Anne Alexander: Unpicking the knots: War and imperialism in the Middle East

Roundup: Talking About History

... Perry Anderson makes clear, in his excellent survey of the Arab-Israeli conflict in New Left Review, that the liberation of Palestine represents one of the last great struggles of the colonial era. The question of Palestine provides a concrete link between the role of the old imperial powers in the Middle East, Britain and France, and the new, in particular the United States. Zionism: False Messiah by Nathan Weinstock outlines the development of the Zionist movement and its relationship to the imperialism of the day. Noam Chomsky's Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians is essential reading for the background to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Graham Usher's Palestine in Crisis is a thorough and accessible introduction to the Oslo peace process and its impact on Palestinian society.

The rise of Islamist movements across the Middle East is often treated as some kind of throwback to the supposed medieval values of Islam. In fact, the Islamist movements of region are a product of societies which have been shaped by imperialism and nationalism. The first modern Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, was founded in 1929 as a response to the impact of British colonialism in Egypt. Richard Mitchell's important study of the Brotherhood The Society of the Muslim Brothers provides a historical perspective on the Islamist movements. Gilles Kepel's Prophet and Pharaoh traces the later development of the Brotherhood and the emergence of the armed Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad during the 1970s. The Prophet and the Proletariat by Chris Harman discusses the rise of Islamist movements across the Middle East from a Marxist perspective, concentrating on the examples of Iran, Algeria, Sudan and Turkey.

Without an understanding of history, the crisis in the Middle East can appear as little more than irrational tribal hatreds writ large. The history of the past century provides the tools with which we can unpick the knots of the current conflict.


Perry Anderson, “Scurrying towards Bethlehem”, New Left Review, July/Aug 2001
Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, Princeton University Press, 1989
Joel Beinin and Zachary Lockman, Workers on the Nile: Nationalism, Communism, Islam and the Egyptian working class 1882 - 1954, Princeton University Press, 1987
Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel and the Palestinians, Pluto, 1999
Chris Harman, “The Prophet and the Proletariat”, International Socialism 64 (Autumn 1994)
Gilles Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim Extremism in Egypt, Al-Saqi Books, 1985
Richard Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, Oxford, 1969
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Islam, Oil and the new Great Game in Central Asia, I.B Tauris, 2001
John Rees, “Imperialism: Globalisation, the State and War”, International Socialism 93, (Winter 2001)
Anthony Sampson, The Seven Sisters, Coronet, 1981
Graham Usher, Palestine in Crisis: the Struggle for Peace and Political Independence After Oslo, Pluto, 1997
Nathan Weinstock, Zionism: False Messiah, Ink Links, 1979

Further reading

V. Lenin, Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism (Peking Press, 1969) is a good place to start.
The Accumulation of Capital, (Monthly Review Press, 1969) by Rosa Luxemburg has a detailed analysis of the debt crisis of the 1880s in Egypt and its role in precipitating imperialist intervention

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