books on the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories – Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel and Noam Chomsky and Illan Pappe’s Gaza In Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against The Palestinians. )


Leftist Narratives of Israeli Occupation and Apartheid

Few issues inspire such broad agreement in the top echelons of the American political system than the so-called conflict between Israel and Palestine. Since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, the American government has stood steadfastly behind Israel, ostensibly the sole democracy in the Middle East. For decades, America’s policies toward its most important strategic ally in the region have remained unwaveringly and uncritically supportive of Israel’s policies of expulsion, apartheid and what amounts to ethnic cleansing in Palestine, regardless of the party affiliation of the President or which party controls Congress. Even when the two parties disagree on issues pertaining Israel, it is for the usual superficial reasons rather than substantive differences in opinion. This was especially evident this week as some 60 Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders skipped Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. Only Sanders boycotted due to criticism with Netanyahu, the Democrats did so because of perceived disrespect to the Obama administration latent in John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu. All this is to say that within the American political elite, there is little disagreement on policy towards Israel-Palestine. Thus, it falls to the radical camp to provide meaningful criticisms of Israeli apartheid and genocide. Max Blumenthal and Noam Chomsky, both American Jews and prominent voices of the American left, have both written works highly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestine and Palestinians.

Blumenthal, the son of a senior adviser to Bill Clinton, wrote Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which chronicles his journey through Israel and Palestine shortly after Operation Cast Lead. Goliath is a compelling, first-person narrative of the routine racism and violence perpetrated upon Palestinians and Arabs by both the people and the state of Israel. Blumenthal’s documentation of his own experiences, along with his interviews with activists and national politicians, provides an exciting narrative style that brings the reader’s attention immediately to the plight of those living under Israeli occupation. Goliath also contains concise, coherent summaries of the historical context that is so relevant to current developments in the crisis. This is not to say that Blumenthal’s writing is without flaw. His own strong opinions are constantly latent in his writing, and not always in a successful way. Blumenthal’s writing can often take on a tone of relentless criticism of Israel and Israelis. Even as such criticisms may contain kernels of truth, they can make Blumenthal appear unreliable and make his book inaccessible to those not already convinced of Israel’s crimes. Read more…

Tunisia: Tragedy Strikes – 2 – Targeting The Country’s Cultural Heritage

March 24, 2015
Bardo Museum Roman Era Mosaic

Bardo Museum Roman Era Mosaic

(Part One)


Tunisia: Tragedy Strikes – 2

The Bardo – Symbol of Tunisia’s Rich Cosmopolitan Past…

At least from the initial reports, that while now 23 people were killed and 47 wounded, it appears that none of the Bardo’s collection of priceless historical cultural gems, were damaged in the terrorist attack, thus related the Washington Post in its March 18, edition, the day after the slaughter although the building’s exterior ground surface was broken up in places. The Post article went on to describe the Bardo’s collection as “one of the world’s greatest collections of mosaics”…“unequaled,” “outweighing those of the Metropolitan Museum…at least when it comes to Roman mosaics,” its only rival perhaps being the mosaic collection of the University of Naples which houses those preserved from Pompeii. It compares that the Naples’ mosaic collection, from a particular moment in time, that of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption, with the Bardo’s which spans more than 400 years.

Similar to the Southwest of the United States where archaeological remains are often in excellent condition, the generally dry and hot North African climate, so close to the Sahara, is a suitable environment for the preservation of archaeological items. It has been said that the Roman ruins in Tunisia are better preserved than those in Rome. From 146 BC for the next four hundred years, “Carthage,” today a Tunis upscale suburb – the pearl of Phoenician Mediterranean civilization was, along with neighboring Algeria, the bread basket of the Roman empire producing grains, delicious fruit, olive oil in great supply. That period is vividly portrayed in the Bardo’s mosaic collection. Three years ago, looking out from Amilcar, named after a Carthaginian general Rome and statesman, I looked upon one of those fields whose wheat harvest fed Rome and which has produced a rich supply of food for 3000 years, maybe more realizing I was walking in an area breathtakingly rich in human history. Read more…

Tunisia: Tragedy Strikes – 1 – “He Couldn’t Hurt A Bird”

March 22, 2015


Tje Bardo Museum

The Bardo Museum: Mosaic from the Roman Period of Tunisian History

(Note: This piece was also published at Foreign Policy In Focus)


(Part Two)


“He couldn’t hurt a bird.”

