WMD Pushback

A delay in bloggage has occurred.

I wrote something on WMD in the Middle East, and on re-reading, it seemed really trite, so I’ve shelved it while I read these two books:

The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict ed. by Barry Rubin and Walter Laqueur, and Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman.

I finished the Berman book, which is interesting but relatively shallow. He has some insight into Qutb, but little into the Western roots of modern terrorism, and he never paints a convincing contrast between Islamism, which the book spends most of its time describing in somewhat breathless tones, and liberalism.

I’m working my way through the Rubin book, which is an interesting collection of original documents. I’ll finish it tonight and have something for tomorrow.

But this seems like an interesting opportunity to start asking about a reading list. In comments, what books are people finding indispensible in understanding either the Middle East or the broader Islam v. Islamist issues we discuss here…

11 thoughts on “WMD Pushback”

  1. Two books of particular value are:
    Yosef Bodansky’s “The High Price/Cost of Peace”
    (I’m doing this from memory — someething always weak in my case! and don’t have the book in front of me) and Stephen Schwartz’s “The Two Faces of Islam.” Both, in my opinion, very well reasoned and thoroughly documented works that avoid the trap of portraying all mulim/arabs as “all
    saints” or “all demons.’

    All the Best,


  2. My admiration for Tom Friedman waxes and wanes, but I nevertheless read everything he writes. “From Beirut to Jerusalem” is fantastic. It may seem a little dated having been written in 1990 but there is an updated chapter (which I haven’t read yet). If you are looking for a good foundation of knowledge for the recent history of the Middle East this is a great place to start.

    Bernard Lewis’ “What Went Wrong” is also very good. In my opinion the REAL battle being fought among the Arab peoples is one against modernity – it has manifested itself as a battle against the West. That is an underlying theme of the book, and Lewis is the best on the subject.

    Has anyone read Fouad Ajami’s “The Dream Palace of the Arabs”? That is on my list, but I have about a thousand other books on my list and don’t know if I need to bump this one to the top.

  3. I read Ajami. I enjoyed it immensely, although a good deal of it traces intellectual developments rather than social ones — he focuses more on poets than politicians, in other words.

    I’m a little surprised you find Berman so shallow. I think the argument he was constructing was aimed at demonstrating why the war on terror (and to a lesser extent the war on Saddam) is a progressive cause, and I think he succeeds admirably in this. While I too would have preferred that he spend more time tracing the Arab reception and implementation of the Western ideologies of totalitarianism and terror (beyond Qutb). I’m finding a lot of the same pattern as I read about the great secular movement that competed with (and seemed to leave in the dust for awhile) Islamism — until the 1967 war.

    I’ll get around to doing a post on it one of these days, but Adeed Dawisha’s Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century is, a think, an important book. There are limitations to it — in his narrative, “Palestinians” as a distinct, Arab group with national ambitions make their first appearance in the 1920s without any comment from Dawisha that “Palestine” as a term was resurrected by the British from Roman times — but in tracing the influences of the early Arab nationalists, their means and ends, one can see many of the same totalitarian ideas at work. As I said, there are limitations, some of which are maddening — he ignores entirely the influence of National Socialism on the Ba’ath party — but it’s still a worthwhile read.

  4. “Six Days of War” by Michael Oren

    “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman

    “The Dream Palace of the Arabs” by Fouad Ajami

    “What Went Wrong” by Bernard Lewis

    “God Has 99 Names” by Judith Miller

  5. Bill –

    I find myself in almost perfect agreement with Berman in terms of his policy prescriptions and in my shared belief that fighting tyrranical Islamist theocracy (as opposed to democratic Muslim theocracy or democratic Jewish theocracy…just cause you’re theocratic doesn’t automatically make you intolerably oppressive)is an extremely progressive thing to do … not only in our interest, but in the interest of the people who will be freed. And his points about what Bush has done wrong are well-taken as well.

    I just think he should have dug deeper in the Western roots of terror, and the non-Islamist factions that we face as well.


  6. Excellent background for history that isn’t often covered in Western schoolbooks is Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples. It’s a cultural history more than a political one; as a survey of some 1200 years of time it tends to mention some things once if at all; the 20th century section is detailed in some places but vague in others; organization throughout is often non-linear. But it discusses without rancor and political spin much of the “clash of civilizations”, coming across simply as an honest (and sometimes hard) look at the Arabs as they see themselves.

