Today we talk about STRATEGIC WATERWAYS OF THE MIDDLE EAST, a book by WITT RACZKA published with our publishing house Europe Books.
Europe Books had the pleasure of interviewing the author WITT RACZKA to get to know him better, what was the moment that brought him to the writing of his book STRATEGIC WATERWAYS OF THE MIDDLE EAST, as well as how he describes his Writing style.
Below you can find our interview. Take a seat and enjoy your reading!!!
- What brought you to the writing of your book?
My interest in the Middle East goes back to the late-1990s. Before that I had been mostly focused on the post-Soviet Central Asia. My first contacts with the Middle East came via that region. In fact, the two had been interconnected and mutually influenced over many centuries. Initially, two of my focus countries were Turkey and Iran. So, I literally ‘entered’ into the Middle East from the north, via the Black and Caspian Seas. I was fascinated by the contrast produced by the combination of the intense blue colour of the skies and waters and the brown-beige of the arid lands that dominate the region. Then came frequent travels further south, towards the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, including Egypt, Djibouti, Iraq and Oman. My early-school passion for geography and history has been reinforced by the interest in the modern phenomenon of globalization taking place in trade, finance as well as culture. I quickly realized the role the Middle East plays in this process due to its geographical position between continents and between oceans, and how strongly events in this region affect faraway countries and international relations globally. This eventually brought me to specify the subject of this book.
- What characteristics should your audience have to appreciate your book?
The most important feature is curiosity. This is a book that covers a huge time span, so it should naturally appeal to historians. It focuses on specific geographic sites that have played crucial roles in human development since Antiquity. The text stresses the importance of key waterways and how powers strove to control them for economic or geopolitical reasons – they became strategic. The book could therefore also draw the attention of those who are interested in modern inter-state relations, in issues of conflicts and competition as well as security, including in the current period when tensions in the Red Sea or in the Persian Gulf are running high. My work is eclectic and multidisciplinary by combining economic, political, geopolitical and military themes, so it targets a relatively large audience. Additionally, each of the four parts of the book starts with a short personal note in a nod to those readers who combine the study of international relations with travel away from their comfortable armchairs and quiet libraries. Such a personal approach features even more prominently in my previous book (Unholy Land) dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
- What messages did you want to convey with your book?
Today, one has the impression that history is accelerating, as witnessed by the growing ‘density’ of high-stake events generating ever more tension. But they do not occur in a vacuum: all tend to have a historical context. It is therefore important to attempt to comprehend them by studying their historical roots and factors. Frequent rivalries and wars around our four strategic waterways took place in the past and understanding them makes it easier for us to appreciate their contemporary significance. Russia’s historical interest in the Turkish Straits brings us back to this country’s old desire to control the Black Sea (and therefore indirectly the Straits themselves), the objective clearly seen in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Egypt, already in Antiquity, was interested in linking the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, and every attempt to implement such a project attracted the interest of outside powers. Attempts to block the modern Suez Canal had significant impact on global economy and security. Similarly, the role of the Hormuz Strait is crucial not only as a vital energy route for the world but also as the focus of a more traditional Arabo-Iranian and Sunni-Shia rivalry around the Gulf. In other words, instead of an ‘end of history’ as proclaimed by some scholars, we witness a ‘return of history’. The term ‘strategic’ means ‘very important’ or ‘crucial’ for states that sit on these sea routes or neighbour them, but even more so for faraway major powers and as choke points for international trade. The key point here is to be able to connect various aspects of these interests: economic and military, of local as well as global significance. As narrow sea routes, they were also bridges between lands. So, again, another message of this book is to stimulate this multidisciplinary interest. Strategic waterways are a perfect place to adopt such an approach.
- How would you describe your writing style?
While being a university teacher and researcher, I have nonetheless always tried to make my books and papers available to a larger audience. With some exceptions, these texts are therefore never terribly ‘technical’. In my classes I always try to illustrate the written or spoken word by resorting to drawings and images. Another way to facilitate the understanding of an issue is to use maps. Of course, one needs to be careful about their presentation, for depending on the period they represent or due the inclusion or omission of significant details, they may alter the meaning of a message. As we say, maps – like statistics – may lie. However, their honest presentation may tremendously facilitate the reading of more complex texts, whether historical or contemporary. Therefore, ‘Strategic Waterways’ includes so many maps. The book exposes historical facts and their context. It describes maritime straits and canals and explains why they always attracted – and will continue to do so in the future – so much attention throughout human history. This volume can be read chronologically according to provided parts and chapters. But one can also choose specific time periods and read the text ‘horizontally’, across the parts. Indeed, the interconnected character of these maritime routes means that the rise and fall of their respective importance could happen concomitantly: they were often in competition with one another – the prosperity and relevance of one could entail the withering of another. One cannot read this volume in one stroke; interactive reading is key.
- Are you working on a new writing project?
Based on what I have said above, my future writing project will certainly include links between the past and the present, dealing with historical as well as contemporary issues. It will also be relatively eclectic, combining political, geopolitical, economic and other aspects of a region or country. Of course, a project will also reflect my personal experience based on intensive travel…I will likely stick to the Middle East, the region that fascinates me and that I consider to be crucial to future international developments. In the globalized world, the region will retain its centrality in world affairs. I have recently travelled to Eastern Turkey and Iraq, and I have Syria on my agenda. A common thread could be ‘The Euphrates’… But alternatively, I also think about a return to Central Asia, one of my first passions. It would be interesting, indeed, to compare the region’s evolution since my frequent visits there in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse and examine contemporary problems and challenges.
Europe Books thanks the author WITT RACZKA once again for taking the time and answering our questions. We are really pleased to have walked alongside him on the editorial path that led to the publication of his book STRATEGIC WATERWAYS OF THE MIDDLE EAST. We wish him the best of luck for his book and for his future works.
To you, my dear reader, I wish this book allows you to better understand and contextualize today’s history through the story of its roots and historical factors; that it stimulates a multidisciplinary interest towards “The Strategic waterways” and all the meaning that they bring along with them.
So, my dear reader, all I have to say is to enjoy your reading!