Joined: 09 Sep 2006
|Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 11:38 am Post subject: Brief Book Reviews from Summer '07 MEQ
|Brief Book Reviews from Summer '07 MEQ
by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
Anglo-Iranian Relations since 1800. Edited by Vanessa Martin. London and New York: Routledge, 2005. 170 pp. $104.
Great Britain has a long history in Iran; the first British ambassador visited the country at the end of the sixteenth century. British diplomats had a regular presence in Tehran from the nineteenth century on, and many of them left detailed accounts of their experiences. In contrast, the social and cultural interplay of the two countries has received considerably less attention.
Martin, a University of London historian, fills this gap with Anglo-Iranian Relations since 1800, a collection of short articles by prominent historians. Her own contribution describes the mid-nineteenth century British presence in the Iranian port city of Bushehr. University of Bristol religious studies professor Robert Gleave explores the growing realization of British officials that they needed to consider Iran's religious clerics when making policy. Stephanie Cronin, author of Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, rehashes old territory with a chapter on "Britain, the Iranian Military, and the Rise of Reza Khan," the Iranian military officer who in 1925 would declare himself shah. St. Andrews University historian Ali Ansari writes about Iran in the Western "imagination," a topic that could be interesting except that it lacks any quantitative analysis, so his essay contributes little.
Far better is an essay by Jennifer Scarce, formerly of the National Museum of Scotland, who writes about Sir Robert Murdoch Smith, the military officer and diplomat who helped the Scottish museum assemble its impressive collection of Persian art. Also valuable is a short contribution by the late Sir Denis Wright, who headed a team of British diplomats to reopen the British embassy in Tehran following the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq.
Some contributors lend historical analysis to more contemporary issues. Oxford Oriental Institute scholar Hossein Moghaddam summarizes some long-forgotten Anglo-Iranian diplomatic wrangling of the nineteenth and twentieth century to reinforce Iran's claim to the Tonb Islands and Abu Musa, the Persian Gulf islands to which the United Arab Emirates also lay claim. Less helpfully, Reza Nazarahari of the Center for Documents and Diplomatic History in Tehran restates the Iranian claim using largely secondary sources and suggesting a British conspiracy.
Indeed, some of the most interesting chapters come from historians living in Iran. Using untapped Iranian archival documents, University of Isfahan historian Morteza Nouraei writes about how ordinary Iranians received British culture. Mansoureh Ettehadieh Nezam Mafi, a well-known historian and publisher, examines the archives to explore relations between the governor of the southern Iranian province of Fars and British officials during and immediately after World War I. Using British Petroleum archives, Gorgan University historian Mohammad Malek gives a snapshot of the activities of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Iran between the world wars. But this has been done before and his work adds little new.
Thus, Anglo-Iranian Relations since 1800 is a mixed bag. Most articles are useful to historians, but only a few deliver the promised new insights into the interplay of Anglo-Iranian social and cultural ties. The publisher's absurd asking price—about 60 cents per page of text—will keep even these out of reach.
Arab Reform and Foreign Aid: Lessons from Morocco. By Haim Malka and Jon B. Alterman. Significant Issues Series, Vol. 28, No. 4. Washington, D.C.: The CSIS Press, 2006. 112 pp. $16.95.
Morocco has emerged in recent years as the most reform-minded Arab country as King Mohammed VI accelerated the political liberalization initiated under his father, Hassan II. He modernized family law in women's favor, allowed past human rights abuses to be publicly investigated, and granted more freedom to the press—all while ensuring that royal authority in Morocco remained undiminished. Indeed, because the king controlled the pace of reform, the authority of the established order was enhanced.
Malka and Alterman's study offers a serviceable, if unoriginal, potted history of foreign aid trends and of Morocco's internal changes. Nowhere, however, does Arab Reform and Foreign Aid live up to the promise of its title, which implies a relationship between the two. The authors proceed in parallel, as if the money the West spends to reform Morocco had no connection to the reforms that actually took place. The chapter on reforms does not even refer to any related aid programs while the chapter outlining aid programs does not suggest that they had a measurable impact on reform, just that they are "potential contributors to the process." In fact it is hard to find descriptions of specific aid projects anywhere in the book.
The study's main lesson is, strangely, undeclared. What if Morocco's reforms have nothing to do with the aid programs? But, Malka and Alterman venture nothing so bold or risky; instead, they remain content to urge that donors "seek coordination more than cooperation."
The volume's most useful element is its account of the philosophical differences between the European and U.S. aid programs. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration's vain pursuit of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians precluded putting pressure on Arab regimes to reform. Nor did the Europeans ever exercise pressure, believing that political reform would follow from economic reform and increased trade. But in the aftermath of 9-11, Western governments seemed to absorb the lesson that the democratization of Arab countries is an essential part of a global antiterrorism strategy.
In this spirit, the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative added to the U.S. Agency for International Development's paltry programs with US$300 million in new funding between 2002 and 2005 for bottom-up democracy promotion and education among civil society groups. Europe's financially even more substantial aid programs targeted infrastructure. Where Washington tried to "energize the grassroots," Europe preferred "government-to-government dialogue." The authors clearly consider the Europeans to have more "nuance," and to be wiser and better. "Europe values constructing things one can see while the United States prefers to promote more intangible outcomes." But their study does not provide specifics by which to judge this assessment.
Mauro De Lorenzo
American Enterprise Institute
Beyond the Arab Disease: New Perspectives in Politics and Culture. By Riad Nourallah. London and New York: Routledge, Advances in Middle East and Islamic Studies, 2006. 144 pp. $105.
Beyond the Arab Disease represents the worst coming together of East and West: an inept Arab writer finding a negligent Western publisher. This unedited manuscript is a hodgepodge of six unrelated segments that have no discernible objective, methodological plan, or even conclusion. Nourallah is so unconcerned with meeting the requirements of a book that he fails to tie its assorted parts into a cohesive whole, or even to call them chapters. On page 6, he calls chapter one an "essay," and on page 124, he identifies chapter six as a "presentation." This text, a book only by virtue of its ISBN, is a brief summary of Arab history, Islamic diplomacy, Sufism, the role of Arab literature in promoting peace with the Jewish state, and even a quick overview of George Bernard Shaw's writings on Arabs and Islam.
Nourallah sounds his disaffection with the "Arab disease," which he defines as "the present state of affairs" of the Arabs. Determining that Arabs desperately need a cure, "however elusive or radical," Nourallah opts for a triple-pronged treatment with a like number of pills for achieving the following: (1) an effective form of Arab unity, (2) living with U.S. hegemony or partnership, and (3) genuine and comprehensive peace and partnership with Israel. The pills do not come with dosage instructions.
