Rethinking the Middle East

Rethinking the Middle East

Rethinking the Middle East

Rethinking the Middle East


Efraim Karsh argues that the cause of the Middle East's endemic malaise is rooted in regional factors rather than Western political and cultural imperialism. Historical writing and popular beliefs concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict are re-examined in the light of this proposal.


The 11 chapters which make up this volume—with the exception of Chapter 4, appearing here for the first time—were published over the last five years or so in the Middle East Quarterly, Commentary, Middle Eastern Studies, Journal of Contemporary History, Review of International Studies and Empires of the Sand (Harvard University Press). Permission for revising this material and incorporating it into the present book is gratefully acknowledged.

Though addressing diverse aspects of modern Middle Eastern history over a period spanning some 120 years, these essays nevertheless all point to a general view: that great power influences, however potent, constituted neither the primary force behind the region’s political development, nor the main cause of its famous volatility, and that the main impetus behind Middle Eastern developments has been provided by regional factors.

This thesis runs counter to the received wisdom in modern Middle Eastern Studies. For quite some time this discipline has been dominated by what may be termed a culture of victimization. Articulated most forcefully by Edward Said (of Columbia University), it views the local populations of the Middle East, the Arabs in particular, as the hapless victims of an alien encroachment, and blames the region’s endemic malaise on Western political and cultural imperialism.

As this book shows, this supine self-righteousness, with its implicit admission of political and cultural inferiority, is historically false. Even at the weakest point in their modern history, during the final stages of the demise of the Ottoman Empire and in its immediate wake, Middle Eastern actors were not passive pawns in the hands of predatory Western powers but active participants in the restructuring of their region. This reached its peak during the Cold War years, when Middle Easterners skilfully manipulated superpower anxieties and vulnerabilities to promote their local interests, and has largely persisted to the present day.

Nowhere has this ‘victimization culture’ been more starkly manifest than in the historiography of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dismissing out of . . .

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