This guest post is part of our MESA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18-21. #MESA2017DC
By Isa Blumi, author of Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World, forthcoming January 2018
I wrote Destroying Yemen with the fumes of anger, frustration, and resignation still potent; friends, family, and enemies alike got whiff and knew to stay away. I cannot help, with now almost 1000 days of incessant violence directed at 18 million Yemenis, to feel my initial, and interim inspiration to write, has any hope of changing a thing. Indeed, it was my conclusion, somewhat reconfirmed in light of the recent events in the region, that ultimately my frustration, fear, and outrage cannot offer much support to the real corrective force of Yemeni resistance. As this book begins its journey as part of a public discussion over what has happened in South Arabia, I hope, therefore, to initiate not only an exchange of reactions, denunciations, and snide competitiveness, but an acceptance to ask broader questions about just what we are doing when writing about Yemen, the larger region, and indeed world.
In much of this effort to account for why Destroying Yemen constitutes the concluding strategic calculation of hitherto obscured global interests, I have tried to identify historic roots, as much as future consequences, to chaos in South Arabia. I believe it is not a regional issue, confined to an arena secured by think-tankers or regional experts. Rather, the destruction of Yemen, as a project, an agenda, a frustrated last-ditch strategic shift, implicates a much broader array of interested parties. This is a war with deep roots, reflective of ideologies that expected, demanded, and justified violence to impose an entirely self-serving process of wealth sequestration. Yemen for decades, in other words, has been at the forefront of globalist projects that objectified Yemen’s millions as collateral to a more potent concern with the natural resources that lay under their feet.
Like most scholars working on the region, I fell in love with Yemen. I had the good fortune to experience Yemen as it just became a unified potential reality in the early 1990s. Traveling the breadth of this stunning land, my wish to keep it entirely romantic could not resist, in the end, the intellectual potential of my growing interests. In Yemen, I recognized counter-narratives that begged for deeper analysis. As evident in Destroying Yemen, I refuse, for example, to surrender the relevance of the Ottoman story in Yemen’s modern story; and in this book, I feel I have made my most emphatic case yet for just how crucial it is to bring historic depth to what are clearly not uniquely (post)modern phenomena. Indeed, Yemen’s destruction is so systematic, so deep a crime, largely because of Yemeni resistance to Empire—be it Ottoman and British, or non-governmental agencies empowered by a mission enshrined in neo-liberal discourse. In this respect, I wrote a book that is contemporary as much as historically revisionist.
And yet, I write while millions are going hungry, dying of cholera, and terrorized (but not defeated) by bombs made in the United States, France, Britain, and Sweden. In this light, I end this blog post as I end my book:
… there has been little to admire from the world’s entanglements with beautiful Yemen. In the end, we must conclude that the imprint of would be global hegemons’ ambitions on Yemen takes its most enduring form in graves, bombed medieval cities, and a whimper from starving children no one wants to hear. And with this stark reality, I have nothing left to do. This in the end is just a book.
Isa Blumi is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Turkish Studies at Stockholm University. In addition to Destroying Yemen What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World he is the author of Ottoman Refugees, 1878–1939, Foundations of Modernity, and Reinstating the Ottomans.