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Your Next Middle East Peace Envoy 

Thursday, Dec 16 2010
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Title: Let's Visit the Middle East, by John C. Caldwell (1966)

Publisher: John Day Company, New York

Discovered at: Sonshine Shop, 1981 S. Vermont Ave.

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Representative Quotes:

"A dictionary tells us that an Arab is 'a Semite of the race, which from earliest known times has lived in the Arabian peninsula.' It is interesting that the Jews are Semites, too, and yet the Arabs generally hate them." (pages 25-26)

"Given time and help to solve their many problems, the nations of the Middle East may once again contribute much to civilization." (page 94)

You know those folks who believe that (a) America is the strongest and greatest country that ever Jesus saw fit to found, and (b) America will be destroyed immediately and forever if its mall food courts get just one more shawarma stand?

To such ignorance and paranoia, this dashed-off tome just might be the fertile crescent.

John C. Caldwell doesn't openly hate Arabs, of course. Instead, he just points out again and again how unreasonable, backward and monolithic they are, sometimes sounding a little sad about it ... especially after all the West has done for them.

At times he blames the region's turmoil on "meddling" communists, but usually he implies it's simply in the character of the people. Here's how he depicts the faithful:

"One of the problems in the Middle East is that Arab people dislike the Jewish state of Israel."

"Strict Moslems may not drink alcoholic beverages or eat pork; they believe in plural marriages."

Now's a good time to point out that, according to the stamp inside the front cover, this book remained in an L.A. school library until 1984.

Caldwell isn't interested in distinctions: "There are several sects or branches of Mohammedanism, but we might say that believers in this religion 'stick together' and are strict in their beliefs. All who are not Moslems are called infidels."

It's a sneak peek at the papers in the George W. Bush Presidential Library!

Caldwell doesn't mind contradicting himself. Page 71, on Saudi women: "Women are always veiled when outside their homes and, in accordance with the Koran, have no rights."

Then, on page 72: "The people of Saudi Arabia have no voting rights; indeed, they actually have no rights of any kind."

And, on page 74: "Women, who at one time had no rights at all, are beginning to take part in public affairs. Girls are now even encouraged to go to school; and any student, boy or girl, who can win a place in a foreign university receives full expenses and a living allowance to be educated abroad."

In fact, Caldwell claims, Saudi Arabia provides free education and medical care for all its citizens and that the oil money is so good that "many Bedouins are becoming so prosperous they are trading in their camels for jeeps and trucks."

But Caldwell being Caldwell, that comes just two pages after: "One out of every three Saudis lives in a tent; only one out of 20 has enough education to write his name."

It's been said before, but it's still true: The Middle East is a land of contrasts.

Shocking Detail: Caldwell finds Arabs irrational, and he often rhapsodizes about Israel, so this was surprising:

"The problem of Israel and her neighbors may take years to solve. It would be wrong to put all of the blame on the Arabs. Both sides are at fault, and there are many people, including Jews, who are not in favor of Israel. ... Zionism frightens the Arabs, and the more Jews there are in Israel, the more chance there is of trouble."

So the "trouble" is Arabs' fault for being scared of Israel, and it's Israel's fault for scaring those Arabs. At last, geopolitics has its own version of "If she didn't want it, why was she dressed like that?" This blames everyone and lets everyone off the hook. By this logic, porn addiction is Americans' fault for enjoying porn, and porn's fault for being so very enjoyable.

High illiteracy rates are the fault of people not liking to read, and reading's fault for having too many words.

Highlight: "Iraq may still be the bright spot in the Middle East. The people have a saying that now there are three great rivers — the Tigris, the Euphrates and oil. Perhaps Iraq can continue to make the rivers work for the good of all the people."

Reach the writer at ascherstuhl@villagevoice.com

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