    I would also recommend The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, though while it doesn’t seem exactly relevant is generally well reviewed.

    To learn about Qutb you may as well start with at least skimming Social Justice in Islam (in which I believe he writes of his trip to America), or perhaps Milestones/Signposts, (though In the SHadow of the Koran is thorough it’s huge) though it would probably be hard going (Ideofact’s chapter-by-chapter reviews begun last year might be more efficient).

    Berman has a new book you might like, Terror and Liberalism, essentially a set of leftist dissent from the Dissent line, supporting the war on terror. And of course Fareed Zakaria’s Illiberal Democracy takes a neoliberal perspective on the balance between the rule of law and popular majority rule.

  7. Historic documents on the web pertaining to history of Israel.

    more historical documents – Middle East: 1916-2001

    Myths and Facts (also has historic documents)

    Anne Bayefsky, human rights lawyer has a site about the UN with many documents.

    UNRWA site

    Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Official Israeli POV – documents, press releases , etc.

    critique of Israel’s “New Historians.”

    speech by Michael Oren + great Q&A

    The definitive intifada casualty analysis

    debunking website about the Liberty incident (in case you start running across thousands of conspiracy sites about this)

    This is dated but respected:
    Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land.

    Background/context of Jews in the Middle East:
    Cultures of the Jews: A New History

  8. 1) Read the 1968 PLO Covenant (available everywhere). For bonus points, read the 1964 covenant as well.

    2) Read the 9/93 exchange of letters between Rabin and Arafat (available everywhere)

    3) Go to the Facts / Documents page at the Palestine Affairs Council.

    4) Look at the January 1998 letter from Arafat to Clinton that explains which portions of the Covenant are kaput. Read and reread this in conjunction with items 1 and 2 until you really understand, conceptually, what Arafat, Abu Mazen, and the rest of the PLO leadership told Rabin in order to get him to recognize the PLO. For bonus points, read the speech Clinton gave in Gaza on December 14, 1998 when that letter was ratified pursuant to the Wye River accords.

    5) Scroll up to the June 1999 report by the Pal. Ministry of Information on the status of the Charter. Read it. It’s also available at the top of a Key Issues page on the ministry’s website, but the site is frequently down. The Arabic version of this report seems to be off-line, but I have a copy if you need one.

    What more is there to say? Peace becomes possible the moment the Palestinian leadership repudiates document 5 and conforms its conduct to document 4.

  9. Unfortunately, many of the most best books on the ME are out of print or hard to get. For out of print books, go to http://www.alibris.com.

    You can’t understand the modern Middle East without understanding the true history and roots of Islam, as opposed to the received religious orthodoxy.

    I’m trying to get my hands on John Wansbrough’s Quranic Studies. Wansbrough, who died in June 2002, was the guy who came up with these startling and controversial theories:

    1. That the Arabs who burst out of the Arabian peninsula were pagan, and picked up the monotheistic religions of the conquered subjects.

    2. That the Quran is a document which was stitched together from extant Christian and Jewish literature, and then retrofitted to a glorious Arab past.

    Patricia Crone and Michael Cook picked up the ball and produced Hagarism, also out of print. I’ve got that on order, too. If the library doesn’t come through I’ll go the used book route.

    Crone’s Slaves on Horses: the Evolution of the Muslim Polity came out 22 years ago, and is being reprinted, so perhaps there is hope for a reissue of her earlier book, and of the Wansbrough book.

    Daniel Pipes came out with his first book, Slave Soldiers and Islam about the same time the Crone book came out. I remember reading it and being very impressed. At that point Pipes had not become the polarizing figure he is now; he was just a promising scholar of Islamic studies.

    Slavery in Islam is not a small feature of the religion. The recognized expert in Ottoman slavery is Ehud Toledano. Google him.

    J.B. Kelly, an old British empire hand, wrote THE indispensable guide to Gulf politics: Arabia, the Gulf and the West. Published in 1981, it is obviously dated, but anyone who wants to know how the past impacts the present in the Gulf, must read this.

    Kramer’s Ivory Towers Built on Sand is a must-read. He just obliterates every sugary illusion anyone can have about the ME.

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