George Antonius' classic study, The Arab Awakening (1938) was an original, powerful, and wrong-headed book whose message has wrecked damage across the decades. In teleological fashion, Antonius presented the intellectual history of the preceding century as a gradual building up to what he called the "Arab national movement," or Pan-Arab nationalism. In an understated but devastating rebuttal in two parts, Tauber shows that Arab nationalism dominated neither the very important pre-World War I organizations nor the rebellious activities during the war. Rather, it was but one of four main strands of thought, the others being Lebanoninsm, Syrianism, and Iraqism.
In the first volume, Tauber runs through in extremely systematic fashion the personnel, organization, and ideas of each of the sixteen leading Arab organizations that came into existence in the period 1908-14, then analyses them as a whole. His achievement is impressive: for the first time, he has nailed down this much-studied but ever-elusive subject. At last, we know the who and what of those Arab organizations. All this matters very much, for their members and ideas went on to exercise great influence, and indeed, changed the course of Middle Eastern history. They became political leaders in several countries; and their ideologies still resonate in the Middle East today.
In the second volume, the author shows how the four strands of thought continued to inspire Arabic-speakers, and that it was almost a matter of chance that the one revolt that took off happened to be pan-Arab in outlook. The many other efforts all ended in failure, "either because they failed to reach the stage of execution at all or because they expired after they were begun." Even among the intellectual leaders of Sharif Husayn's Arab revolt, the other three currents were swirling; 251-2 and when the dream of a unitary Arab state collapsed, they came to the fore.
In finally breaking the Arab nationalist hammerlock on interpreting the years before 1918, Tauber takes a giant step away from the Pan-Arab nationalist theory of history which has so stultified an understanding of Middle East politics. He also sets the record straight on a wide range of issues (for example, that leading Arab nationalist groups sought independece even before the Young Turk reign of terror). In addition, Tauber's meticulous scholarship has unearthed some extraordinary and fascinating materials: for a taste, look up either Wahib Pasha or Muhammad Sharif al-Faruqi in the index to the World War I study. In all, these two volumes constitute one of the most important historical studies of the Middle East published in years.