THE COMMANDER by Laila Parsons


Fawzi al-Qawuqji and the Fight for Arab Independence, 1914-1948
Age Range: 1890 - 1977
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Biography of the famous early-20th-century Arab nationalist and soldier Fawzi al-Qawuqji (1890-1977).

Parsons (History and Islamic Studies/McGill Univ.; The Druze between Palestine and Israel, 1947-49, 2000) offers a short but satisfying account of the life and military adventures of al-Qawuqji, a passionate supporter of Arab unity who played a significant role in many of the conflicts that gave rise to the modern Middle East. The author provides brief sketches of al-Qawuqji’s character, but recounting and contextualizing his eventful life is her main focus. Following al-Qawuqji from his early days soldiering for the Ottoman Empire to his role in major anti-colonial revolts in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, Parsons conveys the epic sweep of his life and his importance to Arab history in matter-of-fact terms: “[His] life was the story of one individual, not the history of a nation. He found himself in particular places, made particular choices, and even fought particular battles, largely as a result of personal circumstances.” The author’s style is determinedly unromantic—a feature, not a flaw. The effect of her careful, analytical approach is to dismantle various myths and misinterpretations that have developed around the period. For example, in writing about the British invasion of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Parsons notes, “of course the better-known story about Arabs in World War I is that of the pro-British Arab Revolt of 1916, helped by the British officer T.E. Lawrence. But in military terms the Arab Revolt was a sideshow.” In addition to a much-needed biography of al-Qawuqji, the author provides a history of the heyday and collapse of Arab nationalism. Especially in writing about al-Qawuqji’s leadership of the Arab Liberation Army during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Parsons is unerring in pointing to the factional rivalries and structural difficulties that impeded cooperation between the fledgling Arab states.

A remarkably evenhanded biography of an important player in Arab history that doubles as a crucial scholarly reinterpretation of the rise and fall of Arab nationalism.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-8090-6712-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2016


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