Arabian Plights: The future of the Middle East
Scribe, $29.95 pb, 250 pp
I am old enough to remember when we called it ‘the Levant’. The eastern Mediterranean, a land where the sun rose, where camels lazed in the shade of palm trees, strewn here and there with baked mud huts and their shadows on the sand. A sleepy land, no trouble to anyone, least of all the Ottoman Sultan, its faraway and hands-off ruler – the sick man of Europe, they called him. I once had in my possession an early twentieth-century photograph that came to my family from Palestine with just such a scene: the square adobe hut, the palm tree, the camel. It has long disappeared, along with any misguided notions I had of the place. ‘Middle East’ conjures up altogether different images: bombed cities, crowded refugee camps, unimaginable suffering and bloodshed – above all, hatred. A hatred that runs so deep, over so many generations, that it is a test of the imagination to envisage its ever abating.
Peter Rodgers has given his book on the region the ingenious title of Arabian Plights. His earlier Herzl’s Nightmare, published in 2004, predating the 2006 war in Lebanon and the recent conflict in Gaza, focused on Israel. A hard enough task, given the long-standing debates on Zionism, but here he has taken on a topic arguably more complex and protean. Rodgers is concerned with the future of the Middle East, but the region he writes about is not exclusively Arab. Nor are its plights. It takes in the Levant – Israel, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon – but also the lands east of the Jordan and a good part of Africa as well. Within its borders live Sunnis, Shi’ites, Druzes, Jews and Christians of every stripe. And if the reality is that no one in the region, whether Saudi, Persian, Palestinian, Kurd, North African, Sephardi or Ashkenazi, is untouched by whatever occurs there, neither is anyone else.