The Book of the Week is “The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You A Happy Birthday” by Neil MacFarquhar, published in 2009. This is a foreign correspondent’s take on various Middle Eastern countries– countries he has covered for the New York Times and the AP in the 1980’s and later. The dictatorial leaders and secret service of Middle Eastern countries together create an oppressive combination.
Born in 1959, the American author discusses his Libyan childhood, and what happened when Qaddafi came to power in a coup. Libya had no parliament, military institutions, political parties, unions, NGOs and very few ministries. “Popular Committees” (similar to neighborhood associations in Asia– common people acting on a very local level) were supposed to govern the country.
The financial aid that the United States provided to Lebanon around 2002 appeared generous but had strings attached and seemed basically designed to recycle the money back to American businesses. For example, Lebanese farmers had prospered growing hashish and opium poppies but when those crops were outlawed, they received cows instead, only because U.S. dairy farmers wanted to sell surplus cows. So American aid engenders just as much resentment as goodwill.
According to MacFarquhar, the United States launched its war against Iraq because Iraq was seen as the strongest military threat to Israel and an alternative oil source to Saudi Arabia. Arabs opined that the war was launched to “…reestablish the Western colonial dominance of their lands.” America’s ostensible goal in invading Iraq was to cause a domino effect in the region. However, the action of the dominoes turned the opposite of the way intended. Common people living in the affected nations were made worse off, and “… they feared the possible bloody consequences of experimenting with pluralism.”
The author writes extensively on Muslim extremists who believe in killing all non-Muslims. Saudi Arabia might well be the nation that debates jihad more than all of the others because many of its citizens subscribe to the Wahhabi ideology. “Three of the four main branches of Sunni Islam reject the idea of an offensive jihad, of Muslims initiating hostilities.”
Bahrain is clearly a recipient of monetary assistance from the U.S., as the latter has a naval base there. The Khalifa government depends on such support, and could not subject a blogger critical of the ruling regime in Bahrain, to prolonged torture or imprisonment. The blogger started a forum where Web users around the world, including Bahrainis could freely express their views.
Read the book to learn additional information on the politics and cultures of the above and other nations, such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria (up until 2009) through Western eyes.