However, his treatments are ineffective. What he proposes—collective vision, will, effort, education, and aspects of development pertaining to legal, civil, democratic, and scientific matters—has previously been rejected by the Arab world. His recommendations for the relations between the United States and the Arabs seem unlikely to appeal to either side, and his remedy for the Arab-Israeli conflict would require Arabs and Israelis to undergo a most unlikely process of mental transformation and abandonment of any delusions of superiority.
With his mission accomplished in chapter one and his graphomania apparently in advanced stages, Nourallah waxes philosophical on various topics that are unrelated to the "Arab disease." This irrelevant material rehashes what students of modern Arab history and literature already know.
The reader is distracted from the so-called "Arab disease" by Nourallah's unhealthy dependence on parentheses and his ill-administered commas and dashes. This work is unfit as a textbook, has no value for researchers and experts on Arab politics, and its awkward style renders it a difficult pill for the general reader to swallow. Its only place in a serious library is in the reference section; it is a cogent manual for how not to write a book. A second opinion on the Arab disease is now needed.
American University of Beirut
Bioethics and Armed Conflict. Moral Dilemmas of Medicine and War. By Michael L. Gross. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 384 pp. $26, paper.
In 2004, the World Medical Association declared that "medical ethics in times of armed conflict is identical to medical ethics in times of peace." Gross, an ethicist at the University of Haifa, takes issue with this conclusion. "Military personnel do not enjoy a right to life, personal autonomy, or a right to self-determination to any degree approaching that of ordinary patients," he observes. While bioethics focuses on the rights of an individual, military necessity places paramount authority in the state.
Many bioethicists, insulated by peace, wallow in theory and philosophy. Living in Israel—in Haifa, at that—and facing war, Gross infuses his study with reality. As commentators and human rights activists criticize U.S. participation in Iraq and Israeli actions, Gross examines a number of bioethical quandaries that have consequences for contemporary militaries and physicians. He offers rich historical background.
While doctors pledge to do no harm, war creates dilemmas. Is it right for surgeons to operate in order to enable soldiers to return to harm's way? The Geneva Conventions imply triage to be based upon the principle of need, but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) prioritizes triage by ability to salvage soldiers. More broadly, Gross examines whether policymakers have an obligation to always preserve soldiers' lives, or whether soldiers forfeit a right to life when they enlist. Can policymakers sacrifice soldiers or order them to take extreme risks? He also explores ethical dilemmas of resource allocation in cases where having more doctors means skimping on essential nonmedical equipment.
For Middle East specialists, Gross's treatment of asymmetric warfare and the distinctions between combatants and noncombatants is a must-read. He illustrates theoretical discussions with examples drawn from the Iran-Iraq war and the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example, how should armies balance the need to protect medical facilities in combat zones when Palestinian terrorists use them as firing bases? What obligation is Israel under to allow medical access to besieged cities when terrorists ferry weapons and personnel in U.N. ambulances?
Gross also addresses issues such as the role of medical professionals in interrogations and ethical dilemmas posed by torture. With real-world examples, he explores the ethics behind the "ticking bomb scenario" when rigorous interrogation has prevented attacks by Palestinian terrorists. Also interesting is his discussion of the ethics of non-lethal chemical or biological weapons. Can doctors participate in studies that determine the greatest non-lethal level of incapacitation enemy soldiers can endure in the course of battle? What if such weapons affect civilians in urban combat?
The real value of Gross's book, though, is that he neither preaches nor resorts to demolishing straw-man arguments but rather seeks to outline contrasting arguments fairly. He discusses preexisting academic theories but does so without excessive jargon, making his book accessible to a wide audience. As such, Bioethics and Armed Conflict becomes an invaluable manual addressing some of the ethical issues of the day, useful not only for Middle Eastern specialists and military commanders but also for physicians and the general reader.
Blind into Baghdad. America's War in Iraq. By James Fallows. New York: Vintage Books, 2006. 256 pp. $13.95.
In Blind into Baghdad, Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, cobbles together a series of articles he wrote between 2002 and 2004 to explore the road to war and occupation in Iraq. He adds an introduction and a brief afterward to frame his articles and annotates throughout to show how his predictions played out.
Fallows makes no secret of his opposition to the Iraq war. "If [the United States] did not have to attack, then it should not go ahead, not simply because of the complications within Iraq itself but because the way a war would inevitably suck time, money, and attention from every other aspect of a ‘war on terrorism.'" This assumption underscores the antagonism of many elite journalists to the Iraq war, but it is not necessarily correct. Fallows ignores the hundreds of foreign fighters killed at Salman Pak, the plant U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell identified correctly as a terror training camp, as well as Saddam Hussein's subsidization of suicide bombers.
Fallows also does not address the complexity of U.S. concerns about weapons proliferation. In a chapter penned before the war, he observes that "Iraq's SCUD and Al-Hussein missiles cannot reach Europe or North America." True, but he misunderstands White House thinking: Bush administration concern centered on Iraq after the events of 9-11 demonstrated that rogue regimes need not rely on traditional delivery systems.
While his essays are a useful reminder of the many prewar policy debates, Fallows' annotations display shallow analysis. He calls de-Baathification "a major apparent failure." But data on the insurgency shows a correlation between re-Baathification and violence. The policy of ridding Iraqi politics of top-level Baathists has been the major factor preventing a Shi‘i uprising. Hindsight shows the analysis of many experts quoted by Fallows to be wrong-headed. For example, Charles William Maynes of the Eurasia Foundation argued that placing U.S. troops on Iran's border could transform Iran into a permanent enemy. But the fallacy of such apprehension is now apparent: U.S. failure to guard the Iranian border enabled wholesale infiltration of militias, money, and weapons to enemy forces in Iraq—and still Tehran remains an enemy.
His criticism of disbandment of the Iraqi army is anachronistic, given that the army had already dissolved on its own. Fallows finds sources to argue the contrary, but these were pundits not present in Iraq and reflect the tendency of agenda-driven journalists to cherry-pick quotes. With broader research, Fallows may have examined the question of who hampered prewar training for free Iraqi forces and why. Had he done so, and had he treated his sources with far more skepticism, he might not have allowed himself to become a pawn in a political blame game.
