Pipes, a prominent scholar of the Middle East, has produced a thoroughly researched and elegantly written book on an inescapably controversial topic. He concedes that the Middle East has experienced certain incidents of actual conspiracy, such as the Sykes-Picot agreement (when Britain and France agreed in 1916 on dividing up Ottoman lands, despite promises to Arab nationalists) and the Lavon affair (Israeli-sponsored bombings in Egypt in 1954). But he dismisses outright the notion of grand conspiracies determining the history of the Middle East, arguing that the propensity to discern a hidden hand reflects a weak and passive outlook, as well as autocratic leaders. Pipes correctly concludes that conspiracism holds back the development of Middle Eastern politics.
Pipes's fascinating and convincing argument has three limitations. The book has thin theoretical grounding. Some anecdotes (such as the views of Lebanese politicians on the role of foreign powers in the Ta'if accord of 1989) do not support the argument as evidence of conspiracism. And his hope for the future, where he notes with satisfaction that some Arabs and Iranians are increasingly outspoken in condemning conspiratorial thinking, is probably unwarranted.
This exploratory and highly original study, written by a first-rate historian, on an essentially multidimensional and interdisciplinary topic, is bound to direct scholarship to this neglected issue in new destinations. Now social scientists in other disciplines, especially political scientists, should pursue research on Middle Eastern conspiracism in order to advance our knowledge about its underlying causes. This then might create a favorable atmosphere for promoting activities to weaken the hold of conspiracism on so many Middle Easterners.