• Daniel Ethan Finneran

A Region Of Brick Turned To Marble: Peace In The Middle East

October 2020

What once was said of Rome, adorned by the hand of Augustus, might now be said of the Middle East, pacified by President Trump: He found it a region of brick, and left it one of marble.

Adulatory and lapidary, eloquent and terse, the statement, when read today, feels as applicable to the accomplishments of the latter, as it did to those of the former. In respect to his highness Augustus, successor to Caesar if not quite his son, it was a veritable truth. His defeat of love-sick Mark Antony on the gentle coast of Greece, and, with it, the consolidation of a rowdy empire over which he now enjoyed undivided control, marked the beginning of that most favored era to which history had yet born witness: the Pax Romana. Emulated by every age, and appropriated by every nation (see, the Pax Britannica, Pax Francia, Pax Americana, et al.), the Pax Romana, as first conceived, has never been surpassed.

It was an age by which two triumphant centuries would be marked, over which one growing and inimitable empire would preside. It would do so until the death of the famed Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, that profound thinker and subtle ruler whose virtues quite exceeded his foresight. Prematurely was he swept away to the quiet depth of his grave, a solitary abode in which, without interruption, his dreams of a meditative eternity could commence. Yet his choice of a son, as opposed to an unrelated man of some demonstrable merit, for the part of Rome’s next king was his lasting mistake. One disastrous decision at the end of a wise man’s life, it chips away at the fine polish of a memory by which, otherwise, we’re still dazzled. It’s the bruise by which his posthumous fame is blemished, and it brought to an end that which Augustus had begun.

More than anything else, when we reflect upon Rome, after passing over such trifles as the rape of the Sabine women, or the defeat of the Carthaginians, or the drama and death of Julius Caesar, we settle in and focus on the Pax Romana. That is the subject of our great relish and our continued study. It not only captures our attention, but forms the outlines of our imagination. It’s become an age upon which we’d like to model our own, and an example of humankind at the height of its cultural perch.

Perhaps, with the passage of time, we might affix to these past few weeks the beginning of a new era upon which, with similar fondness, we’ll gladly look back. We might read of it, in our books of history, as the era during which conviviality was on the ascendant, and goodwill given and returned. We might call it, henceforth, the Pax Arabia, and we might thank for its arrival the efforts of an only slightly less regal, and, undoubtedly, far less stoical President Trump.

Though doubtless the result of many years of hard work, of quiet assiduity, of unnoticed perseverance, and of tireless grit, we’ve seen with rapidity the announcement of multiple peace deals involving Israel and a collection of Muslim states. We see, before our eyes, the brick taking marmoreal form, a scene shifting from the coldness of stone to the alluring warmth of statuary art. Albeit in a crude and incipient way, they mark the beginning of what might be the Pax Arabia to come. It need only be further adorned and protected, embellished and refined.

The first such deal to be announced was between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, a monumental agreement by which, if using its flummoxed reaction as our gauge, the Western world was thoroughly shocked. The UAE, resplendent jewel of the Persian Gulf, sought in a deal with Israel that for which every state yearns: security, prosperity, and everlasting peace. They sought the easing of hostilities for which friends have no patience, and the comity of neighbors by which comfort is ensured. With these aims in mind, they negotiated for and achieved a deal by which mutual advantage could be granted, and private gain procured.

Seeking to imitate the wisdom of its southern neighbor, the small island nation of Bahrain followed suit. Along with the UAE and, before it, Egypt and Jordan, it became the fourth Arab nation to affix its name to this encouraging and growing list. What’s more, it’s expected, in the weeks to come, that perhaps the giant of the region, and the occasional thorn in the humanitarian’s side, Saudi Arabia, will soften its ancient prejudices and do the same. Just four years ago, this would’ve been inconceivable. After all, was this not the country that was once home to the arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden? Does this not remain the same country in which Wahhabism (a species of Islam that’s far from Philo-Semitic) continues breathlessly to be preached?

In addition to those states, three more have agreed either to normalize relations, or explicitly to engage with Israel on a footing of peace. Kosovo, Serbia, and Sudan are now counted among the tiny Jewish state’s new friends. The last of the three, itself a temporary home to bin Laden and, by both ethnicity and demography, an overwhelmingly Arab land, is perhaps the most unexpected of the parties that’ve joined to date. The animosity it’s expressed toward Israel was, until recently, never lacking in vehemence and sincerity. Not only did it consider Israel an enemy state, it actively sent troops to fight against it in a series of regional wars. All this, it appears, is now changed.

Sadly, we must concede to the reality that marble, while beautiful, can never be immortal. It can be damaged if deliberately abused, and it can crumble under the weight of neglect. Such violence might await the Middle East in the months to come if, as the best of our polls suggest, and the wisest of our pundits assume, America’s executive leadership undergoes a change. The departure of President Trump, and the ascension of Joe Biden, might succeed in stifling the Pax Arabia before it gets an opportunity to breathe.

How quickly, I fear, will the marble devolve to brick, and the fledgling peace into interminable war. Resplendence might be turned to rubble, and the beauty of hope to the misery of despair.

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