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Malise Ruthven discusses the Beirut massacre

Malise Ruthven, 4 November 1982

... In discussing the cruelty of the Inquisition, the great historian of rationalism, Lecky, noted the intimate connection between the Medieval Church’s constant contemplation of martyrdom and the willingness to inflict it upon others. The monks and friars who excelled in the persecution of heretics, he suggested, had been brutalised by constant exposure to agonising pictures which they associated with the truth of the Christian faith ...

Golden Horn

Malise Ruthven, 1 March 1984

Pierre Loti: Portrait of an Escapist 
by Lesley Blanch.
Collins, 330 pp., £12.50, October 1983, 0 00 211649 9
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... Loti performs so beautifully as to kick up a fine golden dust over the question of what he contains or what he doesn’t ... To be so rare that you can be common, so good that you can be bad without loss of caste ... The whole second-rate element in Loti becomes an absolute stain, if we think much about it. But practically (and this is his first-rate triumph) we don’t think much about it ...

Infidels

Malise Ruthven, 2 June 1983

The Helen Smith Story 
by Paul Foot and Ron Smith.
Fontana, 418 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 636536 1
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... Lawrence was attracted to Arabia by what he called ‘the Arab gospel of bareness’, as well as by his desire to play the Middle East version of the Great Game. The present generation of adventurers are simply there for the money. The doctors and nurses, teachers and businessmen, truck-drivers and skilled workers who flock to ‘Saudi’ in search of markets or higher incomes would be the last people to dress up in Arab costume or to subject themselves to the austere rules of the desert ...

Our Deputy Sheriffs in the Middle East

Malise Ruthven, 16 October 1997

A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite 
by Said Aburish.
Gollancz, 414 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 575 06275 4
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... Last month saw the massacre of two hundred innocents in the Algiers suburb of Bentalha, but British newspaper headlines were taken up with more exotic matters: the sentences facing two British nurses apparently convicted of murdering a third at a hospital complex in Saudi Arabia. Executions and floggings are routine in the wealthy desert kingdom: a version, Aziz al-Azmeh suggests in one of the best essays yet written on Saudi Arabia, of the ‘bread and circuses’ principle favoured by the Romans ...

Fundamentalisms

Malise Ruthven, 1 July 1982

Two Minutes over Baghdad 
by Amos Perlmutter, Michael Handel and Uri Bar-Joseph.
Corgi, 192 pp., £1.75, April 1982, 0 552 11939 3
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Inside the Middle East 
by Dilip Hiro.
Routledge, 471 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 7100 9030 7
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America Held Hostage: The Secret Negotiations 
by Pierre Salinger.
Deutsch, 349 pp., £10.95, May 1982, 0 233 97456 3
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... No one contemplating the events of the past few weeks can doubt that the complex and intractable conflicts of the Middle East pose a far greater threat to world peace than the ugly fight in the South Atlantic ever did. Despite the windy rhetoric about principles, the Falklands conflict has been a comparatively simple one about sovereignty over disputed territory, involving national prestige – and therefore the political survival of two governments (or rather juntas, one has been tempted to add, as the Westminster variety increasingly resembled its Argentine counterpart in shrillness and implacability ...

Starting over

Malise Ruthven, 9 July 1987

Cities on a Hill 
by Frances FitzGerald.
Picador, 414 pp., £4.50, March 1987, 0 330 29845 3
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... The title of Frances FitzGerald’s new book comes from the sermon John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, delivered on board the Arabella shortly before landing in the New World in 1630. Fully conscious of the exemplary character of their enterprise, he urged his companions to walk humbly in the ways of God by remaining true to the Puritan tenets of a faith they could no longer practise in England ...

The Shrinking Sphere

Malise Ruthven, 6 July 1995

Islamic Britain: Religion, Politics and Identity among British Muslims 
by Philip Lewis.
Tauris, 255 pp., £9.99, October 1994, 1 85043 861 7
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TheFailure of Political Islam 
by Olivier Roy, translated by Carol Volk.
Tauris, 238 pp., £14.95, October 1994, 1 85043 880 3
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... Are the Muslims of Bradford, ‘Britain’s Islamabad’, incurably militant? There have been troubles in other cities with Asian Muslim populations, but the Muslims of Bradford have shown a consistent pattern of refusing to ‘take insults lying down’. They first demonstrated their militancy during the Honeyford affair in 1984-5, when the headteacher of the Drummond Middle School, 90 per cent of whose pupils came from Muslim families, was forced into early retirement after publishing anti-Pakistani remarks in the Salisbury Review ...

