A view of what the “Arab street” has to say about current affairs—the only problem being, as the author notes, there’s not any such thing.
By Weekly Standard Middle East correspondent Smith’s account, the Arab world is fragmented, rife with divisions and plagued by poor leadership on all sides. The author also claims that 9/11 was a manifestation less of the war between America and Islam—he means, perhaps, Islamism—than of that among Arab factions, which means “strange as it sounds, the attacks on New York and Washington were not really about us.” Perhaps, but the attacks killed many Americans and led to the deaths of many Arabs, notably in Iraq. Smith does well to reiterate the fact that the Arab world is not monolithic and that not everyone is a suicide bomber. Some of his neoconnish prescriptions will seem comforting to those who urge that we take the war to the enemy—whoever the enemy really is—rather than have al-Qaeda march down the streets of Washington, and he casts them in fire-and-brimstone terms well suited to monotheistic climes: “he who punishes enemies and rewards friends, forbids evil and enjoins good, is entitled to rule, and no other.” Smith’s book quickly betrays its origins as a loosely assembled collection of journalistic pieces, some ephemeral, others more substantial. It is pleasant, but not terribly revealing, to know that the actor Omar Sharif has opinions about the purity of the Arabic language, and a little more useful but still disjointed to work Edward Said’s notions of orientalism into the discussion.
Smith could have smoothed his narrative into a more coherent story, but he offers a somewhat provocative look at an endlessly troubled region.