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.
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