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Sandra Mackey

     ... Middle East observer, author, commentator. This widely respected journalist has covered the Middle East since the oil boom of the 1970s. Her books focus on the Arab world, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq (The Reckoning) and Saudi Arabia (The Saudis). Ms. Mackey has written hundreds of articles for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington Post, and she is a frequent commentator on the Middle East for CNN, the BBC, CBS, NPR and Monitor Radio.


The West and the Middle East are in a contest of religious ideologies fueled by militants -- Christian and Islamic alike -- reports American journalist Sandra Mackey. The contest is a product of fear in the presence of globalization, she says, as people feel their identities threatened. Ms. Mackey confirms this insight with stories she's gathered from across the Islamic world (which she says is notable for its internal differences, not its apparent similarities) as well as in America.

Sandra Mackey has repeatedly lived in and reported on the Middle East since the oil boom of the 1970s. Terrorism particularly worries her. You simply cannot take care of terrorism militarily, she insists. She’s deeply concerned about what she calls the United States' "adventure" in Iraq and particularly America’s so-called "War on Terror." She points out that where the two have unfortunately merged is in the U.S. innuendo -- wrong, as has repeatedly been pointed out -- that somehow Iraq's Saddam Hussein was tied in with al-Qaeda. Conflicts in ideology simply cannot and will not be resolved militarily, she repeats, casting a pessimistic look at what will come of both the "adventure" and the "war."

So what's going on in this part of the world where Ms. Mackey says an American foreign policy commitment to Israel has overshadowed virtually everything else for most of 50 years? Lots.

This, says Ms. Mackey, is a battle of minds and for hearts. The larger context is that this battle rages in the midst of an alarming rise of religion-as -politics, worldwide, West as well as East and Middle East. She believes that the world is feeling the consequences of the Middle East having been for centuries an "alley" connecting conquering armies. Add failures of political ideologies and misunderstandings about the complexities of Islam and its strong internal message social justice. Then factor in the many variations Islam has taken in response to the cultures into which it came over hundreds of years. Religious militants in the West, particularly the United States, ignore large realities with deep historical roots. Simple truths -- like the profound differences between "Arabs" and "Islam" -- fall victim.

No easy answers, Ms. Mackey makes clear. Despite what is being said by ideologues of all persuasions, answers that may eventually arise will take decades and will have to come from within the Middle East itself -- they cannot be imposed from the outside, Ms. Mackey is convinced.

Americans in particular, she counsels, have to be willing to accept people who are different, doing things differently. A certain level of tolerance is needed in place of an unfortunate history of American contempt for Arabs. It's worth remembering, she notes: It was these same Arabs whose ancient and distinguished Islamic empire saved the treasures of ancient Greek and Roman from America and Europe's forbearers -- marauding European and Central Asian tribespeople.

[This Program was recorded May 13, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia,]

Conversation 1

Sandra Mackey describes for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the role of the world’s militant religions as people everywhere work to adapt their identities to a changing world. Ms. Mackey cites religious extremists in the West as well as the Middle East.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:55

Conversation 2

“Arabs” are distinguished from “Islam,” as Ms. Mackey further describes differences among Muslim countries, as well as among people who identify with Islam. Ms. Mackey outlines Saudi Arabia’s challenges, summarizing and analyzing its 19th and 20th century history.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:48

Conversation 3

The United States has no interest in toppling the House of Saud, Ms. Mackey says, then describes it as paternalistic, not totalitarian. She expands, then puts conflicts in the Middle East into their much larger historical perspective -- the entire Fertile Crescent as an “alley” frequented by a series of conquering armies over many centuries, up to and including the present.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:38

Conversation 4

The history of the Middle East as a twice- and thrice-promised land is reviewed as Ms. Mackey gives a “short course” history of the region. She describes the role of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular in shaping America’s long-time foreign policy. The role of “honor” in the Arab world is factored in, then Ms. Mackey describes how America’s religious right in currently driving American foreign policy in the Middle East. The tangled complexities of Iraq’s Islamic community are explored.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:05

Conversation 5

Ms. Mackey compares rhetoric from Islamic militants and Christian fundamentalists. The big problem the United States has in the Middle East, she says, is not a military challenge but a challenge of ideologies. She expands, factoring in American support of questionable governments. America canNOT end terrorism militarily, she insists, concerned about the unintended results of American military activities in the region. She urges Americans to be more tolerant and accepting of people who differ from them. Language, not violence, is the weapon of choice for Arabs, she observes, and articulates the many frustrations in a region where political ideologies have failed. She notes the strong strain of social justice in Islam and its consequences.ues to have faith in America.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:01

Conversation 6

Iraq has a devastating history of ethnic and sectarian conflict, Ms. Mackey says, contradicting an erroneous assertion by a high-ranking US administration official. Iraqis have never been able to decide on a common identity, a requirement for political legitimacy which may take 50 more years. Ms. Mackey expresses pessimism about the outcomes of the United States’ “adventure” in Iraq.

Conversation 1 RealAudio4:19


We deeply appreciate and admire Ms. Mackey’s lifetime work of opening the Middle East to those of us who know painfully little about it. And we thank her for being such a “trouper,” coming to this Show with a cast and without a complaint.
Our thanks also to The Commerce Club of Atlanta’s staff for being particularly helpful on this occasion.

We are grateful that Ms. Mackey had the courage and integrity to raise her voice against the drumbeat for war at a time when our politicians and mass media were clamoring for the invasion of Iraq.

Related Links:

The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein and The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom are both published by W.W.Norton. Ms. Mackey’s other books include Lebanon: Death of a Nation, Passion and Politics: The Turbulent World of the Arabs and The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation.

Some of our problems in the Middle East are traceable to failures of our news media to adequately cover the region and the politics that affect it. Bonnie Anderson is a former CNN correspondent and author of Newsflash: Journalism, Infotainment, and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News. Tom Johnson is the former president of CNN. In a 50 year career, Haynes Johnson has been a reporter, editor, columnist, television commentator and author.

The late David Halberstam was a Pulitizer Prize winning journalist and author.  The Best and the Brightest dug deeply into the causes and failures of America's war in Vietnam.  We would like to believe that right now a journalist is toiling away, writing a similarly brilliant book about America's even more deeply flawed excursion into Iraq.

Peter Galbraith, in The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, documents the consequences to Iraq, Iran and the United States of the failure of America's politicians, intelligence services and mass media to heed the warnings of Sandra Mackey and many others whose perspectives are based on knowledge rather than ideology or mere opinion.  In a later book, Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies, Mr. Galbraith addresses the question of "who lost Iraq" and lays out an agenda for restoring American credibility and creating effective foreign and security policies.

Former President Jimmy Carter, United Church of Christ minister Robin Meyers and evangelical minister Jim Wallis warn of the dangers of fundamentalism to American democracy and to the world.

Geveive Abdo lived and reported from the Middle East for years. She uses that experience as the base from which to examine the democratization of governments in predominantly Muslim nations, specifically Egypt.  Reza Asalan examines the historic roots and future prospects of the clash between Shia and Sunni views of Islam.

Daniel Silva's fiction is based on years of living in Washington, D.C. and on his many contacts with people in the government and media. He shares with Ms. Mackey a concern about the relationships between the American and Saudi governments.

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