A Line in the Sand

Throughout my life the phrase Middle East crisis has seemed something of a tautology. One of my earliest recollections of world events was the shelling of Lebanon in the early 1980s. The problems of the region seem intractable, views on either side utterly entrenched, and those of us with the luxury to be thousands of miles away struggle to make sense of it all.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we never really discuss the root causes. There's a sort of collective memory that it has to do w

Throughout my life the phrase Middle East crisis has seemed something of a tautology. One of my earliest recollections of world events was the shelling of Lebanon in the early 1980s. The problems of the region seem intractable, views on either side utterly entrenched, and those of us with the luxury to be thousands of miles away struggle to make sense of it all.Part of the problem, of course, is that we never really discuss the root causes. There's a sort of collective memory that it has to do with imperialism, the Balfour declaration and some kind of collective guilt about the suffering of Jews in the Second World War, but this is far from a detailed picture. And we need to understand, because if we don't we will fall into the same trap as our poorly educated world leaders, painting a simple picture of good and evil which does nothing but perpetuate the violence.Barr's book is a good place to start. Picking up the story of the region as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and World War One began,

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he examines the area through the lens of Anglo-French rivalry, completing his story with the end of the British Mandate and the foundation of Israel. Even though, as a British reader, I've long been conditioned to view the French with regard to events from 1066 to Agincourt, Joan of Arc to Waterloo, the revelations of just what happened in those few decades is truly shocking. Organising coups, rigging elections and sponsoring terrorism, nothing was beyond the pale. Oil is a factor, of course, but much less so than people would usually have you believe. Instead, what we have here is the pure arrogance of imperialism at its peak, the peoples of the region little more than pawns to be sacrificed for strategy or even just to save face.The Zionists, too, are a major factor in the story. For those who see the region through the prism of the 1960s, or whose view of the Israelis is largely shaped by the atrocities of the Holocaust, some of this will be uncomfortable reading, but it is made abundantly clear that the current Arab-Israeli conflict has roots much deeper than the Six Day War.

Barr writes a balanced and breathtaking narrative. At times, the speed at which events emerge and reverse is astonishing, but his style makes it relatively easy to keep up with the complex politics of the region. His conclusions seemed a little too even-handed based on what had gone before, but this didn't detract from what was a very worthwhile read. Now all I need is something which covers the events from 1947 until the present day.

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Category: Review

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