Blind into Baghdad is well written, but ultimately it pales in comparison to accounts written by experienced journalists such as Michael Gordon and former general Bernard E. Trainor, authors who relied less on assumption and more on research in their account of the same period.
Company C: An American's Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel. By Haim Watzman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. 387 pp. $26.
I know just where Watzman is coming from because, as we learn in his autobiographical account, his story parallels mine. An American who moved to Israel around the same time as I did, we are about the same age. We did our army reserve duty in Israel about the same time although his jobs were considerably more interesting than mine. Just as I did, he kept a journal during his reserve service, and the result is this book. Company C is a collection of vignettes and anecdotes, largely autobiographical, collected by Watzman from his reserve duty between 1984 and 2002.
I really wanted to like this book but found it harder and harder to do so the deeper into it I got. First of all, Watzman is not a particularly good writer. His weak prose desperately needs an editor to separate out the good parts from the tedious ones. Many of the characters in the stories, for example, are not particularly interesting. The stories themselves vary with some boring and a few dramatic, such as the one about a helicopter mishap. Watzman tries to capture the flavor of army reserve daily routine, but he bumps up against the tedium of that routine. Too much of it reads like this: "We went to the kitchen, we got on the bus, we drank coffee, I had a giant abscess on my bottom." He tries to render in English the Hebrew-language army chitchat, but this often amounts to little more than inserting obscenities and Hebrew street slang.
Worse, Watzman insists on inserting his personal political opinions throughout the book. An Orthodox Jew well to the left of center, he reminds the reader of this combination at regular intervals. He should have either developed a serious political argument or (preferably) left the politics out altogether, for those political ideas lack interest, being no deeper than a bumper sticker: "Begin offered the Israeli Arabs like those in Tuba nothing at all." "A messianic, chauvinistic nationalism seemed to be gaining sway among the Israeli populace." "The best thing we can do, for them and for us, is pick up our gear and get out of those territories." "Was this a point of decision? Was banging on that [Arab] door an immoral act? … I knew that this was part of the collective punishment policy." Apparently, door banging ranks as oppression. Yawn.
University of Haifa
The Egyptian Economy, 1952-2000: Performance, Policies, and Issues. By Khalid Ikram. London: Routledge, 2006. 360 pp. $105.
World Bank economists are easy to criticize for wearing narrow economic blinders that block vision of the broader political context; they can obscure the most obvious point by wrapping it in layers of needlessly complex mathematical models. But to see the strong points of World Bank training, pick up The Egyptian Economy, 1952-2000. Ikram is (as is this reviewer) a former World Bank economist; he has written a clear, well-documented account of the fifty years since the 1952 Nasserist overthrow of the monarchy.
The first chapters provide an excellent thumbnail sketch of how the economy was buffeted over those years by sharp shifts in government policy and profound external shocks, such as the 1967 defeat by Israel, which put the country on a war footing for the next decade. The story is not pretty even though Ikram presents developments in as positive a light as possible. Income per person grew perhaps 2 percent per year over the period, which was, as Ikram writes, mediocre but not catastrophic. However, he does not highlight how favorable were the circumstances in which Egypt found itself: the sustained global economic prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, which should have made possible much more rapid growth had the country not been veering off in a socialist direction, followed by the massive influx of foreign resources from aid and workers' remittances in the 1970s and 1980s, which would have fueled rapid growth had Egypt not been caught in a bureaucratic maze.
The middle chapters examine developments over the fifty years in foreign trade and investment, public finances, financial and monetary developments, employment, and poverty and income distribution. These details bring out the bad news. Even setting aside a dependence on foreign aid, Egypt's foreign exchange earnings have come overwhelmingly from its location and its resources—Suez Canal tolls, oil exports, tourism, and workers' remittances—rather than from local industry and agriculture, which have stagnated. Employment growth has been disproportionately in the civilian government bureaucracy, which mushroomed from 350,000 workers in 1952 to 5,000,000 in 2000. Population growth was not the main reason: Bureaucrats per hundred of population rose from two to eight, even excluding a vast army of workers in public enterprises.
The last chapter, "Toward Sustainable Growth," is a tour de force chronicling the problems holding back Egyptian growth. Suffice it to say that the problems are homegrown rather than being imposed by a cruel world. Government paperwork strangles entrepreneurs. Public policy discourages exports, particularly holding back the growth of manufacturing for which Egypt is well suited. The legal system is cumbersome and repetitive. Tax rates are too high and the system so complex that enforcing it consumes much of what the taxes raise. As Ikram concludes, Egypt has had mediocre growth despite all these burdens, and it could have excellent prospects if policies were improved.
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
The Emergence of States in a Tribal Society. By Uzi Rabi. Portland, Ore.: Sussex University Press, 2006. 299 pp. $75.
In The Emergence of States in a Tribal Society, Rabi, a lecturer in history at Tel Aviv University, provides a history of Oman during the rule of Sa'id bin Taymur (1932-70). Using British documents, European travel accounts, a handful of Omani chronicles, and a smattering of Arabic newspapers published outside Oman, Rabi challenges conventional wisdom depicting Sa'id's authoritarian rule as harsh and backward, if not medieval.
Instead, Rabi argues that Sa'id was skilled and capable, even if not progressive. While Sa'id unified and stabilized a divided, tribal, and economically bankrupt society, Rabi suggests he had little choice but to resist British pressure to reform in order to preserve his unified domain's tenuous balance.
The narrative is straightforward, and Rabi's writing clear. After an introductory chapter explaining both the tribal and political backdrop to Omani society and the growth of British political influence, Rabi lays out a basic political and diplomatic history, beginning with Sa'id's inheritance of the country, continuing through the unification of the Sultanate of Muscat with the Imamate of Oman, and culminating in the challenge from the communist-inspired Dhofar rebellion.
Whereas British authorities and, for that matter, other Arab leaders saw Sa'id as detached and uninterested, Rabi argues that he recognized economic autonomy to be key to preserving Oman's independence in the face of the British challenge. Rabi depicts Sa'id as a skillful tactician who preserved Omani territorial claims, even in the face of an expansionist Saudi kingdom. As he traces Oman's development, though, reliance on British sources may not be enough. Imperial Iran played a crucial role in crushing the Dhofar rebellion, and its documents—many published and, therefore accessible even to an Israeli author—bear exploration.
