This is a Foreign Policy collection of photo essays that essentially takes “a look back to a time before the headlines turned grim” in parts of the world that are especially volatile and violent at the moment. These places include Egypt, Syria, and Afghanistan, among a few others. The true sadness of these photo essays is in seeing how many of the locations photographed indicate the rise of peaceful, hip, interesting places to visit and live, but because of political unrest, social injustice, and prolific violence, have rapidly declined in their stability and appeal.
From an anthropological viewpoint, it’s especially fascinating to see how many of the photos reveal a stark colonial westernization of the countries and cities in the 50’s and 60’s. In recent times, however, these areas’ problems seem to have arisen out of either a backlash against that western influence, or out of a strong desire to once again embrace western-style values, especially democracy and representative government.
It’s not as cut-and-dry as that (I’m sure many – myself included – wish that it were), but above all else, the photos and stories contained in this collection make it easy to identify with the people on the ground. Though we hear a great deal about the balance of power, personal sacrifices, extreme violence, etc. in these places, it’s important to keep in mind that for the most part, everyday, run-of-the-mill people are just trying to live their lives as well as they can. My sympathy for them is the reason why I take the time to explore these issues in the first place.
Reflections aside, although I am of a “western persuasion,” I can’t help wondering whether those places (like many others around the world) would have been better off evolving naturally along their own cultural path, without western intervention. We’ll never know for sure and it’s only speculation. All the same, this line of thought sets me to pondering our country’s most recent and explicit involvement in the region in the form of two wars and various overt political engagements, and, well… I guess you see the point of the photo essays.