February 20, 2007

Power, Faith, and Fantasy -- An Interview with Michael Oren

Pajamas Media published my most recent interview with Michael Oren. Below are the first couple of paragraphs.

PORTLAND, OREGON – Renowned American-Israeli historian and best-selling author Michael Oren is touring the United States promoting his new book Power, Faith, and Fantasy, a sweeping history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from 1776 to the present. It’s the first and only book on the subject ever written, and it’s currently inching toward the top of the New York Times best-seller list for non-fiction.

I first met Michael Oren under Katyusha rocket fire when he worked as a Spokesman for the IDF Northern Command in Israel during last summer’s war against Hezbollah, and I met him again when he came to my home town of Portland, Oregon, last week on his book tour.

MJT: So tell us, Michael, why does America’s involvement in the Middle East 200 years ago matter today? What does it have to do with September 11 and Iraq?

Oren: Well it matters, Michael, because many of the same issues that Americans are facing today in the Middle East were confronted by America’s founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington. For example, they had to confront the issue of state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East. They had to face a threat to the United States, and decide whether to generate military power and then project that power thousands of miles from the United States. They had to decide whether to involve the United States in an open-ended and rather expensive bloody war in the Middle East. This was, of course, the Barbary War, America’s first overseas military engagement and America’s longest overseas military engagement. It lasted from 1783 to 1815. During the course of this engagement, as my book shows, the United States was confronting a jihadist state-sponsored terrorist network that was taking Americans hostage in the Middle East. It’s very similar to what is going on today.

MJT: They were more than hostages, they were slaves, weren’t they?

Oren: They were slaves. But beyond the military component – the book is not a military history, it’s also a diplomatic, cultural, artistic, and economic history – I wanted to show Americans today that our experience in the Middle East has very deep roots. Overall it’s a story of magnificent things that America did for the Middle East. It wasn’t always about confrontation, it was also about schools and hospitals and building for development and artistic inspiration and cooperation.

Read the rest at Pajamas Media.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 20, 2007 10:58 AM
Comments

Very, very intriguing interview.

Oren's perspective from a just such a longer temporal view gives tremendous insight into the nature of the problem.

His suggestions regarding the solutions are compelling.

Btw, the religious origin of the attraction to Israel and the return of the Jews also appears to have had a parallel development in Britain as the popular basis for the driving force that influenced important politicians such as Lloyd-George and Lord Balfour, culminating in the Balfour Declaration (but which later gave way to political concerns of Arab nationalism that began soon after).

Who would've thought?

Posted by: ankhfkhonsu at February 20, 2007 09:10 PM

MJT: You’re saying that when we say “democracy” they hear liberalism.

Oren: When we say “democracy” they see Western modernity. And they don’t want it.

MJT: Some of them do, but…

Oren: They don’t want to pay the price for it. And the price is that their kids are going to marry whomever they want, their kids are going to marry people of different religions...

Can Jews, Muslims and Christians intermarry in Israel?

I thought they couldn't.

Posted by: alphie at February 20, 2007 11:11 PM

alphie: Can Jews, Muslims and Christians intermarry in Israel?

No. They can't in Lebanon either. But both Lebanon and Israel recognize inter-religious marriages from other countries. Lots of Lebanese and Israelia go to Cyprus to get married to people from other sects and religions, and those marriages are recognized by the Israeli and Lebanese governments.

It only costs 200 dollars to fly to Cyprus.

These are stupid laws, and people in both countries are working to change them.

In Lebanon the Christian, Druze, and Shia communities are backing civil marriage. Only the Sunnis opposed reform last time it was proposed, or so I heard.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 20, 2007 11:52 PM

Thanks, Michael.

Is Oren on a book tour or just visiting Portland?

I couldn't find a schedule on his site.

Posted by: alphie at February 21, 2007 12:02 AM

Regarding the larger significance of marriage mores among certain communities in the Middle-East (and other places), Howard Kurtz has some interesting things to say here and here.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 21, 2007 01:25 AM

He's on a tour. I don't know where to find his schedule, though, sorry.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 21, 2007 01:29 AM

Frank Manuel covered a part of Oren's subject in a book published about 1948, America-Palestine Relations. His book too goes fairly far back in history. Manuel is a very respected historian.

Posted by: Eliyahu at February 21, 2007 05:25 AM

Hi Michael,

Intermarriage is allowed in Lebanon but it can be made difficult by the families. In some instances there are conversions required but not all the time. Ironically, the Shia are pretty liberal about intermarriages. Also, Abu Kais and I married in Lebanon with no problems. I do know that civil marriages cannot be performed in Lebanon, and there are no civil courts (which is unfortunate), if that's what you meant. Many people do go to Cyprus if they want no religion involved.

Posted by: Umm Kais at February 21, 2007 07:44 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 02/21/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at February 21, 2007 09:52 AM

An interesting book on a related subject:
'Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour'
by Barbara Tuchman.

http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Sword-England-Palestine-Balfour/dp/0345314271
.

Posted by: Amir in Tel Aviv at February 21, 2007 02:54 PM

Israel is like Lebanon. If you want a marriage ceremony without religion involved you have to go to Cyprus. We are pushing strongly for a civil marriage law here but it hasn't happened so far.

Posted by: Yael at February 22, 2007 02:17 AM

iam from lebanon(druze) want to get married with shia girl she is not from lebanon if we go Cyprus and get married there can we back to lebanon and live in lebanon

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