Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unsustainable Development

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I recently spent a weekend in Oman’s ash-Sharqiyya region – the easternmost part of the Arab world – collecting wind-polished rocks in the desert, sleeping on an isolated beach (a turtle crawled up the sand to bury its eggs before dawn), and passing through small coastal villages.

This area remains – for a short time still – unspoilt. Although the inhabitants of the Sharqiyya enjoy the basic amenities which modernisation can and should provide – sanitation, electricity, health services – the state’s footprint is soft in the sand. I saw no sign of police. Institutional buildings are few and far between. The corporations have not yet arrived. None of the fast food outlets and coffee factories that homogenise the globe from the tropics to the tundra. So the settlements are handsome. The doors of the simplest houses are carved and patterned wood. Recent building may have been done with breeze blocks, but it’s been finished with mud.

The region wobbles on the edge of misnamed ‘development.’ It would be unwise in this water-scarce area to install flush toilets, but there will be worse. Emirati money is buying up the shoreline. Painted rocks mark the outlines of future residential complexes and hotels. I prayed as I passed that these were markers of dreams that would remain unfulfilled.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 1, 2007 at 5:59 am

Posted in History, Oman

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The end times are everywhere. The country where millenarian fundamentalists have the most sway over foreign policy is probably the United States. That means the Empire is partially run by people for whom ‘Bring it on!’ has cosmic connotations. For America’s Christian Zionists, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was a clear sign that the end is near. Many have it carefully mapped out, from Rapture to Armageddon. And these days the apocalypse is almost as popular amongst Muslims. Many Sunnis like to point to the Signs of the Hour which they believe are already in place; my favourite, and one which is hard to argue with if you’ve visited Dubai or Riyadh, is ‘Beduin will compete in building high towers.’ The one-eyed dajjal or antichrist who will rule before the Mahdi, or guided-one, and the final return of Christ, is seen variously in the single eye of the dollar’s masonic pyramid or in the one-eyed television screen. I’ve even met someone who claims that their cousin saw the Mahdi in Mecca. Shia Muslims identify the Mahdi with the last, and hidden, Imam. Moqtada as-Sadr has frequently explained the build-up of US forces in the region over the past decade and a half as preparation of a rapid-reaction force to take on Imam al-Mahdi. The explosion in the shrine at Samara, the place where the final Imam was last seen, and chaos throughout Iraq – the holy land of Shiism – has naturally encouraged apocalypticism among Shia Muslims. But apocalypticism goes beyond the monotheisms. For some Hindus, we are reaching the end of Kali Yag, the age of darkness, which means this cycle of history is approaching a full stop. Doomsday cults thrive in Japan and Russia. Mayan prophecies locate the end in 2012. And, of course, environmentalists describe a hotter near future in which what we call civilisation could totally collapse, billions of us could die, and most of the world could become uninhabitable.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 3, 2007 at 8:31 am