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The Middle East: Crossroads of civilizations

(Photo: Mike O'Neil)

I’ve just spent a month in Greece and Turkey.

This week’s show shares some of my observations. I am certainly not an expert, but did spend the month talking to a wide range of people from the area, most far more informed than I was.

There were some surprises: For example, I had never heard about Greece’s “natural affinity” for Russia. I’d always thought of it as a Western democracy (which it is), but there is another aspect I hadn’t considered.

But mostly, I was struck by how complex many of the Middle East’s issues are on the ground, issues that often seem pretty simple from afar. The delicate balance in Turkey, for example, between its status as a secular state (which it is) and its 99 percent Muslim population and the delicate compromises the secular government has made with a powerful religious element within the country.

One thing for sure: Turkey, in particular, is impacting our foreign policy right now. I saw some of the two million Syrian refugees that have fled from Syria into Turkey. I got close enough to the Greek island of Lesbos to swim there (when a refugee reaches Lesbos, they are in a European Union country, even though the island is only a few miles off the Turkish coast). And the interplay between Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and others has complicated our attempts to positively impact change in that volatile part of the world.

This week’s Think Tank — with guest co-host Holiday Moore substituting for Mike Russell — presents some first-hand observations.