Abstract- The Arabs by Thomas KiernanIt is almost impossible to listen to international news without hearing at least one item from the Middle East which either involves diplomatic initiatives or war and violence. The unread listener would probably shake his head and blame it all on 911. The older and more learned would probably somewhat despondently reflect on the Arab-Israeli conflict, an understandable response to a well publicized and long standing problem. But only those who have taken the time to study and reflect upon much more ancient history would have a really educated understanding of the problems of the Middle East. One book “The Arabs” by Thomas Kiernan, Abacus 1978, provides the kind of link between past and present which must be necessary reading for the trained diplomat and international strategist. Through the eyes of an American, Thomas Kiernan, the history, culture, religion, politics and economics of the Arab world are laid bare. An ancient mixing and mingling of tribes probably originating in Africa over the centuries finds its home on the shores of the Nile and the Red Sea, migrates unto the Arabian Peninsula reaching as far south as the Indian Ocean and as far north as the Jordan and Euphrates rivers up to the border of Turkey and East to the border of Iran. These people achieve significant human progress and provide the link between the East and the West since the Middle Ages. They also provide the locus for the appearance of the most significant global religions, Christianity and Islam both born of the other ancient religion Judaism. As a result the Middle East becomes the battleground for Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages during The Crusades. Today the effect of The Crusades is still felt in both Western and Middle Eastern societies.Thomas Kiernan’s book is written from the perspective of someone who not only reads about the Middle East but he visits and lives among the Arab people and talks to major leaders in politics, academia, military and economic life. These conversations focus mainly on the Arab Israeli conflict and the future of the Arab world. Kiernan’s approach provides a guide not only to the Arab world but also to the study of any culture in modern times. Among the well known persons interviewed for the book by Kiernan are Anwar Al-Sadat of Egypt, Hafez Al-Assad of Syria, Hussien Ibn Talal of Jordan, the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, Eben Sihoudo of Saudi Arabia and his successor King Faisal. These men have singularly left their marks on the Middle East and the rest of the world, but collectively they display a united optimism that one day Israel would be forced to accept the Arab point of view, and that the Arab world would rise to greatness as long as the Arab Israeli conflict is behind them. Just as importantly is the fact that in the years following the oil boom there grows a determination to have a significant voice in the industrial world.
In plain dollars and cents this is not only achievable but inevitable. The oil rich Arab countries have the capacity to cripple the industrial world, but they realize that they need the continued investment of the west to benefit further from the oil which lies beneath their soils. Thus is played out a high stakes game of diplomacy surrounding the need for oil investment and revenue, the support for the Palestinian cause and Arab nationalism, the geographical containment of Israel, and the spread of Arab economic influence globally.As important as it may be to understand some esoteric notion of an Arab character, it is much more important to recognize that enjoying the “blessing” of oil, in the view of some is worth great sacrifice and in the view of others is indispensable. The support of the first view by the second is probably the basis for much of the conflict we see in the Middle East today. Mix this with a tendency to display high emotionalism and the imperative that one must do that which is honourable, and the result may be lethal. So this story is not only worth reading. It is worth a serious study by those who matter in the world of diplomacy and international politics, because it provides a deep understanding of the historical, cultural, religious and economic roots of the present day Arab societies. Reverence and respect are achieved over time by one’s actions in handling both good fortune and adversity. There is much imperfection portrayed by the Arab leaders interviewed in the book but there is also a basis for admiration, because they stumbled but then they came to understand the power that had fallen into their hands and they used it to great effect. The former colonial powers such as the United Kingdom, France and Italy who reshaped the Middle East and used its leaders of the past for their own purposes along with the Anglo- American Oil investors must today have a growing sense of respect for these people whom they manipulated and oppressed historically but whom have now turned the tables to some extent in the high stakes international political and economic sphere of the oil business.Kiernan’s book should be back on the shelves even though dated, because it causes us to reflect and revere the past, and the people called the Arabs.