[Graphic by NormanEinstein, via Wikimedia Commons]
Have you ever been to the Middle East? What struck me about was that the land is just a giant piece of dog shit.
At its best and most beautiful, the land is scrub brush and the occasional pine. At its worst -- and most of it is at its worst -- it's dryer than Joan River's vagina; like Ferguson, Mo., a place where nothing good can grow.
And yet all these colossal assholes in Iraq, Egypt and Israel, from ISIS to al-Sisi to the IDF, are beheading, bombing, torturing and subjugating in order to control a few more square yards of land so ugly that, if an alien landed on it, they would turn around and go home.
It wasn't always so shitty, that land. All of these places lie in what is called the Fertile Crescent. It's the birthplace of agriculture. The great ancient civilizations -- the Nile, Phoenicia, and Mesopotamia -- learned how to breed wheat until it grew big, and sustained them. From there, wheat spread to Europe. And with wheat and agriculture came prosperity, until the Europeans eventually rigged up a world in which random shootings and violence happen all the time, but mostly on TV screens as their lazy kids play XBox.
So why is the Middle East so full of summary executions and bombs dropped on school children, while Europe is filled with Malbecs, chocolate-covered truffles and free health care on demand?
Partly, it's because Middle Easterners fervently and honestly and whole-heartedly believe in the Abrahamic religions, all of which encourage violence and the destruction of those unlike you -- if you take these Abrahamic religions literally, and Middle Easterners tend to. While Europeans believe in a third Abrahamic religion, one that, too, encourages violence, they don't believe it very strongly, and they don't take it very literally. That is always a good thing. The more religious a country is, the more likely it is to be poor
But part of the reason that these Middle Eastern dickheads are fighting so hard for land that is so shitty is because of that very land, because of its shittiness. Shitty land causes fighting.
[With my buddy Hiwa, here I am in the hills of Kurdistan, which is one of the nicer parts of Iraq. As you can see, it's still kind of a shithole. Photo property of Reilly Capps.]
The Fertile Crescent is much less fertile than it used to be. Why? Mismanagement. The forests were cut down to build houses, ships, forts, and everything else that the ancient civilizations needed. In Egypt, they cut down the trees to make rollers for the blocks for the pyramids.
[The author expresses his feelings about environmental degradation. Photo property of Reilly Capps.]
The forests of Petra lasted until just before World War I, when the Ottoman empire cut them down to build the railroads. The land got too salty from millennia of farming. The land just isn't fertile enough to deal with this kind of environmental degradation -- trees don't grow back fast enough there, there isn't enough rain to de-salinize the farmland. Environmental mismanagement is what wiped out the Ancient Egyptian Empire. and, in part, the Ottoman Empire.
The result? YouTube videos in which ISIS fighters, fresh from humiliating and crucifying a Shia Muslim, proclaim that "God is Great!" while, in the background, the deadly dirty desert suggests that God, at best, is indifferent.
One lesson of history is that, if empires want to stay empires, they should spend at least as much on the environment as they do on arms.
Europeans, remember, are not inherently better, smarter or wiser than Middle Easterners. Europeans had their eras of religious insanities -- they lasted roughly two thousand years. They were big on destroying their resources. They, too, cut down their forests to build ships and ramparts in order to go fight religious wars full of beheadings, witch burnings, heretics on the rack. Our European ancestors were just as big of assholes as these ISIS jerks.
The difference is that Europeans had the good fortune to live in an environment which was forgiving. When you cut down trees in, say, Germany, the environment is robust enough to replace them, quickly. Thus Europeans were able to make all the same mistakes as the Middle Easterners without suffering catastrophic collapse.
Middle Easterners are poor (unless they have oil money), in large part because they can't farm as productively as the French or Germans. And they can't farm productively because the land is so shitty. And poverty, combined with a too-close adherence to Abrahamic religions, is a great cause of war.
If only the Fertile Crescent had been managed by good stewards and environmentalists -- maybe so many in the Middle East wouldn't now be losing their heads.