During “the epoch of classical Islamic civilisation”, according to LibCom.org, the whole “Arab region was definitively wrenched out of its past”. Iraqi-born theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili, meanwhile, insists that, as Europe languished in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, “incredible scientific advances were made in the Muslim world”, with the Ottoman Empire overseeing much of this progress. However, for a number of reasons, the empire began to decline in the 17th century, and eventually fell apart at the end of the First World War (having chosen to support the wrong side in the conflict between European imperialist powers). The Muslim World, for so long guided by the Ottomans, was now left without a pan-Islamic institution, and the powerful European states sought to divide it in order to prevent the creation of another large Muslim empire that could challenge their own supremacy.
The efforts of these superpowers inevitably created friction in the region, and only after the Second World War would attempts to unite it gain momentum. However, it was primarily the Arab section of the Muslim World that sought unity, with the Arab League being established in 1945 and Arab nationalism looking set to become the main political opponent of pro-Western monarchies in the region. The creation of Israel in 1948, however, divided the Arab World geographically, stifling the endeavours of its newly independent countries to create a unified Arab nation. Israel’s predisposition towards violence, meanwhile, had already generated fierce responses both from Islamists and from Arab nationalists.
The focus of this chapter of the book is to give an overview of the recent history of key countries in the Muslim World, and especially in what is today referred to as the Middle East. Without this historical context, it is impossible to truly understand the current political situation and, without such understanding, there is no way that the region’s conflicts will ever truly be resolved. Therefore, instead of delving into political theory or suggesting solutions, this chapter will focus purely on outlining historical details. A large part of the information summarised below comes from TeachMideast.org, unless otherwise specified.