The End Of Modern History In The Middle East, by Bernard Lewis
The author considers himself both conservative and pessimist, at least as far as human development in the Middle East is concerned, and I find that I cannot fault the author in this at all. My own view of the Middle East, at least in the period of human history (not taking into account any sort of messianic involvement) is pretty negative as well, so it would appear as if the author and I at least have the agreement of sharing a perspective on a part of the history that is not predisposed to illusions of false optimism. Whether or not this is a good thing I will leave for the reader to decide, but this book is filled with the author’s insightful look at the Middle East with a focus on issues that many readers are likely to be interested in, and this book is both short and insightful, which makes for pleasant and enjoyable reading if you like to take the Middle East seriously. The author manages to combine both an interest in the long duration of history of the region as well as showing an admirable grasp of contemporary current events.
The book itself is less than 200 pages and is divided into four chapters, each of which serves as an independent essay that is more or less thematically connected to the main volume. The first essay looks at the end of modern history in the Middle East (giving the title to the book as a whole) and it points out that there are multiple ends which this history may reach, not only in regimes that prove to be more liberal, but also in the threat that democracy can lead to the victory of Islamist parties who alienate the people but view election victories as irreversible trends (1). After this the author explores the long history of propaganda in the Middle East, and how what was once a word with neutral or even positive connotations became viewed as negative, and how it is that propaganda is used by government and revolutionary interests (2) in the Middle East. After this there is a short essay on the choice of Iran to follow either the approach of Haman or Cyrus when it comes to relations with the Jews (3). The fourth and final essay looks further at anti-Semitism, looking first at its basis in religion, then race, and now approach to Zionism, examining how it was that the Arabs became anti-Semitic in the first place through the influence of Nazi ideology and the need to salvage dignity after repeated defeats in warfare against Jews thought to be weak.
The book as a whole tends to work against the tendency of people to believe in easy cures to the problems that ail the Middle East. Given the popularity of militant Islam, at least before it screws up countries and oppresses the people, democracy is no panacea for the woes of the Middle East, which are complex in nature. Likewise, the desire on the part of the Arab street to have easy answers to explain their defeat to Israel repeatedly over the course of the last few decades, when Jews were long thought to be a passive, peaceful minority incapable of self-defense. Given the dislike of Arabs in dealing with unpleasant realities–a fairly universal human tendency–the author urges Westerners to deal with the unpleasant realities and not to expect miracles, and also to recognize the religious and cultural basis that makes Iran different from the rest of the Arab Middle East, and also what makes Iranian politics both hopeful and ominous for the rest of the Middle East. And in a part of the world as dangerous as the Middle East, it is better to know what one is dealing with.