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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Eugene Rogan

A History of Significant Moments

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How many Britons are aware of the British-Iraq war of May 1941? Not many. Yet such past wars are the producers of today’s reality. People in Iraq remember. If Westerners don’t remember the past they will inevitably fail to understand the present moment.

The urge to remind the reader so as to better contextualise the present is the laudable motive energising Eugene Rogan’s “The Arabs. A History,” which covers the last five hundred years.

The history starts in 1516 with the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluk slave-elite, the regime which in previous centuries had repelled Mongols and Crusaders from the Arab heartlands. The Mamluks weren’t Arabs, but they’d ruled from Arab capitals. Now power moved to Istanbul, which makes the moment a good place to begin. From the 1516 collapse in Cairo until the present day, many key decisions governing Arab life have been made in foreign cities. Rogan calls the process “the cycle of subordination to other people’s rules.”

In the early years, Ottoman rule “in the Arab provinces was marked by great diversity and extensive autonomy.” Sulayman’s perspicacious laws, public building projects and reasonable prosperity followed. But the global centre of gravity was shifting, and the long decline set in.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in book review

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