To the editor: History professor Sean McMeekin states that control of territory in the Middle East is determined by force. He describes a century-long history of efforts to define territorial boundaries throughout the area. ("In the Mideast, borders have always been drawn in blood," op-ed, March 20)
McMeekin concludes that the past has taught us that soft power has never counted for much in the Middle East.
Saddam Hussein ruled with an iron fist and managed to keep the lid on the long standing distrust between Sunni and Shiite Muslims until President George W. Bush sought to democratize Iraq. The result was a terrible history lesson for the west.
Western efforts to "fix" the Middle East will continue to rob us of our most cherished treasures. It is time to admit our mistakes and let the local parties settle their civil wars and other grievances by themselves.
Bob Constantine, Placentia
To the editor: While McMeekin educates us on the details of the Sykes-Picot agreement, he and other secular-minded analysts miss the reason for Mideast wars: the sacrality of land.
Islamic State is an apocalyptic movement. It is no mistake that it arose out of jihadism, which is a nativist Muslim movement that seeks to regain the sacred territory of the medieval Baghdad caliphate, not the Ottoman Empire.
Osama bin Laden referred consistently to the loss of Muslim land after the Ottoman Empire fell, but he believed, as does Islamic State, that God will return the Muslim lands, from India to Spain and up to Vienna, to the Saved Sect of true Muslims in this final end stage of history.
But McMeekin is absolutely correct in concluding that the way to defeat this apocalyptic movement is through military success. Their religious script calls for war and God's intervention. What is needed is the military means to demonstrate that their script is a misreading of God's will.
The way to do this is to deny them any further control over Muslim lands.
Jean E. Rosenfeld, Los Angeles
The writer is a retired historian of religion who has specialized in jihadism and apocalyptic movements.