A source on politics, war, the Middle East, Arabic poetry, and art. A Critical Review. I have been looking forward to this book by Rogan seen above, to the left. I like the sweeping histories of the Middle East--when they are good.

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A source on politics, war, the Middle East, Arabic poetry, and art. A Critical Review. I have been looking forward to this book by Rogan seen above, to the left. I like the sweeping histories of the Middle East--when they are good. That volume is a work of art: the man read all that was available in every language and distilled the best nuggets.

And with the pen, Hitti was an artist, methodological problems aside. It is a majestic work: covering so much too much perhaps but meticulously researched and organized. I remember when Albert Hourani told us about his impending work on the history of the Arabs: I was most eager to read it.

But was mightily disappointed when it came out. I felt it was rushed and casually assembled. Let us get to this one. I ordered it and carefully devoured it. Let me say some nice things about it before I begin. Rogan is a good writer: I like how he writes and he knows how to keep the reader interested. I also like the effort: that he wanted to write a book that could be of use by students. I like the ambition too.

I also like that a book of this size does not have many errors: and that is rare. There are very few errors in the book like referring to King Faysal as "committed Arab nationalist" p. I like the selection of the pictures although there was much that was violent and destructive in some of them.

But that may be about it, pretty much. The problem begins with the introduction. I was so annoyed by the introduction that I was determined that it not affect me reading of the book. Rogan, perhaps seeing something in the news and deciding to make his reader interested, decided to focus on Rafiq Hariri and the so-called Cedar Revolution. Now, to the problems. The account is fanciful, really. This is like when a Westerner picks a native who says what the Westerner wants to say about the native but is too afraid to say it in I mean, this is like when Fox News hosts blacks who speak about "backwardness" of blacks.

Rogan is so impressed, for example, by this statement--that sums up the plight of the Arabs--by Qasir: "How did we become so stagnant? How has a living culture become so discredited and its members united in a cult of misery and death"?

I braced myself although I must confess the introduction is worse than the rest. But at least, it gave me a clue as to the mindset of Rogan a man I have never met, I must say. Unless the author is only interested in what is known as the age of decline. The author barely scratched the surface of research I feel. Each chapter is rather based on one source in English and supplemented by a memoir of an Arab published in English if available.

He does not even get into the scholarly debates on the history of the period in question, not even in the footnotes. Does not use much of the published scholarly accounts in French or German or even English. One or two suffices, mostly memoirs. I mean, the treatment of the Algerian war of independence in the chapter "The Decline of Arab nationalism" is pretty much pro-French. In this section, he was on France what Kershner-Bronner team is on Israel.

For him, the French only killed in "reprisals" and in response, and only because the FLN dragged them into terrorism. He is very judgmental of the FLN when he was non-judgmental of the Israeli terror groups which he at one point refers to them as "resistance" groups.

I am not saying that his treatment of the Arab-Israel conflict is bad: it is not, in fact, although he has that weakness toward King Husayn or Khusayn, as Shimon Peres calls him that his colleague at Oxford, Avi Shlaim, has, and he cites him in this regard. It was more insulting that adequate, really. This is an elite and palace history. Average regular Arabs, with their dreams and aspirations dont fit into the picture. He is interested in the higher level, although he makes that reference to the famous memoir of Al-Budayri a barber in 18th century Damascus.

The classes are summed up by the ruling elite. He was much better at telling the story of Ottoman rule and control. Later, it became a typical blow-by-blow account of modern history with nothing new to add.

He has a chapter about Arab nationalism but it is rather superficial. The story of Arab communism is barely told. Again, when the British or French intervene in the Middle East, the story is told as if locals were engaged in a fight.

I compare that say to the book on the history of the Arabs by Peter Mansfield. Mansfield clearly got to know and understand Arabs. Rogan talks about them from a distance: and that is quite a handicap in a book of this kind.

The natives are not interesting in themselves. Nothing about their music, literature, and cuisine. Philip Hitti always talked about Arab love for poetry, for example. It is not that Rogan ignored it; I get the feeling that he did not know about it. I mean, not even a passing reference to Umm Kulthum?

It is written with the passion of a government bureaucrat writing a memo. If you were to ask me, I would still tell you to read the little book on the Arabs by Rodinson, and the classic by Hitti.


The Arabs: A History by Eugene Rogan

Again, towards the end of this engrossing and capacious book, he reiterates that the "inconvenient truth about the Arab world today is that, in any free and fair election, those parties most hostile to the United States are most likely to win". Today, Arab fear of the west and resentment at the humiliating and socially damaging effects of westernisation fuels Islamism and the spread of terrorism. How have we come to this pass? Rogan answers this question by tracing the history of Arab hopes and ultimate disappointments from the early 16th century, when the Ottomans conquered most of the Arab world, to the present day. This is primarily a modern history, and the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries are briskly treated. That was an age when the Arab provinces of the Ottoman empire were ruled by despotic local kleptocrats.


The Arabs: A History




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