PASSION AND POLITICS: The Turbulent World of the Arabs by Sandra Mackey
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PASSION AND POLITICS: The Turbulent World of the Arabs

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An excellent history of Arab culture and politics, emphasizing modern manifestations of traditional behavior, by Mackey (Lebanon, 1989). Constantly moving back and forth between historical and current events, Mackey manages to say a great deal about the Arab world of today and how it evolved. In doing so, she creates an invaluable sense of basic attitudes deeply rooted in Arab culture, from which grew the ""default positions"" that the Arab world resorts to under stress. Mackey presents many useful truths, but it's her ability to convey the taste, smell, and beauty of this evermore significant world that finally makes her book so appealing. She traces the forces that divide Arabs (e.g., Bedouin independence and an elaborate system of family loyalty) and those that unite them (the Koran and the Arabic language), and includes pungent, illustrative vignettes, such as the patient loading of an eight-foot camel into a small pickup truck, and the reverence for language as expressed in lengthy, much respected poetic insults. Always, Mackey evokes the local atmosphere--the terrible dry heat of the desert, or the deathly decomposition of Lebanon. She is eloquent on the dominance of the West since the Crusades, and on the effects of a modern imperialism that came from various quarters and was disguised in many ways (League of Nations mandates, for example), but which defined the Arab nations and their very borders, eating at Arabs' sense of dignity and identity until any leader at all who stood up to the French or British (or the CIA) became an inspiration. From the general, Mackey goes to the particular, sketching specific nations and their leaders fairly and clearly, making their actions understandable. Popular history of a high order, on a subject of great contemporary significance.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1992
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Dutton