While The Emergence of States in a Tribal Society is a useful chronicle, Rabi's attempt to redefine Sa'id's legacy feels forced. That an autocrat can make a camel train run on time should not absolve him of questions about his backwardness. Around the Persian Gulf, Sa'id's contemporaries faced similar problems but, rather than suppress modernity, many embraced it. In Iran, for example, like Oman a state in which the British exerted influence but not direct control, Reza Shah both crushed tribal separatism and embraced modernizing reforms. And if Sa'id's tactics were necessary to hold the state together, then why did Oman not fall apart when his son and current leader Sultan Qabus bin Sa'id seized power on July 23, 1970? After all, the younger Sa'id immediately ushered in reforms that the Omani population embraced.
While academic culture promotes revisionism, sometimes conventional wisdom is rooted in reality. Nevertheless, for those interested in this unexplored but formative period in Omani political history and not put off by this tome's unnecessarily high price, Rabi has put together a useful study of an often ignored time and place.
Fratricide in the Holy Land. A Psychoanalytic View of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. By Avner Falk. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. 271 pp. $35.
A biblical commandment tells Jews to remember what the Amalek desert tribe did to the Israelites when Amalek attacked them for no rational reason—the Jews held no territory, and Amalek had no real grievances against them. The rabbis explain this biblical commandment on the grounds that it reminds us all how blind hatred needs no rationale. In modern terms, it is pointless to seek "root causes." The world contains pure evil and not just misunderstood people whose feelings and self-esteem have been pricked.
In recent years a small but growing literature has attempted to analyze the Middle East conflict and derive new approaches to settling it based on psychoanalysis, including Ofer Grosbard's Israel on the Couch: The Psychology of the Peace Process. Falk returns to the same well. Would that such people recalled the commandment about Amalek. Falk and other post-modernists have a problem understanding that conflicts like the Arab-Israeli one generally are rooted in real differences and have little or nothing at all to do with personal psychology.
Falk calls himself a "political psychologist" and "psychohistorian" and has been associated with the Hebrew University School of Medicine. Although he has written serious articles about the psychology of racism and anti-Semitism, his attempt to offer a psychological analysis of Osama bin Laden, a patient we assume never graced Falk's sofa, is less serious as are his "psycho-biographies" of Theodore Herzl, Napoleon, and Moshe Dayan. Evidently Falk has no need actually to meet a subject of his analysis. He continues in the same vein in Fratricide in the Holy Land with its pop-psychology evaluations of Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat.
Falk's fundamental assumption is that there could not possibly be any rational basis for the violence in the Middle East conflict, and so one needs to go hunting for understanding by applying pop psychology to it. In some places, he attributes the conflict to the individual psychic disorders of political leaders, for instance, Menachem Begin's obsessions with security and the Holocaust. The psychic roots of the conflict began in World War I, insists Falk.
The book also has a political agenda. Falk sympathizes with the post-Zionist outlook, with references aplenty to Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappé, Baruch Kimmerling, Michael Lerner, and Benny Morris, whom he praises as "more open-minded." In this spirit, Falk offers moral relativism in which only in the Israeli view are suicide bombers murderers while to others, they are martyrs. And where Israel's very creation was more a naqba (Arabic: catastrophe) than a reason for celebration. Falk reduces the entire conflict to a Semitic rashomon (his term for the conflict). Suicide bombing he innocuously deems is an "unconscious fusion with one's mother." The conflict stems from pathological psychic need to have enemies.
While everything is relative, the two things Falk is quite sure about is that the whole mess stems from: 1) the fact that the Jews "denied the existence of Arabs in Palestine" (although Falk does not name any Jew who ever did this); and 2) the Zionists were and are so insensitive to delicate Arab feelings. Falk sees Zionism itself as a great anachronism, a form of group narcissism, trying to reverse the course of history.
Evidence collecting is not Falk's strong card. He opines at length on supposed anti-Oriental snootiness in Israel, never offering a single datum. Numbers and empiricism do not interest him.
Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. By Olivier Roy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 364 pp. $18.95, paper.
Since its first publication, Roy's survey of the present crisis in Islam has won much praise. From his position at the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris, he has managed to account for all the significant trends in today's global Muslim community, or the umma. One need not agree with every detail of Roy's work nor overlook its occasional factual errors and swings toward excessive generalization to recognize its virtue, which is its breadth.
If Roy has a basic weakness, it resides in his affection for the anthropological rather than the politico-economic approach to the challenge of the "new umma." That is, his paradigm is based on the emergence of revitalized identity in a context where traditional identity has become fragmented by Muslim emigration to the West and the acculturation, successful or not, of Muslims into European and North American society.
Yet globalized and radicalized Islam began not among immigrants to Europe but in the Islamic world itself. In Roy's scheme, the nature and development of radical Islamist ideology as a form of intra-Muslim politics becomes a secondary matter. Roy exaggerates the distinction between "neofundamentalists" and "Islamists"—the first rejecting involvement in politics and the second accepting electoral campaigns and, when successful, holding office. Such a differentiation ignores the essential and menacing reality about both camps, neofundamentalist followers of Saudi-financed Wahhabism and such movements as the Muslim Brethren in Egypt. Although the former hate Western-style elections and the latter exploit them, all are united by the belief that their interpretation of Islam is the sole valid one, that established Islam, which functions as a normal religion, is apostasy from Islam because it is insufficiently adversarial to the non-Muslim world, and that society is divided between the virtuous and the deliberately sinful.
None of the last three concepts are mainstream principles in Islam. Whether radicals run for election or not is hardly the standard by which to judge them. The varied products of globalized Islam must be studied and elicit Muslim (and non-Muslim) response according to their world-view, not the strategies they use to advance them. It is often said by critics of the war on terror that terror is merely a political tool and does not define a historic struggle. The same may be said of elections. Roy may sow illusions when he so avidly seeks something that could be passed as moderation among those who are all, finally, wreckers of Islam in their war with the world.
Center for Islamic Pluralism
Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq. By Ahmad S. Hashim. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. 482 pp. + xxviii. $29.95.
The Iraqi insurgency continues to bedevil U.S. plans for a new Iraq. Hashim, a professor at the Naval War College, seeks to address three interrelated issues: who the insurgents are, how they are organized, and what tactics they use. He also seeks to analyze the popular mood in Iraq and trace the development of U.S. policy.
He is at his best as a chronicler of groups, tracing their evolution and charting their organization, and in identifying key insurgents and their supporters. As an analyst, though, Hashim falls short: he writes that many Sunni Arabs saw themselves as targets of the invasion but initially took a wait-and-see attitude before joining the insurgency. While he notes that Sunni clerics rallied opposition from the mosques, he misses the forcible eviction of moderate Sunni clerics by Islamist gangs, who installed handpicked replacements.
