Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East


The Western powers--Britain, France and the USA--discovered the imperatives for intervention that have plunged the region into crisis ever since. It was then, too, that most of the region's modern-day states were created and their regimes forged; and then that their management by the West earned abiding resentment. Sowing the Wind tells of how and why this happened. The subject is painful and essentially sombre, but John Keay illuminates it with lucid analysis and anecdotes. This is that rarest of works, a ...
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The Western powers--Britain, France and the USA--discovered the imperatives for intervention that have plunged the region into crisis ever since. It was then, too, that most of the region's modern-day states were created and their regimes forged; and then that their management by the West earned abiding resentment. Sowing the Wind tells of how and why this happened. The subject is painful and essentially sombre, but John Keay illuminates it with lucid analysis and anecdotes. This is that rarest of works, a history with humour, an epic with attitude, a dirge that delights. Here are unearthed a host of unregarded precedents, from the Gulf's first gusher to the first aerial assault on Baghdad, the first of Syria's innumerable coups, and the first terrorist outrages and suicide bombers. Little known figures--junior officers, contractors, explorers, spies--contest the orthodoxies of Arabist giants like T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, Glubb Pasha and Loy Henders Four Roosevelts juggle with the fate of nations. Authors as alien as E.M. Forster and Arthur Koestler add their testimony. And in Antonius and Weizmann, the Mufti and Begin, Arab is inexorably juxtaposed with Jew. Pertinent, scholarly and irreverent, Sowing the Wind provides an ambitious insight into the making of the world's most fraught arena.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
In Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East, John Keay, as his subtitle promises, wants to answer the big question, about why the Middle East has produced so much conflict—and been at the receiving end of so much. His scope is impressive: he ranges from the dying Ottoman Empire before the First World War to the emergence of a new Egypt under Gamel Abdel Nasser after the Second. And he brings in wonderful characters— Lawrence of Arabia, of course, but also figures like the civil engineer who became the biggest contractor in Iraq and married one of two identical twin sisters, though no one ever knew which. Keay, the author of several books on the British Empire, tells a good story.—Margaret MacMillan
Publishers Weekly
This thorough and dense history of the Middle East from the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire through the Suez Crisis (roughly 1900-1960) is written with an eye toward the topical and with confidence that "narrative crammed with dramatic events and eloquent personae would surely contain its own commentary." The commentary of any narrative is determined by its content-by the sources and facts deemed worthy of inclusion. Keay's emphasis on the life stories and personality quirks of individuals impacting history recalls his bestselling The Great Arc as well as Peter Hopkirk's classic The Great Game. His choice of protagonists also follows the pattern of these books: usually Western (most often British) travelers, diplomats and entrepreneurs, from T.E. Lawrence to Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA's Middle East head who played a large role in overthrowing the shah of Iran in 1953. As the title implies, Keay blames these foreign trouble-makers and profit-seekers for "sowing... the seeds of conflict" in the region. This critique of the short-sighted colonial and mercantile policies of England, France and the U.S. is not a new one, but it is replete with fresh detail and thorough strategic analysis. It should be welcomed as an approachable and engaging introduction to a big and complex subject, but not mistaken for an expert's distillation. Keay freely admits his own naivet , claiming to be a reader and a traveler, not a scholar. Thus, as can be expected, the chapters sometimes read like they've come right off the assembly line-packaged by a popular pen's formulaic recipe. 16 pages of b&w photos, maps. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sturdy look at the events that shaped the modern Middle East—mostly for the worse. Best known for his popular-historical work on South Asia (India: A History, 2000, etc.), Keay admits to not having much specialized knowledge of the Middle East: "I speak neither Arabic nor Hebrew. I am neither Jewish nor Muslim. I first came to the subject cold and unconfident." As a longtime student of British adventurism in Asia, however, Keay does bring much knowledge of empire-building to the game—a requisite in examining the modern history of the Middle East, many of whose nations were made and sometimes undone in the imperial struggle between Great Britain, France, and to a lesser extent Germany and, later in the 20th century, the US. Consider the case of Jordan: "a child of political expediency," Keay writes, "it had neither an economic nor a geographical rationale," but its creation by British political engineers at least kept its new king from contesting the better prizes of Jerusalem, Damascus, and, of course, Baghdad. The British and French administrators who vied over the remains of the Ottoman Empire and farther-flung parts were not necessarily bad men, by Keay’s account, but they served masters whose great wish was to thwart one another, not deliver a lasting political order to the region, and maybe make a few pounds in the bargain; thus a legacy of minor dictators and ineffectual pashas content themselves to serve foreign masters. When the US entered the game following WWII, Keay writes, it did so with a crew of "global fixers, corporate and financial executives, and the assorted operatives, agents, and spies who constituted the intelligence community," and whose machinations ledto such developments as the creation of a Soviet-friendly Egyptian regime and coups in Iran and Iraq, to say nothing of ever-increasing hostility toward the favorite US client state: Israel. Would things have been different had the region been left alone? Perhaps, Keay suggests. As it is, the seeds of the current Middle Eastern mess are many—and many of them transplanted from far away. Agent: Bruce Hunter/David Higham Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393335088
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/18/2008
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note and Acknowledgements
Introduction 1
Pt. 1 1900-1918 9
1 Straws in the Wind 11
2 Getting up Steam 31
3 Something Connected with a Camel 52
4 A Tale of Two Cities 72
Pt. 2 1918-1936 97
5 Cairo Rose 99
6 Uncharted Territory 120
7 Three Wee Kings of Orient Are 141
8 Stifling Syria 167
9 Stranger than History 192
Pt. 3 1936-1945 227
10 The Arab Reawakening 229
11 Sideshows of War 263
12 Taking Sides 294
Pt. 4 1945-1960 325
13 Cold War, Hot Tempers 327
14 Palestine Partitioned 350
15 Coup and Countercoup 389
16 Game Up 419
Epilogue 451
Notes 475
Bibliography 485
Index 491
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2004

