Introduced by Robert Fisk
Troubling, fascinating and accessible, this is an outstanding account of how the Middle East was shaped by Western interests. This edition features contemporary photographs and a new foreword by one of today’s most respected journalists.
Never has there been a greater need for us to understand the political, economic and religious agendas that, taking root shortly before the First World War, have engulfed the Middle East in relentless conflict. The rights, ambitions and beliefs of the people indigenous to this volatile region have been courted, manipulated, appropriated and denied perhaps more than those of any other on earth – both by their own ruling classes and by Western powers. The ‘tangled web of British commitments’ on the future of the region between the crucial period of 1900 to 1960, whose many threads included the concerns of France, Germany and the United States, interwoven with the manifold interests of the Arabs and Jews, sealed rifts and resentments that have only increased in their resistance to reconciliation. John Keay’s even-handed and approachable book relates this tragic history before closing with an epilogue that culminates at the Gulf War and 9/11. This Folio edition includes a foreword by Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for The Independent, and a wealth of illuminating photographs and maps.
'Thus did the colonial powers’ involvement in the affairs of Syria begin with the overthrow of a government. And thus it would continue, ad nauseam. '
Until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the lands now known as the Middle East – a strategic, shape-shifting term coined in 1902 by the United States – was perceived by the West as a no-man’s-land. Keay’s account of how this attitude changed begins in Egypt, whose fertile Nile delta became a hotbed of imperial zeal. From this ‘cockpit of contention’ unfolded a series of interventions that extended across the wilderness, motivated and inflamed by the emerging role of oil as the engine of progress, the strategic value of the Suez Canal, the rise of Zionism and the exigencies of two world wars.
‘A witty, thoroughly informed and agreeably detached account of a subject both serious and extremely interesting’
As Keay notes, it is often difficult to gauge the degree of intention behind the obfuscations and deceits enacted by the imperial powers, but it is certain that many Arabs were offered ‘dream palaces’ as insubstantial as sand. Charting the alliances, rebellions and land divisions that determined the Middle East’s precarious contemporary shape, and examining figures such as T. E. Lawrence and Theodor Herzl, this is essential reading for anyone interested in the background to the humanitarian crises, atrocities and political dilemmas that confront the modern world.
John Keay is a British historian and former journalist. He was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a demy (scholar) in Modern History. After a brief spell as a political correspondent for The Economist, from 1973 he focused on his career as an author, specialising in the history of Asia, exploration and Scotland. Keay has written over twenty books, including The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company (1991); Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland, co-edited with J. Keay (1994, 2nd edn 2001); India: A History (2000; reprinted by The Folio Society, 2003; revised and expanded, 2010); The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named (2000); The Spice Route (2005; reprinted by The Folio Society, 2005); Mad about the Mekong: Exploration and Empire in South East Asia (2005); China: A History (2008); and most recently Midnight’s Descendants: South Asia from Partition to the Present Day (2013).
In 2009 the Royal Society for Asian Affairs awarded Keay its Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal for his literary contribution to Asian studies. The Royal Literary Fund appointed him to a Literary Fellowship at the University of Dundee in 2009, and then at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2013. Keay has written and presented over a hundred documentaries for BBC Radio 3 and 4 from 1975–95. He has lectured for the British Council all over India and has frequently accompanied tour groups in South and South East Asia.
‘John Keay’s new history of the British in the modern Middle East is the best for almost 40 years’
‘Rereading Keay’s work … you cannot help but shudder at the prescience … with which we are led through the torment of betrayals to which the Arab peoples (and to a far lesser extent, the future Israelis) were subject’
Robert Fisk is a British author and journalist. He gained a BA in English Literature from Lancaster University and then a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College, Dublin. He began his journalism career in 1972 as the Belfast correspondent of The Times, covering political turmoil in Northern Ireland. As the paper’s Middle East correspondent from 1976 to 1987 he again reported on violent and tumultuous political events, including the Lebanese civil war (1975–90) and the Iran–Iraq War (1980–8). In 1989 Fisk moved to The Independent, where he continues to cover the Middle East from Beirut.
Fisk has received numerous British and international journalism awards, including the British Press Awards’ International Journalist of the Year seven times. He has published several books, including The Point of No Return: The Strike which Broke the British in Ulster (1975); In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the Price of Neutrality, 1939–1945 (1983); Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (1990); and The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East (2005).
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