As Hashim chronicles the growth of the insurgency in response to the errors of the "occupation authorities," he makes mistakes. For example, he cites strong distrust of the U.N. in Fallujah, but Sunni Arab leaders led the call for U.N. involvement. He downplays Iranian and Syrian involvement, stating that the "insurgency has few sources of external state support," suggesting that the Bush administration fingered these two states for political reasons. But his analyses offer little support for such statements. He does a better job demonstrating that foreign jihadists are a minority within the insurgency, but sometimes quality counts more than quantity; foreigners are far more likely to be suicide bombers than Iraqis.
Other problems: Hashim does not discuss the issue of pre-invasion subsidies from Baghdad to Sunni tribal leaders, some of whom refused to rise up. Nor, in addressing the growth of insurgency in relation to U.S. "mistakes," does he address the myriad documents that chronicled insurgency and terror as a predetermined plan. And while it is fashionable to blame de-Baathification for the insurgency, a strict examination of the numbers demonstrates instead a strong correlation between re-Baathification and insurgent violence.
Hashim writes venomously about former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz for downplaying the insurgency's popular support, but Wolfowitz was speaking of the larger Iraqi population and not just the narrow Sunni slice that Hashim examines. (Does Hashim's anger derive from disappointment that Wolfowitz declined to hire him?) Hashim also cherry-picks secondary sources in ways that undercut accuracy, quoting New York University professor Noah Feldman as an authority on events occurring in 2004, long after Feldman had left his Coalition Provisional Authority employment of less than one month in Iraq. Elsewhere, he brings out the "neoconservative" bogeyman without citation as an inaccurate straw man. He also cites dubious press accounts, themselves based on anonymous and agenda-ridden sources, arguing that "Israeli generals" visited the Pentagon's Special Plans Office to urge evisceration of Iraq's army. This reviewer was in that office, and no Israeli general ever visited.
Hashim's study is thick with detail but his style undercuts his narrative. His use of the first person gives an arrogant tone to the narrative, transforming his study into a lecture. Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq won plaudits in the popular press precisely because Hashim pressed the right populist buttons. It is this pandering, though, that ultimately detracts from his study's utility to serious policy practitioners.
Iran's Rivalry with Saudi Arabia between the Gulf Wars. By Henner Fürtig. New Reading, United Kingdom: Ithaca Press, 2006. 288 pp. £35.
As the sovereign power over Mecca and Medina, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia claims special status as a protector Islam. But across the Persian Gulf, Shi‘i Iran competes with it for leadership of the Muslim world. Fürtig, a scholar at the Deutsche Orient-Institut in Hamburg, sets out to examine Saudi-Iranian rivalry in this 2006 reprint of a 2002 study.
A brief introduction outlines both rivalry and coordination between shah and Saudi king before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Both found common ground in opposition to revolutions that had replaced monarchies with more radical regimes in Egypt and Iraq and found themselves on the same side of the Cold War. Tehran and Riyadh cooperated to defeat communism in Oman. Still, interests divulged. Saudi Arabia and Iran did not always cooperate on oil pricing policy and latent tension existed over competing visions of Riyadh's pan-Islamism and Tehran's pan-Iranism.
The 1979 Islamic Revolution redefined the Iranian-Saudi rivalry. Fürtig documents not only the Iranian government's decision to export revolution but also its specific anti-Saudi propaganda campaign. He explores Tehran's willingness to inflame Saudi Arabia's Shi‘i minority and incite sectarian division at the hajj, the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca. With this historical summary ends the book's utility.
Additional chapters explore Saudi support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and the subsequent Saudi-Iranian détente following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It is this—rather than Operation Iraqi Freedom—which Fürtig considers the second Gulf War. The time periods examined date sections on Saudi-Iranian regional competition in the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. How can Fürtig conduct any serious examination of Saudi-Iranian competition in Central Asia when he limits himself only to the first year or two of regional independence? Despite the publication date of this second edition, there has been no attempt to update the narrative. Accordingly, there is mention of neither Iranian attempts to destabilize Bahrain in 1995-96 nor the Khobar Towers bombing. By applying conclusions forward in time, without taking into account intermediary evidence, Fürtig undercuts the utility of his work.
Other faults undercut the value of Iran's Rivalry. Fürtig bases his study largely upon secondary sources, making his analysis more a consolidation of others' works than a contribution to the field. He makes very little use of Persian or Arabic sources, other than those cited in already published works. Editing is sloppy and transliteration is inconsistent. For example, the former Iraqi dictator's name is given as both Saddam Hussein and Saddam Husain. Iranian-Saudi competition and, more broadly, Sunni-Shi‘i rivalry, is increasingly relevant. It is too bad, then, that Iran's Rivalry with Saudi Arabia between the Gulf Wars does not do the subject justice.
Iraq and Back: Inside the War to Win the Peace. By Kim Olson. Annapolis: Navel Institute Press, 2006. 232 pp. $26.95.
For a month after Baghdad's fall, Gen. Jay Garner's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) led Iraq. Because of length of tenure and also because his successor, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer, cultivated the press which Garner eschewed, ORHA has become little more than a footnote in many accounts. Olson, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, sheds light on this period with Iraq and Back, an account of her time as Garner's executive officer.
Olson's prose is straightforward and unpretentious. As she narrates events, her narrative illustrates ORHA's failure to coalesce. Uniformed military officers disliked civilian counterparts, and the State Department mistrusted anyone who did not hail from the Foreign Service. Olson, like many executive officers, makes instant judgments and boils personalities down into the briefest of descriptions. She noted how Larry DiRita, an aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, spent hours on the phone reporting back to his boss but never executed an order for Garner. She had little patience for then-National Security Council official (and, later, ambassador to Baghdad) Zalmay Khalilzad, whom she suggests was an arrogant showboat unconcerned with those around him. State Department official Sherri Kraham, who later married Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani's son, she depicts as fragile, sobbing with fear at the prospect of a helicopter flight.
As Garner's chief aide, Olson was attuned to her boss. She relates his impatience at ORHA's slow deployment to Iraq, at the problems surrounding the establishment of ORHA's palace headquarters, and Garner's subsequent scramble to pay Iraqi pensions. Without such basic equipment as telephones, the hurdles ORHA faced in completing its mission were huge.