Well maybe “he” couldn’t. After all, a mother knows her son. But over  a short period of less than a year, he changed, didn’t he? And then he could, and did…and it wasn’t birds he hurt but people he killed. Thus spoke Yassine Al-Abidi’s mother shortly after her son, who had just participated in the mass murder of foreign tourists, had died in a shoot out with Tunisian security forces at the Bardo Museum  in Tunis this past Wednesday (March 18, 2015). The Bardo is a block away from the Tunisian Parliament which was said to be discussing “combating terrorism at the time. Who knows, perhaps her characterization is on the mark, or was, until something obviously in the young man snapped. How else to account for the murderous rampage that followed resulting in the deaths of so many, Al-Abidi’s included.

The Bardo is one of the entire Mediterranean basin’s most important museums, the second only to the Egyptian Museum on the African continent. In a manner similar to how ISIS is systematically and wantonly destroying Syria and Iraq’s Assyrian and Babylonian cultural heritage, more than likely the Bardo itself was a target of this recent Tunisian terrorist attack, having an extensive collection of Tunisia’s rich and diverse cultural history – Carthegenian, Roman, Byzantine and of course Islamic (Arab and Ottoman), French colonial pieces, suggesting that the country’s culture, while today, largely Sunni Islamic, still remains a synthesis of these different traditions, and one that overwhelmingly, the people of Tunisia are quite proud. Particularly considered valuable, is the museum’s sizable collection of Roman-era mosaics covering over 400 years of Roman occupation of the country.

True enough Al-Abidi, like so many other Arab youth, showed few outward signs of hard-line Islamic radicalization. A Tunisian youth with a baccalaureate degree in French and a job as a travel agent, he was an unlikely candidate to become a casual mass killer. Nor could his family understand how it was “that a lively popular youth with a taste for the latest imported clothes could have done such a thing.” Still, Al Abidi’s transformation from what all appearances was a gentle, soft-spoken Tunisian youth to a terrorist who could kill with impunity, appears to follow a pattern of radicalization of many thousands of other Tunisian young men recruited through the country’s mosques who, after a short education/indoctrination, wind up fighting in Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

According to a number of sources, post-Ben Ali Tunisia has been one of the main sources of jihadi recruits – more than 3000 have left to fight particularly in Syria, Iraq and Libya with some 500 having returned to the country, now trained and many battle-hardened from their foreign experience. How many others, like Al-Abidi have slipped across Tunisia’s border into Libya to get military training there is difficult to tell but the-recently-removed-from-power Ennahdha Party had cooperated closely with more radical Salafist elements, permitting them in large measure to take over the mosques and to openly preach their messages of intolerance, hatred and jihad to the country’s largely unemployed youth, ripe for recruiting. Read more…

Student Paper: Iraq: Aftermath of the 2003 U.S. Led Invasion: Literature Comparison: Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels and War Without End by Michael Schwartz – paper by David Feuerbach

March 16, 2015
Najab, Iraq after a 2004 suicide bombing that killed 150. The city remains eleven years later - as one resident related - "little more than a pile of rubble."

Najab, Iraq after a 2004 suicide bombing that killed 150. The city remains eleven years later – as one resident related – “little more than a pile of rubble.”

