July 14, 1967
The July 14, 1967, cover of TIME TIME

50 Years Ago This Week: The Middle East in Turmoil

Jul 10, 2017

Milestone moments do not a year make. Often, it’s the smaller news stories that add up, gradually, to big history. With that in mind, in 2017 TIME History will revisit the entire year of 1967, week by week, as it was reported in the pages of TIME. Catch up on last week’s installment here.

Week 28: July 14, 1967

As the reverberations of the Six-Day War continued to be felt throughout the Middle East and the world, TIME devoted this week's cover story to Jordan's King Hussein, who was painted as the voice of moderation in the region at a time when such a voice was hard to find.

As other leaders of the Arab nations that had been defeated by Israel searched for someone to blame, Hussein looked inward, admitting that "we have not yet learned well enough how to use the weapons of modern warfare." Another aspect of this story was explored in this week's TIME Essay, which took a broader look at the Middle East after the brief war.

Viewed from the distance of a half-century, the stories are likely to strike many modern readers as retrograde and oversimplified, frequently resorting to generalizations about the national characteristics of Middle Eastern people. Aspects, however, remain useful as a primer on the history of the region.

For example, from the essay:

The Arabs' empire failed because they lacked the skill of political synthesis. In conquered territory, Arab rulers hewed to the Koran and tended to let the conquered govern themselves. Mohammed designated no successor (caliph); his squabbling heirs split Islam into rival sects. For a time, independent Moslem states retained Mohammed's vigor. While Europe slept, great Arab universities flourished in Cordova, Baghdad and Cairo; in Spain, the Arab philosopher Averroes revitalized Aristotle. After the death of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid in 809, the Baghdad caliphate plunged into civil war; in succeeding centuries, marauding Mongols poured into the Arab lands, killing people and wrecking schools. In two centuries, ending in 1291, Arabs fought off eight Christian Crusades. Gradually, the caliphs lost touch with their people, becoming decorative mollusks. Finally the Arabs lost even their economic importance to the world; by sailing around Africa to India in 1498, the Portuguese outflanked Arab ports and customs stations. After seizing Egypt in 1517, the Ottoman Turks ossified Arab culture, banning Arabic except in courts and mosques, halting poetry, science and education—just as the European Renaissance was in full bloom.

Asleep for three centuries, the Arabs awoke from isolation when Napoleon took Egypt in 1798. At first they were fascinated by Western ideas, from mixed bathing to parliamentary democracy. Western imperialism, symbolized by the Suez Canal, changed the fascination to hostility. Britain "temporarily" occupied Egypt in 1882—and stayed 75 years. By 1914, Britain, France, Italy and Spain owned all of North Africa, manipulating puppet princes, exempting themselves from local law and suffocating local initiative. European goods carried little or no duty; native industries were taxed to death. Britain long held spending for Egyptian education to 1% of the budget; France left Algerians 85% illiterate. A few collaborators grew rich: a mere .5% of Egyptians owned 36% of all arable land; 1.5% pocketed 50% of the national income. As one result, there was no development of a middle class, which might have created viable economies and stable governments.

By 1920, Europeans controlled virtually the whole Arab world—the largely bitter fruit of Arab cooperation with Britain against the Ottoman Turks in World War I. At the time, the growing Zionist movement argued that Palestine was a "land without people for a people without land." In fact, it contained 640,000 Arabs. Even so, in different circumstances, the Arabs might well have been able to accept a Jewish state in their midst. But against this historical background it was easy for nationalist propaganda to inflame the Arab masses and to make the establishment of Israel seem like the ultimate indignity. In Arab eyes, the West was not only using the Jews as agents to colonize Palestine but to eject its native population. Arabs see Israelis as naked aggressors, the spearhead of a Western attack on their entire culture.

The piece also contained this surprising fact: King Hussein "introduced water-skiing to Jordan."

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The latest from Vietnam: "We are winning, slowly but steadily," promised Gen. William Westmoreland — even as TIME admitted that the war was "not going entirely according to the U.S. scenario for 1967." The guerrilla tactics of North Vietnam showed no sign of letting up, and the willingness of its leaders to fight a war of attrition was so high, that one defector told the U.S. that his whole job for the North Vietnamese forces had been to dig enough graves for the third of all fighters who were expected to die in every clash with the Marines.

Private acts: Britain's parliament had revised the nation's laws and as a result, as TIME explained, "For the first time since the era of Henry VIII, private homosexual acts between consenting males over 21 will not be subject to criminal prosecution." Though the law wasn't exactly accompanied by what would be seen as open-mindedness today — being gay was still portrayed as a "disability" — it would eliminate many gay men's fear of blackmail.

Carry-on baggage: Looking for a way to get around airline restrictions on carry-on baggage? It's still probably not wise to try this 1967 method pioneered amid a rising concern about lost baggage: "A Florida insurance man who travels frequently by air has a novel way of keeping close to his large suitcase. He arrives at the airport with the bag manacled to his wrist. 'Cape Kennedy courier—top security' he whispers to the gate attendant, whereupon man and luggage emplane, hand in handle."

Great vintage ad: In making an argument about why placing an ad in LIFE Magazine (a sister publication to TIME) is a good way to reach a whole family, the magazine exposes some very of-that-moment family dynamics, starting with the fact that "you should hear what Daddy says about Mommy's muumuu."

Coming up next week: Riots in Newark

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