Behind Geographic's New Mideast Atlas

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Apart from dozens of maps in the atlas, there is a comprehensive section on regional themes. How were the themes selected and what issues do they address?

Our atlases typically provide fundamental thematic information—natural areas, population, natural resources, and development indicators. This atlas is no exception. Within these categories we have included more than 50 charts, graphs, and maps presenting key information regarding religions, languages, ethnic groups, oil, foreign aid, climate and much more. If you are like me, you will find yourself flipping from map to map and between sections to compare and further research topics.

Browsing through the atlas, one is struck by how blessed and cursed is the Middle East, both in what it's got and what it hasn't got. How do the sections on oil and water, for example, help us understand this region?

As I previously mentioned, the aquifers in Israel and the Occupied Territories were of interest to me. But as I looked at the section on water I was immediately drawn to the major rivers, starting with the Jordan, but then quickly to the Tigris and Euphrates. You can clearly see the Fertile Crescent. This caused me to flip to the World Heritage Site Map and think about the archaeological treasures and cultural resources still to be found and understood.

The section on oil shows who has the oil and where it is, where it is piped to and where it is ultimately sent. Understanding who produces, who has the reserves and who uses the oil is critical to understanding the strategic importance of the region.

There is a comprehensive analysis of the two great religions of the Middle East—Judaism and Islam. What was your approach to dealing with the issue of religion?

We simply presented statistics, such as percentages of a country's population who are adherents of the faiths, and, if applicable, sects practiced there. We also included charts that summarize the top ten Jewish and Muslim populations by country and a map that shows sacred sites and the recent Jewish migrations to Israel. It is all pretty straightforward information.

How do the history and timeline sections of the atlas shed light on current events?

The colonial period, the rise of nationalism, and the subsequent regional conflicts are all outlined in the History section. It is interesting that the timeline starts in 1900 and the first entry deals with oil rights. When I studied the timeline, even though it should be obvious, I was astounded at just how this region has been in almost constant conflict.

The atlas often places the Middle East into a global context. How and why did you do this?

Oil, war and conflict, the Jewish migration to Israel, antiquities, population, human rights, economic health, quality of life—and I'm sure a bunch that I have not mentioned—are arguably all issues of global interest that we address. Comparing this information relative to other areas is a simple way to help us grasp scale, relative importance, differences, and disparities.

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