(Note: What follows are a number of student papers from a class I taught “History of the Middle East Since 1800″ at the University of Denver – January 5 – March 12, 2015. Among them, were several I considered polished-to-publishable. The assignment was to compare two books on the same subject within the course’s framework. This paper by David Feuerbach  compares two books on the impact of the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq, the Second Gulf War. – Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels. (Picador: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing Company 2003) and War Without End by Michael Schwartz (Haymarket Books 2008)

Iraq: Aftermath of the 2003 U.S. Led Invasion

by David Feuerbach

Section I

Both Naked in Baghdad and War Without End provide very interesting perspectives regarding the Iraq War. Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels, provides her experience in Iraq in the months leading up to the war, her experience during the initial invasion, and her experience during the beginning of the occupation. In her description of Iraq in the months just before the U.S. invasion, we see the tyranny of the Hussein Regime and the fear it created. In her interviews with the Iraqi people, she notes that everyone is afraid to speak out against Saddam Hussein for fear of being imprisoned or killed. She also has to deal with the tyranny of the regime herself, as she has to hire a “minder” to accompany her everywhere to ensure that she is not uncovering too much. We also see that despite the hatred and fear of Saddam Hussein, many people are worried about what a U.S. invasion will bring. “He hates the regime, but he is scared to death that what might follow could be worse” (Garrels, 44).

Her book then describes her experience during the invasion. She describes the U.S. bombing campaign, which the U.S. labels as “shock and awe.” We get a chance to see the damage that this campaign has on the lives of the civilians. She describes the destruction, the horrible living conditions, and the constant danger that the Iraqi civilians are forced to endure. She then depicts the scene in Iraq when Baghdad falls to U.S. soldiers. Many Iraqis who had been hiding from the tyranny of Hussein their whole lives demonstrate against the fallen regime, tearing down statues and posters.

Garrels then describes the situation on the ground a few months after the regime has fallen. Resistance has begun to build against the U.S. occupation. The real reasons for the U.S. occupation have been solidified in the minds of the people, the military campaign has become more brutal, and the economic situation in the country has become unbearable. She describes how the situation during the occupation has become far worse than the situation during the Hussein regime. Read more…

Student Paper: The Conflict of Energy and Global Politics by Madelaine Momot

March 15, 2015

World proven oil reserves 2(Note: What follows are a number of student papers from a class I taught “History of the Middle East Since 1800″ at the University of Denver – January 5 – March 12, 2015. Among them, were several I considered polished-to-publishable. The assignment was to compare two books on the same subject within the course’s framework. This paper by Madelaine Momot compares two books on the geo-politics of energy – Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy – byMichael Klare, Metropolitan Books, 2008 and The New Energy Crisis: Climate, Economics, and Geopolitics – by Jean-Marie Chevalier, Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.)

The Conflict of Energy and Politics

by Madelaine Momot

 Over the past few centuries the world has advanced in immeasurable ways. While this progression has had many benefits, it has created one major consequence. The world is running out of energy sources while simultaneously harming the environment and damaging political relationships across the globe. The globalized world is facing an enormous energy crisis today. It is proving to be so complex and multi faceted, that finding a plausible solution that will lead to the beneficial development of every country is looking more and more unlikely. It is just recently that economists, politicians, and environmentalists have come together and noticed that there is a substantial problem, and current actions are only bringing a cataclysmic time closer and closer. With every country in the world involved in energy on some level, albeit using it at different speeds and efficiencies, it is difficult to align each state towards solving this issue tat will ultimately bring a form of destruction to all involved if not worked on immediately and cooperatively.

Regions across the world are searching for or finding new energy reserves, leading them towards profits, but also causing many political and long run economic collapses. Countries, specifically in the Middle East, have such power in reserves and prices of fossil fuel energies, that the rest of the world is forced to wait for their next move, as economy’s have become so reliant in energy. Wealthy powerful nations are plagued by their needy relationship to foreign oil and energy or the profits that sales bring in, while poor or unstable nations are being taken advantage of and exploited, left with nothing. Africa has been exploited for it natural resources, and relations with MENA have seemed to have only worsened over the past decade. With ever changing prices and limited resources, energy is one of the most important issues of our time as it has a direct influence on politics, the economy, and the climate. Focusing on these factors, the books “Rising Powers, Shrinking Plant: The New Geopolitics of Energy” by Michael Klare and “The New Energy Crisis: Climate, Economics, and Geopolitics” by Jean-Marie Chevalier examine the economic causations and possible political outcomes of our energy filled world. Conflict and tensions are arising as the new energy crisis promises social and financial repercussions.

