Brutal Friendship

Said K. Aburish, Author St. Martin's Press $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-312-18543-5
Aburish, a Palestinian-American journalist who lives in London, is best known in this country for his familial autobiography Children of Bethany: The Story of a Palestinian Family and for his The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud. Here, he extends his condemnation of the Saudi dynasty to the entire Middle East. It's hard to argue with his basic point: since WWI Western governments and businesses have colluded to support ruling regimes (usually of minority groups like Maronites, Sunnis, Wahhabis) that are antidemocratic at best, brutal at worst. In the name of stability and access to oil, then, the West has blinded itself to the human rights of the majority of Arab nations. But until the end, Aburish's point doesn't seem to be so much that had history turned out differently, the majority would live free of oppression, but rather that geo-politics might have been different--more Pan Arab, perhaps, probably more successfully anti-Zionist. He also does two things that undermine confidence. His characterizations tend to be short and dismissive--Gertrude Bell is a ""twittering socialite""; King Saud, ""an ignoramus and a bungler""; Camille Chamoun, ""a skirt-chasing, narrow-minded tribal chief who saw nothing wrong in lying, stealing and murder."" And he stints on sourcing--for example, an entire section on the origins and aftermath of the Six Day War has one footnote. Greater subtlety (e.g., early in this century, pro-Western did, in fact, often mean anti-Ottoman) and dispassion would have made for a more powerful argument. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
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