Historical Dictionary of Syria
by David Commins
Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996. 300 pp. $49.50.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Commins has taken on the heroic task of writing a one-man reference work, and it's proven a bit much for him. Many entries merely scratch the surface, retelling well-known information without providing insight or new information. Others are severely out of date. The bibliography cites no travel book after 1980, thereby missing, among others, the estimable Syria by Coleman South in the Cultural Shock! series (London: Kuperard, 1995). The story of Mustafa Tlas, Syria's current defense minister, ends with his taking this position in 1972. The biography of Ma`ruf ad-Dawalibi closes in 1962, ignoring his many active years since. The entry on `Alawis fizzles out in 1960, just on the eve of their taking control of Syria and, for the first time ever, their becoming power brokers. Information on the Greater Syria ideology ends in the 1950s, missing entirely the successes of Hafiz al-Asad in this domain. Likewise, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party also terminates in the 1950s. The history of Alexandretta ends way back in 1939, just as Syrian irredentism began.
Another problem concerns Commins' tendency to shade information to fit his views and biases. In some cases, this means presenting supposition as fact, for example, asserting that in October 1990, "In a gesture of gratitude, the United States gave Syria the green light" to bring its Lebanese opponents to heel. In others, this means questioning well-established facts, such as his dismissal of Syrian support for the PKK organization as "allegations."
Related Topics: History, Syria | Daniel Pipes | December 1996 MEQ
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