Thursday, September 28, 2006

Middle Eastern Sources

In my professional life it is my job to study and know about other societies and cultures. From time-to-time I pass along to professional colleagues the best fruits of my endeavors. I took the opportunity to do this today. So, with no further adieu, here is a reading list, which includes novels in the firm belief that literature is a gateway into any culture, one can use to gain basic insight into the contemporary Middle East.


What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, by Bernard Lewis
The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, by Bernard Lewis
Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong
Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael B. Oren
Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey, by Andrew Mango
Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, by Jean Bethke Elshtain
The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, by Fouad Ajami
Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, by Bat Ye'or
The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude : Seventh-Twentieth Century, by Bat Ye'or


Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury
A Woman in Jerusalem, a novel by A.B. Yehoshua

Snow, a novel by Orhan Pamuk
Istanbul: Memories and the City, a memoir by Orhan Pamuk
My Name is Red, a novel by Orhan Pamuk
The Kite Runner, a novel by Khaled Hosseini
The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salmon Rushdie
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi

While there is much profitable reading not on this list, and no bibliography is complete, I have found the above books to be invaluable the past year or so.

Here is one nugget that speaks directly to the recent l'affaire Paleologos, taken from Bernard Lewis’ What Went Wrong?:

"The Moroccan al-Wansharisi, considering the case of Spain, posed what turned out to be a purely hypothetical question: if the Christian government is tolerant and allows them to practice their religion, may [a Muslim] then stay? His answer was that in that case it is all the more important for them to leave, because under a tolerant government, the danger of apostasy is greater" (pg, 36).

Currently I am infatuated with the works of Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author whose prose is beautiful and insights profound. Of the three works of his recommended on my list, I highly suggest Snow. If you need further encouragement, follow this link to Andrei Codrescu'sreview on All Things Considered. Go to select All Things Considered from the left-hand drop down and type Pamuk in the right-hand search field. Select
"A Poet Returns to Turkey". Then, as with Andrei, pour yourself a nice drink and listen.


  1. Hi,

    I am sorry but Bernard Lewis is an unrepentent orientalist in intellectual's garb. What he knows and understands about Morocco, its connections to Al Andalus and the manifestations of Islamic culture there could fit on the head of a pin.

    May I suggest various works by Amin Malouf such as The Crusades as Seen by the Arabs. Even in translation (French to English), his is a much more informed prose than that of Lewis

  2. I wouldn't go so far as to say Lewis is an "orientalist," if the term is meant in the sense meant by Edward Said, whose work is appalling and whose honesty and integrity is a cause of grave concern. Lewis is certainly a bit of an old-fashioned scholar, but his mastery of the sources is there. His interpretations are certainly not beyond either question or dispute. I readily admit that the Maghreb is not his area of specialization.

    Malouf's work, of which you make reference, is a great work that I read in college and refer to even now. The past several years have seen the publication of two very fine works in English on the Crusades: "The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople", by Jonathan Phillips and "The First Crusade: A New History: The Roots of Conflict between Christianity and Islam", by Thomas Asbridge. Of course, Jonathan Riley Smith's "The Crusades: A History; Second Edition" remains indispensable. Sadly, Malouf's compilation of original Islamic sources remains largely alone and in need of interpretation from various Middle Eastern perspectives.

    As with Asbridge's work, I find ham-fisted attempts to draw direct connections between the Crusades and what is not occurring suspicious if not specious. Lewis, largely, does a good job of getting us from here to there. Phillips does a fine job working with the Fourth Crusade- a superior work to Asbridges' in many ways, though Asbridge is a fine historian in his own right. He goes too much in for the ham-fisted paralells.