However, ORHA's difficulties were not just an absence of equipment but also a lack of guidance. Olson says ORHA received no instructions about Iraqi governance from the White House, State Department, or the Defense Department. While this should lay to rest the canard that the Pentagon sought to impose Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi on Iraq, it does raise questions about Condoleezza Rice. Was it not the job of the national security advisor to oversee policy coordination and ensure that no vacuum developed? Because there had been interagency agreement on some policies, had Garner ignored these? Did the National Security Council or Pentagon fail to transmit them, or had staff members under Olson simply disregarded them? Regardless, in the absence of instructions on his desk, Garner freelanced, inviting seven prominent Iraqi expatriate leaders into a council. Olson appears unaware that these were the Iraqi leaders chosen by the Iraqi expatriate community after years of negotiation and conferences.
Iraq and Back ends as abruptly as did Garner's tenure. Bremer—the "arrogant jerk" in Olson's words—arrived and casts ORHA aside. He dismisses Garner's fledgling government and orders the sweeping de-Baathification measures Garner had resisted.
While any account of ORHA fills a void, Olson's falls short. Her loyalty to Garner prevents her from asking tough questions about his tenure. How did he make decisions? Why did he publicly embrace high-level Baathists such as Saad al-Janabi, a former aid to Saddam Hussein's sons? Why did he start soliciting political advice from former CIA officials who had moved to Baghdad to form businesses with former Baathist contacts? How did Garner foresee his Iraqi leadership council enforcing decisions down to the municipality? And what interactions did Garner have with U.S. Central Command and U.S. military leaders still operating in Iraq? Nevertheless, Iraq and Back is a good first step at filling in the missing piece of Iraq's postwar narrative.
Islam and Liberty: The Historical Misunderstanding. By Mohamed Charfi. Translated from French, Islam et Liberté, by Patrick Camiller. London and New York: Zed Books, 2005. 186 pp. $25, paper.
Michael Novak, a Catholic political philosopher, was invited in September 2002 to give lectures to field commanders of the Sudanese resistance fighting the oppressive Islamist government in Khartoum. He writes of his surprise, in The Universal Hunger for Liberty, when he discovered that more than half of his audience were devout Muslims who were searching for ways to "find a Muslim theory that embraces the best of the modern world, such as democracy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Sudanese Muslims with whom Novak spoke are not alone in this search, nor is this search limited to the post-9-11 world. The problem is immense for a variety of historical reasons including the irony that so many Muslims, such as Osama bin Laden and his supporters, have opted to embrace the worst of twentieth century politics—fascism, militarism, and totalitarianism—instead of the best of the Western tradition of democracy and human rights.
Charfi's small book provides an insightful and cogent explanation of why the Muslim world, particularly the Arab countries, remains confounded when it comes to building democracy. The author brings a wealth of personal experience to bear on Islam and liberty. He was a professor of law in Tunis, served as vice-president and president of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights and as minister of education until he resigned in 1994 over a disagreement concerning the excessive use of force by Tunisian security officers.
Islam and Liberty draws upon the specific history of modern Tunisia during the presidency of Habib Bourguiba. But Tunisia also offers a case study for a deeper examination of Islam and Arab-Muslim history and why the trajectory of that history turned toward authoritarian politics and the construction of an Islam supportive of politics that are contrary to the core value of freedom that Islam intrinsically represents. The "historical misunderstanding" in the subtitle refers to his thesis that liberty is intrinsic to Islam.
Charfi is unabashedly a modernist Muslim who contends that the traditional insistence of Muslims on religion and politics in Islam being inseparable is the source of much difficulty. Historically Islam was shaped by men in politics to legitimize their power, to make the state an instrument of faith, and to invest the successors of the Prophet, the caliphs, with an aura of sacred authority, an argument that others beside Charfi have also illustrated (most notably Ali Abderrazak in Islam and the Foundation of Power).
President George W. Bush has spoken eloquently about freedom being God's gift to mankind; Muslims have not been denied this gift of heaven but have squandered and abused it. Charfi's study will be of interest for both specialists in Arab-Muslim politics and general readers keenly concerned in contemporary affairs. The author is to be commended for striving to kindle an understanding of Islam that would take Muslims back to the religion's original impulse and help non-Muslims to appreciate how difficult is the process of reform.
University of Western Ontario
Israel's Nuclear Option: Behind the Scenes Diplomacy between Dimona and Washington. By Zaki Shalom. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2005. 220 pp. $69.95 ($32.50, paper).
Shalom focuses on the reciprocal relations between Jerusalem and Washington with regard to Israel's nuclear program. Building on Shalom's and others' research into this topic, Israel's Nuclear Option is the product of an archival search in Israel and elsewhere and is based on original documents, most of which have never been hitherto publicly revealed.
The author depicts the internal political background in the latter part of David Ben-Gurion's prime ministry and correctly directs the reader's attention to developments and upheavals in internal Israeli and U.S. politics. Particularly interesting is the analysis of Levi Eshkol, Ben-Gurion's successor, and how he took advantage of his political weakness to defy U.S. pressure for supervision of Israel's nuclear program. Similarly, the improvement in John Kennedy's political standing helps explain the change in Washington's policy regarding Israel's nuclear initiative—from understanding in 1961 to strong opposition in 1963.
The international context is also explained. Israel's determination to develop nuclear capabilities is presented as a resolute attempt to procure an insurance policy in a very hostile environment. In contrast, Washington comes across as vacillating between different interests, and its unwillingness to offer a security guarantee to Israel was ultimately the main obstacle to the goal of nonproliferation.
The book also improves Eshkol's reputation. The prime minister is seen as a highly talented politician with enormous patience, who exploited his political weakness and the political limits of the United States to avoid acquiescing to U.S. demands—sometimes accompanied by threats—not to build the reactor in Dimona. Moreover, Eshkol succeeded in broadening the foundation of U.S.-Israeli relations, which expanded during his tenure to include the supply of conventional weapons.
Israel's Nuclear Option also presents in-depth the discussions and controversies that arose among Israeli policymakers and intellectuals concerning the nuclear issue, disproving the claim sometimes voiced suggesting a lack of public debate on this critical security issue. (Some go so far as to suggest the government repressed such a debate.) With the benefit of hindsight, Shalom finds that the arguments of those opposed to Israel's development of a nuclear option were proven wrong. Washington did not abandon Israel. Egypt did not initiate a preventive war. Middle Eastern states failed to obtain nuclear weapons from others and did not hurry to develop an independent nuclear capability.
Although the era of Israel's nuclear monopoly in the Middle East may be coming to an end, Shalom is right to assert that this dangerous development did not result from decisions made by Israelis nearly a half-century earlier.
