The numerous socio-political and economic changes that the Middle East has undergone in the past century is arguably the most drastic alteration that the region has borne since it spawned early civilization in the fertile crescent many millennia ago. Despite the numerous modifications that have been made to Southwest Asia since 1914, some things have remained unaffected entirely . While Middle Eastern society has, too, succumbed to the unrelenting flood of Westernization, the area’s religious roots have remained firm.
Since the birth of the Muslim faith in the mid 7th-century, Arabia has remained the epicenter of Islam, with millions of faithful Muslims making the pilgrimage of their Hajj each year to Mecca. The sacred central point of Islam has remained within the national boundaries that it did during the founding of the faith. The Middle East has also not, by any stretch of the imagination, lost its place as a global economic hub.
Interestingly, this particular aspect of the Middle East’s position on the international market fits well as both a change and a continuity, which will be elaborated upon later on in this essay.
While several facets of the Middle East remained unchanged, to me, the fact that this region has changed dramatically is quite superficially obvious. One momentous event that cannot, in good conscience, be overlooked, is undoubtedly the emergence of Israel as an independent state in 1949 C.E. This was extremely important in positively shaping the Jewish religious aspect of Middle Eastern culture; unfortunately, however, it also provided the basis for myriad conflicts and negative international relations between Israel and many other nations, most notably the Palestinian Territories. On the subject of international affairs, the Middle East has played host to numerous international conflicts, Desert Storm and the current Iraq war being just a few examples. As mentioned above, the standpoint of the Middle East as an economic superpower has not changed within the recent century, however it must be duly noted that the oil industry has allowed for the exponential expansion of the Middle Eastern economy within the latter half of the 20th century and on into the second millennium. Westernization has greatly affected the social structure of the inhabitants of the Middle East. Some countries, the United Arab Emirates for example, have deviated from the previously restrictive religious cultural guidelines of Islam, especially those set for women. While outright feminist movements have not taken root in the Middle East as of yet, at least not to the level at which they have in the United States and Europe, a gradual improvement of the overall rights of women can be seen.
Overall, between 1914 and the present time, the balance between change and continuity has been an interesting one to say the least. Through the forging of new nations, the onslaught of westernization, and multiple wars, some aspects of the Middle Eastern identity have, remarkably, remained intact. What does this say to the rest of the world? Is the Middle East a silent role model for how nations and cultures can hold strong to their religious convictions and moral beliefs while still embracing progressivism in a changing world? I certainly think so, and I applaud their ability to do so.
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