Fred Halliday has been a respected commentator on the Middle East for decades; his Arabia Without Sultans remains deservedly a classic and recently he has written perceptively about the 9/11 bombings in Two Hours That Shook the World.
The premise of his latest book is brilliantly simple. Halliday takes 100 statements about the Middle East that ‘everybody knows’ and then proceeds thoroughly to debunk the myths. The author tackles ‘facts’ such as the notion that the politics of the Middle East are governed by a set of rules peculiar to the region; that the Arabs are a ‘desert people’; and that the conflicts of the region are a continuation of a millennia-old struggle over ‘holy land’.
Halliday draws on an extensive array of source material as well as his own experience of the area in his quest to clarify and illuminate the truth. Covering cultural, social and historical fields, he inquires into the Iran-Iraq War, the US-led Gulf invasions, the Israel-Palestine conflict and much else.
As an invaluable afterword Halliday compiles what he calls ‘A Glossary of Crisis: September 11, 2001 and its Linguistic Aftermath’. In this, he gives definitions – always insightful and often wryly humourous – of the terms that have come to dominate the global political debate in the last few years. For example, he defines ‘Assertive Multilateralism’ as ‘Neoconservative term for unilateralism’.
Halliday wears his erudition lightly and writes in a splendidly direct manner, making 100 Myths About the Middle East an excellent antidote to the special interests and special pleading that constitute much of the discussion of the region.