    Fine account of imperialist abuse of the Middle East

    This book charts the malign effects of British, French and later US imperial interference in the Middle East, from 1900 to 1960. But in common with many recent historians, the author takes far too rosy a view of the Empire, an approach not unrelated to his consistent anti-Soviet bias. Keay vividly depicts how the British, French and US states interfered in Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Iran and Lebanon for oil, military bases and power, always claiming the purest and most democratic of motives. But their autocratic and imperial rule betrayed those countries¿ aspirations for democracy and sovereignty. For example, successive British governments tried to rule Iraq after World War One through a series of constitutional fictions uncannily similar to the US state¿s efforts today. In 1919, Arnold Wilson, Britain¿s Acting Civil Commissioner, set up municipal councils and (purely advisory) divisional councils. The British state preferred a Sunni oligarchy to a Shia democracy, so Wilson prevented any elections, claiming that the `premature¿ election of an Iraqi government with real power would be `the antithesis of democratic Government¿. The Iraqis objected to these anti-democratic and anti-national shenanigans and in 1920 rose in revolt: British forces killed 10,000 of them. In 1921, Britain¿s new High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, appointed a Council of Ministers and told them to ask ex-king Faysal of Syria to become Iraq¿s king. Cox then arranged a plebiscite asking the `better sort¿ of Iraqis to endorse his choice, and removed the other candidates. Under British supervision, Faysal won 96% of the votes. The British state brought not democracy, but death and destruction to Iraq. Why was it really there? The answer, in a word, was oil. Yet the Minister for War and the Colonies, Winston Churchill, told the House of Commons in December 1920, ¿The idea that HMG would have gone through all the difficulties they have gone through, faced all the expenses and burdened themselves with all the military risks and exactions in order to secure some advantage in regard to some oilfields ¿ is ¿ too absurd for acceptance.¿ It is perhaps less absurd than the notion that they would have gone to all that trouble if Iraq had no oil. In 1924, the Admiralty informed Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, ¿from a strategical point of view, the essential point is that Great Britain should control the territories on which the oilfields are situated.¿ Five weeks later, Curzon lied to The Times, ¿Oil had not the remotest connexion with my attitude, or with that of His Majesty¿s Government, over Mosul.¿ The British state¿s abuse of Iraq was typical of the way the British, French and US states mistreated the peoples of the Middle East. These states continually sought to justify their interference by blaming the peoples for the region¿s troubles. However, as Albert Einstein told an Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry on Palestine, ¿It was the British presence that perpetuated the troubles, not, as received opinion had it, the troubles that perpetuated the need for a British presence.¿ This book helps us to understand why capitalist ruling classes continually resort to empire, and why some people in the Middle East resort to terrorism, but to understand both is to condone neither. Last century¿s imperialist interventions in the Middle East created lasting bitterness. Reruns of aggression and occupation today only worsen life for all the Middle East¿s peoples, adding to the bitterness and increasing the dangers of terrorism.

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