I planned to take a political break this week and had a column on backyard chicken farming all written and ready to roll. Then yesterday, Sunday, I was in the car on an errand and turned on local KWVR Radio to catch the NCAA basketball scores. I got them - and then, half listening with kids in the back, got a serious voice talking about President Obama's use of teleprompters.

The man claimed he could tell by looking at Obama's hands when he was using a teleprompter - even claimed that these hand movements were the same as those of former President Clinton. And then he went on to explain that Obama's speech and peace offering to the Iranians was not scripted, not teleprompted, but words "from the heart." He quoted the entire text of the message, Obama extolling the historic achievements of the Persians, urging them to adopt a spirit of peace and cooperation, and offering Iran a place in the community of nations.

Then he - and it was not Rush Limbaugh because this was Sunday and I listen enough to recognize Limbaugh's voice, and although I disagree with almost all of what he has to say, I think he is smarter than this guy - turned to a colleague on the air, a woman historian by introduction, and asked her what of value had ever come out of the Middle East.

She giggled once and said that there is "that rock in Arabia that they all walk around," referring with derision to the pilgrimage that Moslem's make to Mecca.

I couldn't listen and I couldn't turn it off. "How about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam," I wanted to shout. I wondered if the radio couple understood that Jews, the original Christians and original Moslems were all Semites, and all spoke variations of languages related to modern Arabic. I wondered if they even knew that there are Christian Arabs today, that there were probably a million of them in Baghdad before the U.S. invasion.

Let's leave religion and go to math, where I want the radio professors to do long division and multiplication with "Roman" and not "Arabic" numerals! And I want them to explain the translations and keeping of Greek math and science by Moslem scholars during Europe's "dark" ages that eventually fueled Europe's Enlightenment.

"I know, I know" you say. "Rich is on a toot again because he spent a couple of years in the Middle East a half century ago -but this is all ancient history."

"That, and wheat!" I shout back, remembering Oregon State University's plant breeder, Warren Kronstad, talking to a bunch of Wallowa County wheat growers. They wanted to know why we were cooperating with Turkey and Jordan, giving them "our" hybrid wheat seeds. "Where do you think we get the wheat seeds for our hybridization program," Kronstad answered. Yes, wheat too comes from the Middle East.

Wheat goes back before Arabs, Persians, and Turks settled the region, back to Hittites and Medes and other peoples you will find in your Bible. But let's do come to the present; it is crucial that we take time and energy to understand this important part of the world. Let's remind again that there are Christian Arabs, and that Iranians are not Arabs, not Semitic people, but Indo-Europeans who speak a language related to ours. That the region is still wildly diverse - though European meddling seems to siphon off Christians and unify others against us - with almost as many major brands of Islam as there are of Christianity and Judaism.

American and European "fixes" of Middle Eastern problems seem always to focus on our needs rather than theirs. The European division of the Middle East after World War I was riddled with British politics and oil. The English-American overthrow of an elected government in Iran in 1947 was all about oil. Even the creation of the State of Israel was in part a fix for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and for Europeans salving feelings of guilt over the Holocaust.

Our misunderstandings of the region have given us two wars in the Persian Gulf and no solutions to the festering problem of Palestine. There, out of guilt and with lobbying by American Jewish interests, we hang onto a view of the Israeli-Palestine problem that is right wing by most Israeli standards. When President Carter wrote a book offering a more balanced view, he was ridiculed in the press and the academy. When Roger Cohen, a Jewish writer for the New York Times, wrote recently of Jews living peacefully with their Moslem neighbors in Iran and disagreeing with the politics of Israel, he was likewise attacked.

It's up to us, former Presidents, Jews with a different view, mathematicians who know where numbers come from, farmers who know where wheat came from, and old Peace Corps Volunteers who lived there a half century ago, to stand up and speak out when radio yahoos make false and incendiary claims about the Middle East.

