Dictionary of the Middle East
by Dilip Hiro
New York: St. Martin's, 1996. 367 pp. $30.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Hiro, a London-based journalist and book author, is one of the most prolific writers on current Middle East political issues, with three studies on the region's wars and others on Iran, Central Asia, fundamentalist Islam, and the Middle East as a whole. None of his books break new ground, all are readable and mostly reliable -- excellent qualifications for a dictionary writer. Indeed, Hiro here shows a most impressive range of knowledge about the twentieth-century Middle East.
The entries are sensible and fairly comprehensive, even if one might dispute some choices. (Why include esoteric terms of religion such as gemara and hadith but entirely exclude Turkey?) Errors exist but are neither numerous nor the result of bias, though the author seems oddly indulgent towards despotisms. Contrary to the "Golan Heights" entry, Israel did not in 1967 declare it would keep the territory it won from Syria but, just a week after taking it, offered terms to return it. The "Mukhabarat" entry asserts that this Arabic term for intelligence organization is applied to all the Iraqi agencies, whereas it applies only to one of them. Worse, Hiro purveys (under "al Sabah, Jaber") the Iraqi line about Kuwait's having purposefully in 1990 "flooded the oil market in order to lower the price and thus hurt Iraq economically." These mistakes notwithstanding, the author usually refrains from forwarding an ideological agenda in the Dictionary, no small plus in this age of politicized reference works.
While the general reader will find the Dictionary readable, the specialist will find it mostly reliable. And with a $30 list price, both will find it affordable.
Related Topics: Daniel Pipes | December 1996 MEQ
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