By Chet Yarbrough
Concise History of the Middle East, Ninth Edition
By Arthur Goldschmidt and Lawrence Davidson
Narrated by Tom Weiner
History is never the whole truth because events are reported out of the context of their time, a time which can never be fully explained even by the most knowledgeable historian. However, Messieurs Goldschmidt and Davidson have created an insightful overview of the origins and impacts of an area of the world not well-known or understood by much of the American public.
So, why is understanding the Middle East important? Since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, there have been over 5,000 American deaths, and an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Iraqi deaths. There are many consequential reasons for gaining a better understanding of the Middle East. For example, there is high US oil imports from the Middle East; there is the existence of the second most common religion in the world; and there is the blood and human life lost from conflicts of belief and understanding between cultures and religion.
This audio book provides some history and, more importantly, perspective on religious belief, ethnicities, and secularism in the Middle East; i.e., it explains some of the differences within and among Middle Eastern countries. Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand the difference between a Muslim Sunni and a Muslim Shiite. Their history gives the listener a better appreciation of the importance of an Imam to a Shiite and what happens in Shiite dominated Iran versus what might occur in a majority Sunni country like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.
Goldschmidt and Davidson note that Shiite’ beliefs are evolving because they are Imam’ interpretations of the Koran while Sunni’ beliefs are more static and grounded in literal readings of the Koran. The authors reflect on religious conflicts among believers in Islam, the creation and growth of the state of Israel, the secular leanings of Turkey, the Kurdish conflicts between Turkey and Iraq, the history of Iraq and its makeup of Kurds, Shiite, Sunni, and Christian factions. They report on the Hezbollah and Palestinian movements surrounding Israel. They touch on our 2001 New York tragedy and the hostility of AL-Qaeda and its influence on American perception of the Middle East. It is an eye-opening and mind-boggling journey through centuries of border conflicts, colonialism, nation building, and evolving nationalism.
There is little doubt, considering what has happened in Iran (and is presently happening in Egypt and Tunisia), that there is growing discontent in the Middle East, a burgeoning desire for freedom; freedom that is forged by a variety of belief systems, tempered by the will of indigenous populations. Goldschmidt and Davidson help one understand that, like America, there are many conflicting beliefs in the Middle East that have led to misconceptions, tragic mistakes, civil wars, and violent actions perpetrated and perpetuated by committed believers that are either vilified or commended by time and distance in recorded history.
The Middle East is revealed as the world power it once was; its devolution into a variety of colonial and/or monarchic nation states; and its re-growth as an oil-producing behemoth that is working its way into the 21st century as a new world power. One is drawn to the conclusion that this new world power is in a state of creation from a variety of competing Middle Eastern nation states that may or may not survive the 21st century.
Tom Weiner, the narrator, clearly presents Goldschmidt and Davidson’s writing and the listener feels he has learned something that makes reports of the Middle East more accessible.