Books and jihadis

Apart from Aoun’s much-discussed visit to his former arch-foe Syria – and much inane commenting and loose shots from across the M14 political spectrum – nothing much has been happening in Lebanon recently. Unless you count the intensely nauseating commericalization of both eid al-adha and christmas, that is. Or the resulting monster traffic jams. Or Lebanese fighting each other with sticks and stones over parking spaces. The most important development in my view was me moving house. I actually have an AC now!

So a few backgrounders is all I have on offer this week: here is an overview-for-beginners of the Saudi-US-Al Qaeda co-operation record from 1979 Afghanistan to 2007 Lebanon. It is also something of a primer on basic internal Saudi power structures: ‘It is possible to look at the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a long struggle with religious forces. The very existence of the country is premised on a Faustian bargain of sorts between Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) and Muhammad Ibn Saud (head of the House of Saud from 1744-1765), where each one was (and their descendants still are) utterly reliant on the other. The al-Sauds provide the base for the Wahhabis to practice and proselytize their religious doctrine, and the Wahhabis, in turn, provide the al-Sauds with the necessary religious sanctification as well as a proven ability to whip the masses into a religious fervor when needed.’

And talking about faustian bargains: here is an in-depth look at the impossibly complicated Lebanese electoral system by means of a handy interactive map, courtesy of el Nashra website.

I dug up a few essential backgrounders too at the excellent and very extensive International Book Fair which is running its last day in Beirut right now: Roger Owen’s ‘State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East’ is basic reading for anybody wishing to have an opinion on the current Middle Eastern conflicts. (I wanted to link to the online version of the book, but it turns out there is none: I confused it with the equally informative and insightful ‘War, Insititutions and Social Change in the Middle East’, edited by Steven Heydemann, which can be found here.
The other jewel I discovered is Fred Halliday’s ‘Arabia without Sultans’, a thoroughly anti-imperialist account of the revolutionary liberation movements in Yemen, Oman and the Gulf in general and their struggle against the British – allied with tribal sheikhs and obscurantist imams in much the same way the US and British are now in Iraq and Afghanistan – in the sixties and seventies, and the various ways in which the nasseritescollided with the British and the Saudis to destroy them. It is astonishing to read this account, written in 1974, and realize how much has changed since then. Most of all, it shows how much of a nonsensical myth the whole ‘anti-modernity and irrepressible religiosity of the Arabs’-narrative is, or the ‘clash of civilisations’-nonsense… It has actually taken hard fighting to supress the thoroughly modern and secular worker’s movements around the Arab world and to impose the islamist frame of thinking on the general population which until the end of the 20th century was predominantly anti-imperialist and secular rather than anti-western and islamist (or even islamic). Halliday himself writes a new – and refreshingly unrepentant – introduction to this timely re-issue by the invaluable Saqi publishing house.


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