Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright

Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East

This book was published in 2008, and yet it foretells the Arab Spring of 2011 clearly. In the preface, Wright quotes a human rights activist:
“The despots in the Arab world are on their last gasp,” he reflected. “Just like any last-ditch battles, they will do a lot of stupid things and leave a lot of destruction. But these will be the last battles. People have already broken the fear barrier. They are as ready for change and democracy as East Europe was in the 1980s and as Latin America was in the 1970s. History is moving. The moment is ours.”(prologue, p. 6)

Robin Wright may be the Middle East analyst with the most access—she seems to travel unhindered whenever and wherever she chooses to visit. Wright so clearly loves the Middle East, and Iran in particular, that we begin to love it, too. We especially love the brave men and women who risk their lives to demand a voice, in Iran and Syria for example. The demand for civil rights for blacks, perhaps, is the last time we have seen peaceful resistance and a stand on righteousness in this country. It can be violent, but it is extraordinarily effective.

In this book, written for a non-specialist in Middle East politics, Wright introduces us simply, clearly to the major players, excluding Israel. She writes of modern Arab history, beginning with The Palestinians, moving to Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Morocco. We are given major, still-relevant events in recent history for each group, and interviews with both government and dissident voices. The lines of dissension couldn’t be clearer, and though the Israel/Palestine divide is rarely mentioned after the first sections, this is the context within which all the Middle East labors. Besides that, each country has its own particular geography and political history to enter the equations for peace and stability. A throwing off of long-governing autocrats doesn’t seem impossible: Wright makes it seem inevitable. Which makes one wonder, “why can’t the leaders see that?” Does she make it too simple for us? Certainly her descriptions make me want to go to the Middle East myself, to see for myself, if only it were that easy. If I have to rely on someone else’s interpretation, hers seems as balanced as one can hope for—if she weren’t balanced, she wouldn’t have the access she exhibits.

One reason she knew change was coming and will continue I copy for you here:
Two dynamics will define political change in the NE for years to come. The first is…identity, the accumulative package of family, faith, race, traditions, and ties to a specific piece of land. The second dynamic is…youth and an emerging generation of younger leaders. The young have never been so important: More than seventy percent of the people living in the regions stretching from Tehran to Rabat are under thirty years old. (p. 137)

Finally, Wright discusses Iraq, and the American war there. Each sentence reads like another board nailed on the scaffolding of a once great country’s demise (ours and theirs). Here Wright tells us what must happen if government change in the Middle East is to succeed:
Change in today’s Middle East is likely to succeed only when all major players—not just the majority—believe they have a stake in the new order. Rival identities will otherwise derail it. The sense of common nationhood is still too fragile. Suspicions run too deep. ..Iraq is a telling, and tragic precedent.

Robin Wright is publishing a new book this July with Simon and Schuster called Rock the Cabash: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World. I look forward to seeing it. Don’t miss it!

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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