Radio yahoos on the Middle EastI planned to take a political break this week and had a column on backyard chicken farming all written and ready to roll. Then yesterday, Sunday, I was in the car on an errand and turned on local KWVR Radio to catch the NCAA basketball scores. I got them - and then, half listening with kids in the back, got a serious voice talking about President Obama's use of teleprompters.

The man claimed he could tell by looking at Obama's hands when he was using a teleprompter - even claimed that these hand movements were the same as those of former President Clinton. And then he went on to explain that Obama's speech and peace offering to the Iranians was not scripted, not teleprompted, but words "from the heart." He quoted the entire text of the message, Obama extolling the historic achievements of the Persians, urging them to adopt a spirit of peace and cooperation, and offering Iran a place in the community of nations.

Then he - and it was not Rush Limbaugh because this was Sunday and I listen enough to recognize Limbaugh's voice, and although I disagree with almost all of what he has to say, I think he is smarter than this guy - turned to a colleague on the air, a woman historian by introduction, and asked her what of value had ever come out of the Middle East.

She giggled once and said that there is "that rock in Arabia that they all walk around," referring with derision to the pilgrimage that Moslem's make to Mecca.

I couldn't listen and I couldn't turn it off. "How about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam," I wanted to shout. I wondered if the radio couple understood that Jews, the original Christians and original Moslems were all Semites, and all spoke variations of languages related to modern Arabic. I wondered if they even knew that there are Christian Arabs today, that there were probably a million of them in Baghdad before the U.S. invasion.

Let's leave religion and go to math, where I want the radio professors to do long division and multiplication with "Roman" and not "Arabic" numerals! And I want them to explain the translations and keeping of Greek math and science by Moslem scholars during Europe's "dark" ages that eventually fueled Europe's Enlightenment.

"I know, I know" you say. "Rich is on a toot again because he spent a couple of years in the Middle East a half century ago -but this is all ancient history."

"That, and wheat!" I shout back, remembering Oregon State University's plant breeder, Warren Kronstad, talking to a bunch of Wallowa County wheat growers. They wanted to know why we were cooperating with Turkey and Jordan, giving them "our" hybrid wheat seeds. "Where do you think we get the wheat seeds for our hybridization program," Kronstad answered. Yes, wheat too comes from the Middle East.

Wheat goes back before Arabs, Persians, and Turks settled the region, back to Hittites and Medes and other peoples you will find in your Bible. But let's do come to the present; it is crucial that we take time and energy to understand this important part of the world. Let's remind again that there are Christian Arabs, and that Iranians are not Arabs, not Semitic people, but Indo-Europeans who speak a language related to ours. That the region is still wildly diverse - though European meddling seems to siphon off Christians and unify others against us - with almost as many major brands of Islam as there are of Christianity and Judaism.

American and European "fixes" of Middle Eastern problems seem always to focus on our needs rather than theirs. The European division of the Middle East after World War I was riddled with British politics and oil. The English-American overthrow of an elected government in Iran in 1947 was all about oil. Even the creation of the State of Israel was in part a fix for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and for Europeans salving feelings of guilt over the Holocaust.

Our misunderstandings of the region have given us two wars in the Persian Gulf and no solutions to the festering problem of Palestine. There, out of guilt and with lobbying by American Jewish interests, we hang onto a view of the Israeli-Palestine problem that is right wing by most Israeli standards. When President Carter wrote a book offering a more balanced view, he was ridiculed in the press and the academy. When Roger Cohen, a Jewish writer for the New York Times, wrote recently of Jews living peacefully with their Moslem neighbors in Iran and disagreeing with the politics of Israel, he was likewise attacked.

It's up to us, former Presidents, Jews with a different view, mathematicians who know where numbers come from, farmers who know where wheat came from, and old Peace Corps Volunteers who lived there a half century ago, to stand up and speak out when radio yahoos make false and incendiary claims about the Middle East.

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