The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East

The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East

3.8 12
by Neil MacFarquhar
     
 

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A New York Times correspondent’s affectionate, irreverent portrait of the Middle East he’s known since childhood—an unexplored place hidden behind the usual headlines

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A New York Times correspondent’s affectionate, irreverent portrait of the Middle East he’s known since childhood—an unexplored place hidden behind the usual headlines

Editorial Reviews

Mohamad Bazzi
Mr. MacFarquhar's sly, vivid memoir, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday, is full of…anecdotes backed up by perceptive analysis…Throughout the book Mr. MacFarquhar displays an impressive grasp of history, particularly in his chapters on fatwas (religious rulings) and the concept of jihad.
—The New York Times
Wendell Steavenson
Neil MacFarquhar is that rare and wonderful thing, a Middle East correspondent who not only speaks Arabic but also grew up in the region. This experience infuses his book—the product of 20 years of reporting—with the wit, insight and eye-rolling exasperation of a near-native. MacFarquhar maintains that "the constant, bloody upheaval that captures most attention has become the barrier limiting our perspective on the Middle East" and eschews the usual descriptions of violence and gore. Instead he offers a broad cultural and personal investigation into the region. The result is an intelligent and fascinating romp full of anecdotes, acid asides and conversations with everyone from dissidents to diplomats and liberal religious sheikhs, and even a Kuwaiti woman with a sex-advice column.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

While a glut of recent books on the Middle East have addressed Western perspectives on the region, this excellent book emphasizes questions Arabs ask themselves. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iranian revolution serve as backdrops, but veteran Mideast correspondent MacFarquhar (The Sand Café) focuses primarily on Arab nations and a grab bag of Saudi teachers, Moroccan dissidents broken by their years in prison, individuals searching for political freedom and Muslims struggling to sustain their faith in the face of violence from within and without. MacFarquhar's approach is well-rounded; he includes less palatable facts ("those who argue that the word [jihad] contains no implication of violence are glossing over the fact that for some zealots, jihad means only one thing") and facts often overlooked (when most Arabs "talk about reform, they usually mean curbing rampant corruption"). If America is to overcome Arabs' deep distrust, MacFarquhar suggests, it must abandon policies "too often based on expediency" and listen, not to its own domestic politics but "to the concerns of the people in [Arabs'] own countries." (May)

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Library Journal

A mixture of travel tale and current events reporting, this book delivers more significant insights into the Arab world than the lighthearted title might suggest. Growing up in an American compound in Libya and then returning to the Middle East as a reporter for the New York Times, MacFarquhar is more qualified than most Americans to write about the street-level Arab point of view. Anecdotes range from the silly to the chilling and are sometimes both, as when he describes a children's history book that includes a pop-up figure of an Israeli soldier bloodily stabbed to death. MacFarquhar does not offer the profusion of flavors and colors expected in a travel narrative or delve very deeply into the characters of the people he describes, yet he manages to paint a convincing picture of the variety of perspectives existing in the Middle East, from the rigidly Islamist to the passionately dissident. MacFarquhar also offers his own reasoned judgments on the success of U.S. policies in this part of the world. Recommended for informed readers and scholars.
—Lisa Klopfer

Kirkus Reviews
A sly, knowledgeable look at the changes in Arab mores and politics since the 1970s, from a New York Times journalist with extensive experience in the region. MacFarquhar (The Sand Cafe, 2006), the Times' former Cairo bureau chief and current UN chief, grew up in Marsa Brega, Libya, where his American father worked as a chemical engineer. Largely sheltered from the repercussions of the Six-Day War in 1967 and the military coup by Muammar Al-Qadhafi in 1969, the author returned to the Middle East after college in America to find out what he missed, learning Arabic and traveling through the area as a foreign correspondent. Here MacFarquhar attempts to uncover the positive changes in Libya, still plagued by Qadhafi's "erratic, often adolescent theatrics" and without a clear notion of his succession; Lebanon, where farmers in the Bekaa valley rue the end of the civil war in 1990, which eliminated their lucrative business growing hashish and opium; Kuwait, where the author interviewed a sex therapist (" �A veiled woman writing about sex. Can you imagine? They love it, sweetie,' she told me, laughing"); Saudi Arabia, where fatwas, or religious edicts, are issued daily on social and political matters; and Syria, where he spoke with Mohamed Shahrour, an outspoken critic of the narrow, violence-centered interpretation of the Koran. Everywhere the author encounters the repressive tentacles of the secret police agencies, or mukhabarat, especially in Saudi Arabia, with its Wahhabi clerics, and Morocco, ruled by the whims of the king. Having to navigate among oil wealth, repression and the simmering resentment of a struggling populace continues to plague the Arab states, stifling what MacFarquharbelieves-and convincingly argues-they urgently need: new ideas, technology and innovation. A humane, well-reasoned investigation of the Arab countries of the Middle East and the tremendous vitality of their inhabitants. Agent: David Halpern/The Robbins Office

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586486358
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
04/28/2009
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

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