Section I

While both books focus were written within a year of each other and focus on the same topic, the new energy crisis, Klare and Chevalier take slightly different approaches in the way they present the information. Additionally, the concentration of regions and attention to politics vs. economics varies between the two books. Klare starts his Book “Rising Powers Shrinking Planet”, by describing how states have been altered over the past 100 years. He explains that as industry has boomed around the world, the needs of a country have drastically changed. In order to keep an economy and businesses running, the Westernized advanced world needs petroleum. This has led to fierce competition in which the fight for control of energy is becoming more intense. Countries are divided into “energy surplus and energy deficient nations” (Klare 14). The idea behind this is that in the new international energy order, a “nations rank will increasingly be determined by the vastness of its oil and gas reserves” (14). Read more…

Avnery on Netanyahu’s Speech Before the U.S. Knesset,,,I Mean Congress

March 6, 2015

A small part of the damage wreaked on Gaza by Israel’s unjust and brutal military offensive last summer.


(note: I read Uri Avnery’s columns about as much as I read anyone’s. I like the way he writes – it is relaxed, yet at the same time hard-hitting. He is funny and almost always draws on historical analogy and does so accurately. His take on Netanyahu’s speech before Congress has all of Avnery’s usual qualities. When I grow up I hope to be able to write like Avnery does. He is a part of a dying breed – a truly secular, progressive Israeli in a country that has been turning to the right politically and becoming dominated by Jewish religious orthodox fanatics. His commitment to a genuine peace with the Palestinians remains, despite all odds against it, solid as it has been since the end of the 1967 war, now almost a half century in the past.

That said, what was the purpose of House Speaker John Boehner divisive invite to the Israeli Prime Minister? The following were involved: 1. to build opposition to a possible agreement between the U.S. and Iran on Iran’s nuclear energy development policy. Yes, there are others involved in the negotiations, but it is essentially a U.S.-Iranian political wrestling match. 2. To use the speech to call for great increases in U.S. military spending as John McCain called for immediately after Netanyahu left the country. McCain called for a $50 billion increase in U.S. military spending, perhaps his price tag for supporting a U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal?

As someone who is more often than not critical of Obama’s foreign policy, especially as it concerns the Middle East, I would cite three moments where his choices were sound among the many where they weren’t:

  • His refusal, despite pressure from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to support Tunisia’s Zine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarket, both long time U.S. allies, when they were about to be overthrown in early 2011.
  • His refusal in September, 2013 to invade military force against Syria after chemical weapons were used in that country. To date we still don’t know who was responsible although the weight of the evidence have seen suggests it was the rebels, not the Assad government. The pressure to attack came from the usual neo-conservative wing of the U.S. power structure partnering with misguided liberal and left elements supporting military intervention for humanitarian purposes – not just an oxymoron, but a provocative, aggressive, nonsensical form of logic.
  • The Obama Administration’s continued negotiations with Iran currently taking place and which will reach a climax, one way or another shortly. Although throughout these negotiations, the U.S. negotiators have “continued to move the goal posts”, the negotiations continue. If they succeed they would be among Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements, and frankly, probably his only foreign policy achievement of any significance. 

And it would be a constructive agreement, with positive consequences, opening up deepening U.S. Iranian cooperation in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan – where U.S. and Iranian interests are not that far apart. It could also provide weight to more serious negotiations concerning Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Israel and Saudi Arabia would have to adjust. That would be their problem. Time for the U.S. to think of the broader interests of both the country (U.S.A) and the world. )


Uri Avnery
March 7, 2015

The Speech

SUDDENLY IT reminded me of something.

I was watching The Speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the Congress of the United States. Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.

It was the shouting that did it. Where had I heard that before?

And then it came back to me. It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.

Of course, the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout “Heil” but something unintelligible. Yet the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking. Read more…


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