How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Arab Congress of 1920, The Destruction of the Syrian State, and the Rise of Anti-Liberal Islamism

Elizabeth F. Thompson. Atlantic Monthly, $30 (496) ISBN 978-0-8021-4820-9
Historian Thompson (Colonial Citizens) delivers an exhaustive recounting of the short-lived Syrian Arab Kingdom (comprised of the modern states of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria) and its betrayal by Western powers. Drawing on Arabic-language sources, Thompson documents the Arab Revolt that overthrew the Ottoman Empire during WWI, the Paris Peace Conference, the politicking of Allied leaders during the creation of the League of Nations, and the March 1920 declaration of a free Syrian state under revolutionary leader Prince Faisal. She describes the importance of democratic ideals of freedom and self-determination to Arab leaders, including Islamic reformer Sheikh Rashid Rida, and argues that Woodrow Wilson’s death and America’s withdrawal from the international stage following WWI allowed England and France to assert their colonial aspirations over the Middle East. Claiming that Syria was not a sovereign nation, “but rather a collection of various ‘Arabic-speaking peoples,’ ” France invaded in July 1920. Syria’s dismal military response left Faisal little choice but to surrender, according to Thompson. She wades deep into the minutiae of congressional meetings and declarations, but succeeds in making the case that the West’s betrayal of Syria set the stage for a century of regional strife. This expertly researched account brings to life a meaningful but underexplored chapter in world history. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/12/2020
Release date: 04/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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