ICH | The entirety of the August 14 print edition of the New York Times Magazine is dedicated to a series titled “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart,” by Scott Anderson. The series is 60 pages long and includes detailed sketches of the lives of six people from various parts of the Middle East dating back to the years before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, through the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS in 2014-15, and the migratory outpouring from the war-torn region.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jake Silverstein, notes in a foreword to the series:
“This is an issue unlike any we have previously published…the subject of this book is the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis. The geography of this catastrophe is broad and its causes are many, but its consequences—terror and uncertainty around the world—are familiar to us all.”
Silverstein concludes his editor’s note: “It is unprecedented for us to focus so much energy and attention on a single story and to ask our readers to do the same. We would not do so were we not convinced that this is one of the most clear-eyed, powerful and human explanations of what has gone wrong in this region that you will ever read.”
The publication of “Fractured Lands” has an objective significance. The presentation, the content and the tone of the series express the American ruling class’ sense that it faces a catastrophe of historically unprecedented proportions in the Middle East. When Anderson asks in his preface: “Why did it turn out that way?” he is asking on behalf of a ruling class that is dazed by the catastrophic outcome of its own reckless and shortsighted policies.
For the last 25 years, US imperialism has laid waste to a span of territory stretching several thousand miles from North Africa to Central Asia, leaving over 1 million dead. A new vocabulary of words like “shock and awe,” “extraordinary rendition,” “black site prison,” “disposition matrix” and “Terror Tuesday” has emerged as the language of the US wars. A significant portion of the region’s 200 million people has been left homeless or have fled for safe haven abroad. Next January, Barack Obama will leave office as the first president in US history to serve his entire two terms while the country was at war.
“Fractured Lands” is an apologia for the record of American imperialism. Its author has served as a war correspondent for 33 years and has worked for the New York Times for the last 17. He is a prolific, educated writer and recently published a historical book on the post-World War One imperialist carve-up of the Middle East. Whatever Anderson’s intentions, “Fractured Lands” is a “human interest” story that serves to justify “human rights imperialism” and pave the way for new wars.
“Fractured Lands” makes the argument that the nation-state system established in the aftermath of the First World War failed to conform sufficiently to the various tribal, ethnic and religious divisions in the region. Anderson concludes that the collapse of the bourgeois nationalist governments in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Libya proves the necessity for racial and ethnic groups to fill the political vacuum and fight among themselves to establish fiefdoms and zones of tribal influence. “Fractured Lands” acknowledges that this may involve ethnic cleansing. The author concludes by contemplating whether pogroms and genocide may be necessary to establish order in the region.