Tom Friedman on the 'ironic' Middle East
I went to synagogue on Saturday not far from the Syrian border in Antakya, Turkey. It’s been on my mind ever since.
Antakya is home to a tiny Jewish community, which still gathers for holidays at the little Sephardic synagogue. It is also famous for its mosaic of mosques and Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian and Protestant churches. How could it be that I could go to synagogue in Turkey on Saturday while on Friday, just across the Orontes River in Syria, I had visited with Sunni Free Syrian Army rebels embroiled in a civil war in which Syrian Alawites and Sunnis are killing each other on the basis of their ID cards, Kurds are creating their own enclave, Christians are hiding and the Jews are long gone?
What is this telling us? For me, it raises the question of whether there are just three governing options in the Middle East today: Iron Empires, Iron Fists or Iron Domes?
The reason that majorities and minorities co-existed relatively harmoniously for some 400 years when the Arab world was ruled by the Turkish Ottomans from Istanbul was because the Sunni Ottomans, with their Iron Empire, monopolized politics. While there were exceptions, generally speaking the Ottomans and their local representatives were in charge in cities like Damascus, Antakya and Baghdad. Minorities, like Alawites, Shiites, Christians and Jews, though second-class citizens, did not have to worry that they’d be harmed if they did not rule. The Ottomans had a live-and-let-live mentality toward their subjects.