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A New History of the Arab World Gets the Story Right—Until It Comes to Jews and Christians

March 8 2018

First published in 2011, The Arabs: A History, by the Oxford Professor Eugene Rogan, has recently been issued in a revised and updated edition. Luma Simms finds it a useful book that admirably covers much ground in a single volume, but one that hews too closely to deeply flawed analyses that have become standard in academia. When it comes to the Middle East’s Jews and Christians, Rogan’s blind spots are particularly noticeable.

Rogan has unfortunately picked up some of the Arab attitude toward the Jews, although he does temper it. The Arab milieu—Christian and Muslim—is anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic. . . . Rogan is not anti-Semitic; but he does tend to be partial to the Muslim Arabs. As an Arab myself, I understand that he is trying to stay true to the Arab perspective, but his sympathies have blurred his objectivity. . . .

One thing stands out here as very peculiar: the author’s silence about what the Arabs did to the Jews after World War II. They killed them, confiscated their property and possessions, and drove them out of Arab lands. Aside from the one paragraph he gives to the pogrom in Iraq in 1941, there’s not much on what the Arab Muslims did to the Jews living in their midst throughout the region in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His being so tied to the Arab Muslim perspective leads him to minimize the virulent anti-Semitism in the Arab world to this day. . . .

Rogan himself consistently uses “occupier” when referring to Israel or Western nations—a noun he seldom uses for Ottoman or Arab conquerors, destroyers, or occupiers. . . . Arabs have maintained for years that the problems of their region would go away if they could get rid of the Jews, and Rogan does little to dispel that myth. The statistics show that the Arab lands have been essentially [rendered judenrein], yet the Arab world proceeds in chaos still. . . .

As for Middle Eastern Christians, Simms highlights Rogan’s highly apologetic treatment of devshirme, the Ottoman practice of kidnapping Christian children, forcibly converting them to Islam, and conscripting them into military service:

Rogan excuses [such practices] as a product of the times. . . . The Arabs maintains this double standard throughout. What is done to Jews and Christians is justified away, but the slightest injury to Muslims—real or imagined—is brought to the fore.

Read more at Law and Liberty

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arab anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Middle East, Middle East Christianity

The Future of a Free Iran May Lie with a Restoration of the Shah

June 25 2018

Examining the recent waves of protest and political unrest in the Islamic Republic—from women shunning the hijab to truckers going out on strike—Sohrab Ahmari considers what would happen in the event of an actual collapse of the regime. Through an analysis of Iranian history, he concludes that the country would best be served by placing Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of its last shah, at the head of a constitutional monarchy:

The end of Islamist rule in Iran would be a world-historical event and an unalloyed good for the country and its neighbors, marking a return to normalcy four decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini founded his regime. . . . But what exactly is that normalcy? . . .

First, Iranian political culture demands a living source of authority to embody the will of the nation and stand above a fractious and ethnically heterogenous society. Put another way, Iranians need a “shah” of some sort. They have never lived collectively without one, and their political imagination has always been directed toward a throne. The constitutionalist experiment of the early 20th century coexisted (badly) with monarchic authority, and the current Islamic Republic has a supreme leader—which is to say, a shah by another name. It is the height of utopianism to imagine that a 2,500-year-old tradition can be wiped away. The presence of a shah, [however], needn’t mean the absence of rule of law, deliberative politics, or any of the other elements of ordered liberty that the West cherishes in its own systems. . . .

Second, Iranian political culture demands a source of continuity with Persian history. The anxieties associated with modernity and centuries of historical discontinuity drove Iranians into the arms of Khomeini and his bearded minions, who promised a connection to Shiite tradition. Khomeinism turned out to be a bloody failure, but there is scant reason to imagine the thirst for continuity has been quenched. . . . Iranian nationalism . . . could be the answer, and, to judge by the nationalist tone of the current upheaval, it is the one the people have already hit upon.

When protestors chant “We Will Die to Get Iran Back,” “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My Life Only for Iran,” and “Let Syria Be, Do Something for Me,” they are expressing a positive vision of Iranian nationhood: no longer do they wish to pay the price for the regime’s Shiite hegemonic ambitions. Iranian blood should be spilled for Iran, not Gaza, which for most Iranians is little more than a geographical abstraction. It is precisely its nationalist dimension that makes the current revolt the most potent the mullahs have yet faced. Nationalism, after all, is a much stronger force and in Iran the longing for historical continuity runs much deeper than liberal-democratic aspiration. Westerners who wish to see a replay of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 in today’s Iran will find the lessons of Iranian history hard and distasteful, but Iranians and their friends who wish to see past the Islamic Republic must pay heed.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Nationalism, Politics & Current Affairs, Shah