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
The Jewish Divide over Israel: Accusers and Defenders. Edited by Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor. Piscataway: Transaction, 2006. 310 pp. $39.95.
In Norwich, in the year 1144, one finds the first recorded case in which Jews were accused of having killed a Christian child for ritual purposes. The accusation came from a Jew—a Jewish convert to Christianity, to be precise—Theobald of Cambridge. One does not have to go back a millennium to find "renegade" Jews eager to level accusations against the Jewish community. And unlike their counterparts of that distant era, contemporary Jews need not go through a formal conversion to another faith in order to play the role of accusers of their coreligionists.
A gallery of such Jews can be found in The Jewish Divide over Israel, edited by Alexander and Bogdanor, a collection of essays devoted to analyzing the contemporary manifestations of this antique phenomenon. Jewish hostility toward the state of Israel is the volume's central focus. In studies of figures on the extreme edge of anti-Israel politics (such as Norman G. Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, and Marc Ellis) and other more temperate cases (such as Tony Judt, Thomas Friedman, George Steiner, and Peter Novick), the volume offers a survey of left-wing Jewish intellectuals whose stock and trade is calumniation of the Jewish state. Its best essays go beyond cataloging outrageous lies and antics to offer plausible explanations of the psychosocial factors that impel such behavior.
Because extreme denunciations of Israel by prominent Jews have played an exceptionally important role in legitimizing hatred of the Jewish state in the Middle East and across the world, this volume is not only timely, it is overdue.
The Kurdish Nationalist Movement. By David Romano. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 277 pp. $75 ($30, paper).
Romano, a young Canadian researcher, spent a year teaching and researching in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey and his book, the product of his doctoral research, explores the resurgence of Kurdish nationalism.
While sympathetic to the Kurdish case, Romano seeks to be objective and generally succeeds. He begins his study with an overview of early Kurdish uprisings in Turkey and the later development of a more organized Kurdish movement. Further chapters explore the rise and strategy of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which conducted a 15-year terrorist campaign against Turkey, and Kurdish nationalist challenges to both Iraq and Iran.
Romano relies on English-language publications for historical background. Unfortunately, these can overemphasize the nationalist component of early Kurdish rebellions and underestimate the religious factor; most Kurds were conservative and objected to Atatürk's secularizing reforms. Romano is on firmer ground in later years, as he describes how Turkish leftist and Kurdish movements intersected briefly before splitting again in the 1970s.
He traces resurgent Kurdish nationalism to the aftermath of the 1980 military coup in Turkey and argues that Kurdish nationalism grew in proportion to military repression, aided by shelter and assistance provided by neighbors such as Syria. While many scholars of Kurdish nationalism are prone to demonize the Turks, Romano shows a good grasp of Turkish politics. He credits Turgut Özal (prime minister, 1983-89; president, 1989-93) for his efforts to end sectarian strife and laments that, after Özal's sudden death, his successors had neither the stature nor leadership to cement reforms and promote reintegration. A wide range of interviews conducted in Iraq and Turkey add detail and precision to discussions.
Underlying Romano's study is the argument that the character of Kurdish nationalism has been shaped by the countries in which it emerged. Closed or repressive systems sparked Kurdish nationalist rebellions. At the same time, relying too much on the leadership of traditional Kurdish elites—tribal elders, for example—has cursed Kurdish nationalism with tribal schism. While Kurdish nationalism will not dissipate, he argues that when given the opportunity, Kurds will work peacefully within a political system. He suggests that with real autonomy, they may cast aside dreams of a separate state.
Unfortunately, Romano submerges his knowledge and research in academic theory and jargon, making his study inaccessible to all but a handful of political scientists. The Kurdish National Movement reads like a dissertation. Had Romano written to project knowledge rather than obfuscate it, his book could have contributed far more.
The Kurds: A People in Search of Their Homeland. By Kevin McKiernan. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006. 390 pp. $27.95.
In The Kurds, journalist and filmmaker McKiernan offers a gripping tale of travel among the Kurds of northern Iraq, Turkey, and, briefly, Iran. Based on trips taken over fifteen years, his anecdotes give depth and perspective to Kurdish society. He augments his narrative with historical background. In describing the origins of the Kurds, for example, he relays not only the local Kurdish explanation that they are descended from the Medean Empire (seventh century B.C.E.) but also the scholarly debate which pours cold water on that myth.
McKiernan's tale begins in Iran where he headed at the behest of a nongovernmental organization to assist Iraqi Kurdish refugees fleeing the 1991 uprising. He relates a midnight interrogation by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards while the hotel manager, "a Kurd in a police state," looked on, "a look of embarrassment on his face." Over the next chapters and years, McKiernan shuttles between Iraq and Turkey where he meets local Kurds, as well as officials and others. Importantly, he traces the evolution of the Kurdish issue in Washington, recalling how in 1992 Kurdish officials such as Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani—Iraq's current president—had difficulty getting meetings at the State Department.
It is easy to romanticize the Kurds—the perennial underdogs who have overcome great odds—and too many journalists do so. But McKiernan does not, nor does he whitewash Kurdish history in Iraq. He addresses the 1994-97 internecine civil war in which Talabani and his rival, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) president Masoud Barzani, sent each other's supporters to mass graves. He also describes the KDP obsession with spying upon and controlling foreign press and visitors.
Such balance, however, does not extend to the Turkish Kurds. McKiernan's account oozes with antipathy toward Turkey. He wrongly calls Kurds "second class citizens" in Turkey, ignoring that presidents, foreign ministers, and scores of parliamentarians have been Kurdish. Lack of education and the urban-rural divide better explain the social differences in Turkey than ethnicity. Too often McKiernan uncritically accepts the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) narrative, though many Kurds consider it a terrorist group.
The second half of The Kurds discusses the 2003 Iraq war. McKiernan captures the atmosphere of anxiety that Saddam might again launch chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurds. His provides a gripping account of the assassination attempt on PUK prime minister Barham Salih. He describes how Iraqi Kurds would sell stories about weapons of mass destruction to U.S. reporters willing to pay for them. This raises an important but unaddressed question: How much of what entered U.S. news accounts originated with Kurdish political parties?
