If you can stomach hundreds of pages of Iraqi apologetics, anti-American potshots, and seething anti-Israel polemics, Middle East Politics Today is an interesting window through which to view how Arabs in the West interpret the modern Middle East. The book is also an interesting window into Ismael's renowned Israel obsession—virtually nothing takes place independent of it.
Ismael, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, damages his own credibility by discussing "a linkage between the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and Israeli occupation of Arab territories." He further insinuates that hostilities between Iraq and the United States are the fault of Israel. Indeed, he largely ignores Iraq's aggression against Kuwait. But his most preposterous assertion is that America's goals in the 1991 Kuwait war were "to eliminate Iraq as a challenge to the Camp David order in the Middle East."
In general, Ismael is very critical of American foreign policy in the Middle East. He wrongly points to the "fundamental contradiction [of] wanting to have cheap and ready access to Arab resources while helping Israel to effectively consolidate the occupation of Arab lands." He further rebukes Washington for isolating rogue regimes: "describing a regime as renegade sets the stage for confrontation."
In dealing with the political heritage of Islam, Ismael nearly redeems himself. He discusses fundamentalist Islam at length and is clearly critical of this trend in the region. Still, he occasionally uses the term "Islamic activism," a soft euphemism for the deadly movement. He also wrongly asserts that every time Hizbullah has struck at the heart of Israel, "it was in reprisal for Israeli and SLA [South Lebanese Army] attacks on Lebanese civilians."
The author's chapter entitled, "The Oppressive State and Civil Society," is aptly titled and on target. Country by country, he reviews the terrible human rights records of the Middle East. He errs, however, in stating that Iran's record "has steadily improved." Many analysts argue that it is just as bad now as it was ten or twenty years ago. His apologetics for Iraq return again, with the claims that "the U.N. itself is violating international human rights" by enforcing international sanctions in Iraq. He further takes Israel to task for human rights violations, ignoring the fact that many non-governmental organizations (including Freedom House) laud Israel for the best human rights record in the Middle East.
The rest of the book chronicles the histories of each country in the region. The research is basically sound, but a closer look at the footnotes reveals an overuse of the word "ibid."