In one of the first of a flood of books that will inevitably follow Osama bin Laden’s death and the Middle East uprisings, Wright (Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East, 2008, etc.) delivers the stirring news that jihadism is fading, and Arab nations are finally entering the modern world.
Touring the region, reporter and scholar the author interviewed participants and recounts these changes, often through their eyes. Early chapters recap recent, familiar events—revolutions in Arab states, unrest in Iran, defections from al-Qaeda and increasing efforts within the Islamic world to discourage violence. Half of the narrative consists of magazine-like essays on Islamic culture, ranging from the predictable (the struggle for women’s right, Islamic television) to the exotic (Islamic rap music, Islamic comedians, Islamic satirical theater, popular TV preachers). An astute observer and no Pollyanna, Wright delivers a jolt in her conclusion—even the successful revolutions have made matters worse by destroying the only thriving industry, tourism. Too many Middle East nations, oil rich or not, are economic basket cases on the level of sub-Saharan Africa with massive unemployment, widespread poverty, dreadful infrastructure and no tradition of democracy or even honest leadership. More than $1 trillion from the United States has produced unimpressive results in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is no chance these nations will receive a fraction of that. Achieving freedom solves their easiest problem.
More journalism than deep analysis, the book paints a vivid portrait of dramatic changes in the Islamic world that may or may not end well.