Subject: Milton Viorst: "Storm from the East"
Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2006 19:17:37 +0300
From: John Whitbeck
TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
This is another book recommendation -- for Milton Viorst's "Storm from
the East: The Struggle Between the Arab World and the Christian West".
Like Robert Fisk's "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the
Middle East", this book offers a deep comprehension of the Arab world,
the West's role in its history and the relevance of this history
to current events and choices -- but, in contrast to Fisk, Viorst
does so in a mere 176 pages.
As Viorst makes clear, the people of the Arab world do, indeed, want
"freedom" -- but the freedom they seek is liberation from Western
domination and interference in their lives. This is not something that
can be conferred on them by Western invasions and occupations.
This *should* surprise no one. If Western countries had been subjected
to a century of conquest, colonization, exploitation and humiliation by
Arabs, this is the sort of liberation which the people of the Western
world would seek. This simply reflects fundamental human nature.
Only people ignorant of history and utterly convinced (despite all
evidence to the contrary) of their own inherent wonderfulness could be
blind to this self-evident truth. However, at least in principle, it is
never too late to learn.
The back jacket of the book quotes praise from Zbigniew Brzezinski,
Jimmy Carter and Daniel Schorr. Brzezinski writes: "[Viorst] reminds
readers saturated by slogans about terrorism and jihadism that Arab
hostility to Western intrusion has a longer history than the current
conflict in Iraq. Sadly, blissful ignorance of that history is one of
the root causes of America's ongoing and increasingly tragic military
plunge into the Middle Eastern quagmire."
Viorst concludes the preface to his book: "Whatever the military
mismatch, the West has not had an easy time subduing the Arabs.
America's war in Iraq, igniting an explosion of Arab nationalism, is the
latest round in this long contest. To see it otherwise is to deny the
evidence of history.... Notwithstanding its military superiority, unless
the West accepts the East's right to determine its own future, the
bloodshed that currently marks the contest will continue. Both
civilizations will clearly be the poorer for it. That is the message of
TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
This is a book recommendation -- for Robert Fisk's "The Great War for
Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East".
This recommendation comes with two caveats:
1. The book is 1283 pages long.
2. It is often very painful reading, providing close-up and personal
looks at the awful reality of war and of man's persistent inhumanity
toward his fellow man.
If you are not put off by these two aspects, this book, which blends
history and personal reportage from Fisk's 30 years as a journalist
based in the Middle East, provides, in my view, a deeper comprehension
of this region and the West's role in its history over the past century
-- in ways which are intensely relevant to current (and future) events
-- than any other book which I have read. For anyone who doesn't already
know, it also answers the question, "Why do they hate us?".
This book should be required reading for anyone who believes that there
can be a "happy ending" to America's conquests and occupations of either
Afghanistan or Iraq or that attacking Iran would be a good idea. (A few
of you may know such a person.)
In the current context, one paragraph particularly struck me. Recounting
a speech by George W. Bush to the UN General Assembly, Fisk writes:
"On 12 September 2002, two-thirds of the way through George W. Bush's
virtual declaration of war against Iraq, there came a dangerous,
tell-tale code which suggested that he really did intend to send his
tanks across the Tigris river. "The United States has no quarrel with
the Iraqi people," he told the UN General Assembly. In the press
gallery, nobody stirred. Below us, not a diplomat shifted in his seat.
The speech had already rambled on for twenty minutes but his
speechwriters must have known what this meant when they cobbled it
together. Before President Reagan bombed Libya in 1986, he announced
that America "has no quarrel with the Libyan people". Before he bombed
Iraq in 1991, Bush the Father told the world that the United States "has
no quarrel with the Iraqi people". In 2001, Bush the Son, about to
strike at the Taliban and al-Qaeda, told us he "has no quarrel with the
people of Afghanistan". And now that frightening mantra was repeated,
There was no quarrel, Mr Bush said -- absolutely none -- with the Iraqi
people. So, I thought to myself as I scribbled my notes in the UN press
gallery, it's flak jackets on." (pp. 1096-7)
So, when you hear George W. Bush pronounce the magic words -- that the
United States "has no quarrel with the people of Iran" -- you will know
that American bombs and missiles will soon be raining down on yet
another Muslim country, and Westerners who (like me) live and work in
the Middle East will have to consider seriously whether the time has
come to pack our bags and leave for good.