The rulers of Iran have, since the 1979 revolution, seen themselves as leaders of the Islamic world. To their dismay, few Arabs have agreed. Arab-Iranian relations, historically distant, then became downright chilly during the Iran-Iraq war. In the mid-1990s, as tensions with the United States escalated and Europe became less tolerant of Iran's terrorism, Tehran made a concerted effort to improve relations with the Arab world. In addition to the official level, intellectual and cultural exchanges also grew, including a 1995 seminar in Qatar organized by the Beirut-based Centre for Arab Unity Studies (CAUS), the proceedings of which were published in Arabic in 1996 and in English two years later. A few essays deal with the long historical record; a much greater number take up current issues. Their topics include bilateral politics (governmental signals, territorial disputes), international topics (the "Middle East order," Kurdish and Palestinian issues), and domestic matters (women, economics, civil society, textbooks).
A few of the papers offer solid scholarship, e.g., Talal Altrissi's detailed and careful analysis of the image of Iranians in Arab schoolbooks. Most are just second rate, as writers are constrained by their governments to parrot the official line; and so a few of the essays sound like propaganda tracts. Several chapters are deeply hateful. Ahmad Sudki el-Dajani rails against ‘Israel' (his quotes), rants about U.S.-led efforts "to entrench the Zionist entity" and complains that Israel's contacts with Arab countries "served to inflate the conflicts that broke out, so as to weaken their parties and bleed their energies." But Dajani's analysis is nothing compared to Ahmad Luwasani's, which informs us that Jewish "beliefs, incorporated in the first five books of the Torah, ... instruct their people to invade other societies and religions and destroy their energies." Writing about Palestinian Liberation Organization founder Ahmad Shuqayri, Luwasani adds, "God rest his soul in death as in life, for He has taken him before he could see Israel end in fact in the sea." It is a disgrace that St. Martin's should publish such a call for genocide.