Saturday, June 09, 2007

OT: So you think you know what is going on in Iraq?

At least 3 disclaimers: 1) this has nothing to do with Pittsburgh (or if it does I would love to hear it) 2) this has nothing at all to do with current politics and 3) I fully admit this comes under the rubric of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. So apologies to all the historians, political scientists, journalists, arabists or others who ought to know more than I.

That being said. I have spent just enough time in the Middle East to realize how little 99% of the daily news coverage helps anyone understand what is really going on over there. Decades of involvement in the Middle East has given the average American a vague understanding that Sunni is not Shiite, and that Arab is not Persian is not Kurd. Does it go much beyond that? Just my own personal rant, but it's not the viewers fault. It is a reflection of the preponderance of the news coverage.

So here is another book of the moment. Honestly I just bought it and have not read it yet. But if you want to have any clue at all as to what is going on in the nation-state currently known as Iraq, you really have to read about Gertrude Bell. The biography recently published is:

The fascinating thing beyond her role in creating modern Iraq is that she was not the only British woman tooling through the Middle East in the early 20th century making history. You can read about Freya Stark in Southern Arabia in this book:

and then there are the innumerable British men who were gallivanting through the region at the same time. I may save for a later OT post my thoughts on one of the most fascinating characters: Wilfred Thesiger.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) I would think it would be "Arabist," with an upper-case A.

2) It doesn't take an expert to know that killing is wrong and trying to force your will on other people is questionable. I don't doubt that outsiders' ignorance is a cause of Iraq's problems, but common sense can be just as much a solution as expertise.

Sunday, June 10, 2007 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...

For an account of contemporary Iraq that takes a decent shot at putting Gertrude Bell into perspective, read George Packer's The Assassin's Gate.

Sunday, June 10, 2007 6:55:00 PM  
Blogger Skip said...

indeed. the brits were lollygagging in 'arabia', fomenting conflict between various warring desert tribes. printing their own silver coinage, trying to establish a currency with these tribes on the borders of what is now kuwait, iraq, saudi arabia to trade them arms. their goal was to run a rail shipping route extending beyond kuwait through the north of saudi arabia. king ibn saud organized these bands of tribes to fight against the british and keep them out of 'arabia' and ended up solidifying his kingdom. it's an interesting story as told by mohammed asad, an austrian jew turned muslim who befriended ibn saud and travelled with him during his consolidation of arabia under the now kingdom of saudi arabia. book link

Monday, June 11, 2007 9:32:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I'll have to read both books.. I think even Ibn Saud had a little advice from his own Brit in the form of St. John Philby... whose son would be the famous Soviet spy.

while I will be the first to admit that chasing my typos is a losing battle, I thought about the capital A and decided against it. I am sure that is the correct usage, but Arabists seems to be a much more loaded term than I meant it.

and I hate to say it.. but on most of the important topics of the day I think all sides believe they represent what is common sense to them. Thus the problem.

Monday, June 11, 2007 11:12:00 PM  

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