Monday, December 19, 2005

Niall Ferguson of the L.A. Times: History, democracy and Iraq I SAW TWO OF MY former students last week; one I taught at Cambridge, the other at Oxford. One of them has spent the better part of the last three years on her majesty's service in southern Iraq. The other is based in Jerusalem, working to broker an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Basra and Gaza are certainly not the places I expected them to end up. It is not, however, the fact that they are Oxbridge products — or, indeed, the fact that they are both women — that gives me hope for the future of the Middle East. It is the fact that they are historians.

After all, the forces bedeviling the Middle East today are fundamentally the same ones that tore Europe apart in the last century. Europe a century ago was the continent through which the world's biggest geopolitical fault lines ran. Like the Middle East today, it had the allure of natural resources (coal and iron, not oil). Like the Middle East today, it had a rapidly growing population that was deeply divided along ethnic lines (though the majority were Christians, not Muslims). And like the Middle East today, it was where the tectonic plates of empire met.