Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lawrence Freedman - Big Ideas

TVO's podcast Big Ideas had a lecture with Lawrence Freedman (audio) in which he comments on his book A choice of enemies; America confronts the Middle East. This is a lecture with a historical perspective on US foreign policy in the Middle East.

In many ways, Freedmans outstanding lecture was an echo of a point also made in the excellent history and political science series from Stanford: The History of the International System. 1979 is a year with a couple of occurrences in the geopolitcs of the Middle East that break away from the Cold War logic of the time and are the harbingers of a new world order that is to come and that we have become familiar with today. The Egypt-Israel peace initiative, The revolution in Iran and (of you wish) the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.

What makes Freedman's lecture refreshing is the emphasis on history. It gives a much clearer perspective on the geopolitics of the Middle-East and makes many of its feature much less surprising. So much less so that Freedman hardly avoids scolding foreign policy makers for not knowing their history and rerun old policies with old failing over and over again. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan came the US variety, with equal problematic outcome. After the British failure to dictate state building in Iraq, the US ran into the same conundrum. This lecture is indispensable for the podcast listener who tries to get a grip on the Middle-East.

More Big Ideas:
New Learning - Don Tapscott on Big Ideas,
On Crime,
Why isn't the whole world developed?,
The role and place of the intellectual,
Disaster Capitalism.

More History of the International System:
The State in The International System,
A century of geopolitics,
History of the International System.

Jewish varieties - From Israelite To Jew

The podcast From Israelite to Jew studies the cultural development in Judaism from a historical perspective. As explained by the beginning of the series, around the 6th century BCE there were Israelites that adhered to Judaism. Israelites were a rather loose federation of tribes. Over time they developed into an ethnicity called the Jews.

When speaking of THE Jews, the impression may arise that there is some kind of unity and there is one Judaism. The podcast's host, Michael Satlow, turns to what little sources there are and attempts to measure that unity. For one there are the Hebrew bible and apocryphal Hebrew sources, which mostly concentrate on the worship around the Temple in Jerusalem. In addition there are Greek and Latin sources that paint a radically different picture of assimilated Jewry, but does this mean there are these two, the real Judaism and the watered down, bound to disappear Hellenistic Judaism?

Satlow proposes a different idea, one that breaks away from the dichotomy of observant and assimilated Jews. There had been Jewish communities throughout the Greek Empires ever since the second Temple Period (500 BCE - 70 CE) started. if you look at the Temple cult in Jerusalem, the alleged pure Judaism, it would have been impossible for Jews in faraway places to maintain this kind of Judaism. However, this does not necessarily mean, that all these Jews assimilated to disappearance. Satlow suggests a wide variety of ways these Jews must have maintained and developed their Judaism. This is where the shift from Temple to Synagogue may have started, way in advance of the destruction of the Temple and the last diaspora. Satlow's history is a history of a Judaism that is in continuous development driven by many Jewish varieties.

More FITJ:
Jews in the Hasmonean era,
The Maccabee Uprising,
Jews of the Persian Empire,
The fox and the hedgehog.