Schemes That Set the Desert on Fire

After WWI, Britain and France made the Arab world the object of history, not its subject. James Barr’s new book shows that the Middle East was born crazy. Later misunderstandings and manipulations were laid atop well-worn grooves.

Issue: Jan-Feb 2012

James Barr, A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914–1948 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2012), 464 pp., $29.95.

THERE’S A knotted strand of Arab conspiracy thinking that goes roughly as follows: The modern Middle East is a plot hatched by colonialists and Zionists. Israel was implanted in Palestine by Western imperialists for their own cynical reasons. The Arabs have been manipulated and deceived by the West at every turn. Their history is a narrative framed by spies and saboteurs.

I’ve been listening to versions of this paranoid story during more than thirty years of traveling in the Middle East. Often, such Arab complaints of perpetual victimization seem part of a broken political culture. Not to mention that it’s tedious listening to so much whining about plots by outsiders.

You must be a subscriber of The National Interest to access this article. If you are already a subscriber, please activate your online access. Not a subscriber? Become a subscriber today!