Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World
by Paul Salem
Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1994. 302 pp. $39.95 (cloth), $17.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
A quarter-century after Albert Hourani's much-acclaimed Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, Salem has published a successor volume both sadder and wiser. As his title suggests, Salem finds that the Arabs suffered acutely from the impact of ideology (which he defines as "a system of highly integrated ideas, principles, and aims that are related to sociopolitical action").
Salem divides his subject matter into four main trends: Arab nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, Marxism, and regional nationalism (under which rubric he includes Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian variants). In every instance, he begins with the ideology's historical career, then goes on to describe its ideas, its social dynamics, appeal, and legacy. The author manages to make this structure work; more, the rigor of his approach makes it possible to compare the movements and ideas in a surprisingly direct fashion.
Salem's grounding in European intellectual history brings an additional bonus, enabling him to show the derivation of Middle Eastern ideas from their Western sources. And herein lies perhaps the most depressing aspect of the book: Westerners must acknowledge that the great majority of terrible ideas (such as the various strains of totalitarianism) that so harmed the Arabic-speaking countries in recent times come from their own civilization; while Arabs must acknowledge that their own thinkers had precious few original thoughts, but derived almost everything from the West.
Related Topics: Middle East politics | Daniel Pipes | March 1995 MEQ
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