What if the Middle East developed the way the United States did and the U.S. developed the way the Middle East did? Living in the Middle East, I began to ponder this possibility when camping in Oman and noting the similarities between Middle Eastern tribes and Native American tribes.
But of course Native American tribes were mostly wiped out by germs (smallpox), European colonialism, conquest and genocide with advanced technology (guns and steel), and America was dominated by immigrants from Europe who had experienced the Enlightenment. In his alternate history novel set in 2009, “The Mirage,” Mark Ruff imagines Christian fundamentalists flying two planes “into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers. The United Arab States declares a War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C…”
At the risk of pushing false equivalences in religion, history and politics, Ruff offers mind-bending scenarios, some believable, some not. Full plot summary.
Nathan Be of the Alternate History discussion group on Facebook posted this conversation-starter that sparked a thoughtful discussion: “I am a fan of Matt Ruff’s book The Mirage which depicts a world where North America and the Middle East swap places. North America is a hellhole run by Christian fundamentalists and the Middle East is a united global superpower. I find the idea of North America being equivalent to the Middle East intriguing, so I thought I’d ask the following question. What would need to change for North America to be a political and/or religious/cultural hotbed of tensions equivalent to today’s Middle East and how far back would the changes need to be?”
Several discussants suggest, in North America:
- Slavery is never abolished;
- The nascant US fails to ratify the Constitution or the Bill of Rights;
- “The French become active in settling ‘Greater Louisiana’ from St. Louis and the US never expands past the Mississippi. Russia moves down into California and benefits from the Gold Rush and takes the west coast from Alaska to Monterey.”
- “As a young man, Oliver Cromwell seriously considered migrating to Massachusetts. He does so, events in Great Britain following a roughly similar path to IOTL despite Cromwell’s absence -civil war, a relatively short Commonwealth then restoration of the monarchy. By this point, Cromwell has become a leading figure in Massachusetts and rejects the restoration, leading Massachusetts to become a separate republican state dominated by the Congregationalist church. (And, yeah, this requires he lives considerably longer than IOTL.)”
- Enlightened Muslim thinkers like Al-Ghazali and Rumi dominate Middle Eastern religious thought while intolerant Puritans like Cotton Mather (who prosecuted women in the Salem Witch Trials) garner even more influence.