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4.0 out of 5 starsSurprisingly good
Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2008
I was not a fan of Milton Viorst. I had read his Sandcastles and Sands of Sorrows and was disappointed. I saw the book on my list and that President Jimmy Carter had endorsed it. I took a chance. I was surprised on how well Mr. Viorst presented the Arab perspective in such few pages. For a general reader, this book will provide a good introduction. For a the serious student, it provides a quick reference point. I have two observations that made this book a "Four Star" rather than a "Five Star." First, Mr. Viorst's handling of Israel. The complex role Israel has played in the Middle East is not simply relegated to the conflict over Palestine. Israel has played a far more active role. It interfered in Lebanon's politics; it had a policy of aggressive behavior on its borders as admitted by the late Moshe Dayan on the Syrian front; it has reached out to non-Arab players to threaten its Arab neighbors--successful in Turkey and in Iran until the fall of the Shah. Two, Mr. Viorst's analysis of Osma bin Laden was shallow. In the rush to turn this into a war of religions, the emphasis on the most radical and dangerous elements is appealing and gains headlines. For all the hype about bin Laden, his strian of Islam has not brought the community of believers any closer together than Pan-Arabism did. The Sunni-Shiite divide has not been bridged by bin Laden. Moreover, the nationalism of Arabs would go a long way to preventing a pan-Islamic movement. It dosen't take much to have Saudi Arabia fearful of Iran. And, how many Arab/Islamic countries have come to the aid of Syria as it faces the aggressive foregin policy of George Bush? With these two caveats, I do reccommend Mr. Viorst's book and look forward to buying his next writing.
Viorst does an effective job taking the interested, non-specialist through the history of the middle east (mostly the Arab experience)framing the conversation around the Christian - Islamic fight for supremacy. While this technique may seem odd to those of us in North America I think it's an essential part of understanding the reasons that underlie certain decisions, or at least behaviours, in the Arab world. He makes a good case for the frustrations inherent in many countries as a result of imperialistic actions. He has a particularly strong opinion on British and French engagements and partitions. However, just when this starts to wear thin (what people, at some point in time, haven't found a justification for their current problems lying in some historic 'wrong'?) he begins to be more challenging around Arab political decision making -- from Nasser to disasterous take-it-or-leave-it decisions surrounding Palistine.
Well written -- and based on Viorst extensive experience across the Middle East -- I think any casual student of history will find this to be just the right level of detail.
5.0 out of 5 starsQuickly brings bewildered Americans up to speed
Reviewed in the United States on June 27, 2016
Viorst gives a quick and vivid description of the long-standing tension between the Muslim Middle East and the Christian West--featuring many betrayals of Middle Eastern countries by Western powers. Americans who wonder why extremists in the Middle East so hate the West can learn a lot from this book.
This compact well-written 177 page book is essential reading for those interested in the the Middle East and in particular Iraq. It outlines the history of Arab nationalism, fudamentalist Islam and the critical 19th and 20th century historical/political events that produced the Middle East as we find it today. If you are looking for one book to provide you with essential background, this is it. This work was first brought to my attention by individuals with life-long professional political involvement in the Middle East.
Viorst's book is must reading for anyone wishing to understand the mess in the Middle East and our role in it. Exporting Western values is difficult at best and Americans need to realize that we cannot save the world.