`Aliens in Arabia'

CRADLE of civilization, cradle of monotheism, cradle of the prophets, rocked by wars and tortured by fanaticism, and laughed at behind its back by so much of the world - a ``crazy'' place full of ``crazy'' people. For Americans who had no interest in the rest of the world, the Middle East epitomized ``abroad'' - ominous, backward, swarthy, extremist, anti-American, and xenophobia-inspiring. It was a symbol of the threat to world peace, the number one candidate for Cradle of World War III. ... Religion was, like oil, a valuable and exploitable resource whose most recent ``boom'' here followed oil's only by a few years. Unlike oil, it was not unrenewable, but infinite, and versatile - only the cutouts of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were necessary as a cover for any political direction. Like oil, it was a means more than an end, and its earthly end seemed to be fighting aliens: Jews, Arabs, Persians, Americans. I had a strong notion it was just ethnocentrism in drag.

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