Friday, October 7, 2016

Thomas Kolsky on the Turmoil in the Middle East

credit: Thomas Kolsky

Yesterday afternoon I attended Thomas A. Kolsky's talk "Destinies in Conflict: The Middle East in Turmoil" at Montgomery County Community College (MC3) in nearby Bluebell PA. Kolsky is a local goldmine of information about Middle East history, as well as the checkered story of Zionism in the US and Israel. I reviewed his magnum opus Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 in an earlier post. He is now Emeritus Professor of History and Political Science at MC3.

Professor Kofsky intended to survey the whole history of the Middle East from the Babylonia to the present, but some earnest members in the audience wanted to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Islamic fundamentalism. I guess this is to be expected at any Middle East program today. Kolsky was good-natured about the addresses from the floor, and finally delivered his presentation. The sergeant at arms was not required. The Middle East was the cradle of civilization, so this is a very long complicated history which created the present reality. There are lots of oppressed people in the Middle East, not just the Palestinians. Military dictatorship or theocracy have been the rule since World War II in the Arab countries. Kolsky said the Arab military defeats by Israel in 1948 (the Nabka, or catastrophe), 1956, 1967, and 1973 are one cause for Islamic fundamentalism, although it began earlier in the 1920s with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. 

The most confusing crisis at the moment is Syria. As of October 2015, four million refugees have left Syria - 2 million in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon, 600,000 in Jordan, 7.6 million internally displaced, and many in Europe as well. Kolsky did not divulge his secret formula for peace in the Middle East. He did say that the violence in the Middle East is a good argument for the separation of church and state, a cherished legacy of the Enlightenment. Religion is about personal values. Politics is about winning power by whatever means necessary. Religion gets corrupted by defending the state. The state becomes regressive when it imposes religious doctrine on its citizens. Shortly after independence, most of the Arab governments were secular. That moment has passed. One might argue Israel is another religious state.

Thomas Kolsky taught at MC3 for 40 years and is now retired. He founded the "Issues and Insights" programs at the college in 1986. The programs are designed to inform the public and MC3 community on the contemporary issues and debates. Kolsky was born in the former USSR, grew up in Israel and the former Czechoslovakia, and now lives here in the US (not yet former). Beside teaching and writing, Kolsky is also a talented humorist and cartoonist. Visit his homepage for his cartoons. A sample is above.