McKiernan's writing is eloquent, but uneven analysis weakens his narrative. That U.S. government officials cite the open press in speeches should not lead to the conclusion that they derive their information from newspaper stories. Conspiracy theories lace his account, such as the silly idea that the Pentagon hid the death of U.S. servicemen during the 2003 war. While a frequent theme of Baathist propaganda, such cover-ups are impossible given soldiers' parents, wives, and children, as well as the U.S. government's pension system. It is unclear how representative McKiernan's encounters are, or whether he reinterprets or revises observations in order to appear more astute. He appears to exaggerate Kurdish-Shi‘i distrust. Analogies to American Indians and false predictions of civil war cheapen what is ultimately a good read but an uneven account of an important time and region.
Landscape of Hope and Despair: Palestinian Refugee Camps. By Julie Peteet. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. 280 pp. $55.
Anthropologist Peteet focuses on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in her Landscape of Hope and Despair. Her treatise is identified as ethnography—traditionally an anthropological field study—and, indeed, Peteet effectively describes coping mechanisms in the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) camps. Dealing incisively with themes of placement, memory, and identity, she offers insight into the ways in which meaning and hope have been forged within the refugees' constrictive environment.
This, however, is not a traditional work: Ethnology, says the author, currently includes goals of "bringing … issues to public attention and … advocating." It is here that this book—focused to a considerable degree on historical and political context—falls short. Peteet acknowledges the dilemma: avoiding "nativism … without … denying the national project." But, acknowledgment aside, she has gone native, undermining her credibility.
Throughout, Peteet refers to Palestinians as an "indigenous" population dislocated by the "colonial" endeavor that is Israel. This is Palestinian narrative, not objective fact. Referring to Israelis as European and ignoring continuous Jewish presence in Palestine over the past 2,000 years, she dismisses out of hand the Zionist contention that many Arabs followed Jews into the land as it was developed. But credible evidence for the presence in Palestine of Arab migrant workers exists. In fact, the UNRWA definition of refugee includes those who had been in Palestine only between 1946 and 1948 and were then dislocated.
Focusing on the durability of the Palestinian refugee character, Peteet maintains that their persistence in sustaining their identity in the present puts the lie to Zionist contentions that the Palestinians were Arabs without a separate national identity. However, she does not adequately consider the way in which UNRWA and the Arab nations, with full political consciousness, forged that Palestinian refugee identity. She writes that UNRWA "spatially constrained the refugees … maintaining them in a liminal state," yet she gives short shrift to the broader ramifications of this imposed dynamic of separation. She acknowledges that Palestinian refugees have been deprived of international protection (protection that would have been theirs under the aegis of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR) while failing to examine the fact that this protection would have included resettlement.
Peteet laments the limitations imposed on the refugees' opportunities by Arab states, which for reasons of political unrest or economic hardship have declined to absorb them, and by Israel, which will not permit their "return." But in fact, helping refugees to achieve citizenship and full lives is a priority for the UNHCR even if this necessitates movement to a third country. Provided with this option, as millions of other refugees have been, the Palestinian refugees Peteet writes about might well have fashioned a different meaning for their lives, leaving the refugee status behind.
Center for Near East Policy Research
Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity. By Eric Davis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. 385 pp. $24.95.
In a publishing atmosphere saturated by instant Iraq experts, Rutgers University political scientist Davis presents a rare work of careful scholarship. Memories of State examines the intellectual tyranny of the Baath regime in Iraq, tracing its efforts to undo the cultural pluralism which once characterized Iraqi society.
Davis begins by describing how Ottoman reform, Iranian constitutionalism, and nascent Arab nationalism combined to shape an Iraqi intelligentsia. With time—and especially after independence—the Arab nationalist trend gained strength. Intellectual Iraq was not homogenous, though. While Shi‘i intellectual life was vibrant, it oriented itself more around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and toward Iran than to the nascent state.
While it would be an exaggeration to call Iraqi political culture tolerant, its early years were marked by cultural pluralism. Not only Muslims but also Jews and Christians participated in state and society. This political culture began to fracture in the 1930s. By allying themselves with the military, which they saw as a force to impose reform, Iraqi progressives opened a Pandora's box of coups and instability. Pan-Arabists gained strength in the years prior to World War II, and cultural pluralism deteriorated. Nazi propaganda permeated society, and the Jewish community never recovered after the 1940 farhud (pogrom) in Baghdad.
While minority communities became detached from the Iraqi mainstream, there was still dynamic political debate. Davis traces the development of the war of ideas between Arab nationalists and communists. Using a wide variety of Arabic sources drawn from field research in Iraqi archives and libraries, Davis traces the newspapers and books that influenced society and politics. He reaches into the roots of intellectual life at the time, even detailing specific coffeehouses where writers would discuss and debate their ideas.
While the 1958 revolution sparked political and civic activity, the 1968 Baathist coup curtailed it. The intellectual chill was not instantaneous, though. Davis examines how the Baathist regime moved to co-opt Iraq's intelligentsia and brainwash its youth. He surveys books, newspapers, literary journals, and even graphic art to show how the Iraqi regime sought to promote Sunni Arab nationalism. A wide array of photographs of everything from models at Iraqi fashion shows to Saddam's monumental architecture help illustrate Davis's arguments.
The chapter on "Memories of State and the Arts of Resistance," is particularly strong. In it, Davis details the subtle academic censorship exerted by the Ministry of Culture. Baathist bureaucrats allowed the publication of lackluster theses on esoteric topics but refused to print award-winning anthropological studies of Iraqi tribes because these acknowledged a diversity that the Baath party did not wish to recognize. Iraq's once rich poetic tradition narrowed into a celebration of Arab nationalism. The survey of Iraqi newspaper content in the 1990s shows how stilted Iraq's once rich discourse had become.
While Memories of State will be of lasting value to academics and historians wishing to understand the evolution and deterioration of Iraq's intelligentsia, its dense academic prose undercuts its utility. Readers are saddled with long asides about contrasting theories of "historical memory," "Gramscian notions of hegemony," and other examples of unnecessary obfuscation.
A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb. By Umar F. Abd-Allah. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 388 pp. $35.
Abd-Allah, chair of the Chicago-based Nawawi Foundation, an organization promoting education about Islam, explores the life of Alexander Russell Webb (1846-1916), a convert to Islam who started some of the earliest U.S. Muslim periodicals.
Abd-Allah traces Webb's early life to look for his inspirations for his subsequent conversion. He grew up in upstate New York at the time of the Second Great Awakening, exposing him to an active theological discourse. The Civil War dominated his teenage years. Abd-Allah blames the religious establishment for "beat[ing] the drums" of war and suggests that the destruction wrought might have turned Webb against traditional
JUDEA & SAMARIA are clear and unquestionably JEWISH!
MiddleEast Political Expressions