Politics and the Prophet

Malise Ruthven, 1 August 1996

Lords of the Lebanese Marches: Violence and Narrative in an Arab Society 
by Michael Gilsenan.
Tauris, 377 pp., £14.95, February 1996, 1 85043 099 3
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World 
edited by John L. Esposito.
Oxford, 480 pp., £295, June 1995, 0 19 506613 8
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Unfolding Islam 
by P.J. Stewart.
Garnet, 268 pp., £25, February 1995, 9780863721946
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Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East 
by Fred Halliday.
Tauris, 256 pp., £35, January 1996, 1 86064 004 4
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... For too long Islamic studies have existed in an academic ghetto which reinforced the essentialist view shared by the Islamologues, that Islam was somehow ‘different’ from the West. A more fruitful approach is taken by Michael Gilsenan in Lords of the Lebanese Marches, based on field work he conducted in a Sunni Muslim rural area of North Lebanon during the early Seventies, before the recent civil war ...

Was Weber wrong?

Malise Ruthven, 18 August 1994

The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World 
by Gilles Kepel.
Polity, 200 pp., £39.50, December 1993, 0 7456 0999 6
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Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran 
by Martin Riesebrodt.
California, 272 pp., £30, September 1993, 0 520 07463 7
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... In the Sixties it was widely assumed that politics were becoming divided from religion and that as societies became more industrialised religious belief and practice would be restricted to private thoughts and actions. The processes of modern industrialism, which Max Weber had seen as being characterised by depersonalised relationships and increasing bureaucratisation, were leading, if not to the final ‘death of God’, at least to the ‘disenchantment of the world ...

Rambo and Revelation

Malise Ruthven, 9 September 1993

Fire and Blood: The True Story of David Koresh and the Waco Siege 
by David Leppard.
Fourth Estate, 182 pp., £5.99, June 1993, 1 85702 166 5
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Preacher of Death: The Shocking Inside Story of David Koresh and the Waco Siege 
by Martin King and Marc Breault.
Signet, 375 pp., £4.99, May 1993, 0 451 18000 3
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... Eighty-six people died in the Waco siege in April, including the ‘prophet’ David Koresh and 17 children fathered by him. David Leppard, a crime reporter with the Sunday Times Insight team who covered the Waco story, describes well and knowledgeably the appalling build-up of weapons in the compound of the Branch Davidians’ ranch and the information and assumptions that led the two law enforcement agencies involved – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the FBI – to make a series of disastrous errors ...

Tower of Skulls

Malise Ruthven: Baghdad, 23 October 2014

Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood 
by Justin Marozzi.
Allen Lane, 458 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 84614 313 7
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... In​ 2006, when Baghdad was mired in sectarian killings and the murder rate was more than a thousand a month, Justin Marozzi spoke to Donny George, the director of the National Museum of Iraq, which had been looted after the invasion of 2003. The museum had lost as many as 15,000 pieces, including the priceless alabaster Warka Vase, thought to be the world’s oldest carved stone ritual vessel ...

More than a Religion

Malise Ruthven: ‘What Is Islam?’, 8 September 2016

What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic 
by Shahab Ahmed.
Princeton, 609 pp., £29.95, November 2015, 978 0 691 16418 2
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... For many years​ now – and especially since 9/11 – there has been much strongly felt disagreement about what Islam is. Is it a religious faith like Christianity, where theological notions such the Incarnation or the Trinity (rejected by Muslims) or the ‘messengership’ of Muhammad (denied by Christians) can be accounted for as variations between different groups of believers? Or does Islam amount – in Ernest Gellner’s phrase – to a ‘blueprint for a social order’, an alternative model to the liberal consensus, which confronts our democracies with a challenge as severe as the totalitarian movements of the 20th century? In the current climate of incoherent foreign policies, bungled interventions and sectarian wars, of humanitarian disasters and disintegrating states, with Islamist atrocities wrecking lives in European as well as West Asian cities – not to mention the ‘collateral damage’ inflicted on innocent villagers by drone strikes – the need for proper answers could hardly be more urgent ...

Arabs

Malise Ruthven, 18 February 1982

Covering Islam 
by Edward Said.
Routledge, 224 pp., £8.95, October 1981, 0 7100 0840 6
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Heart-Beguiling Araby 
by Kathryn Tidrick.
Cambridge, 224 pp., £12.50, July 1981, 0 521 23483 2
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Inside the Iranian Revolution 
by John Stempel.
Indiana, 336 pp., £10.50, December 1981, 0 253 14200 8
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The Return of the Ayatollah 
by Mohamed Heikal.
Deutsch, 218 pp., £9.95, November 1981, 0 233 97404 0
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Sadat 
by David Hirst and Irene Beeson.
Faber, 384 pp., £11.50, December 1981, 0 571 11690 6
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... Edward Said is the first Palestinian to have stormed the East Coast literary establishment. His achievement has partly been the result of what his more paranoid opponents must regard as his uncanny sense of strategy. A Christian-born Arab long resident in the United States, he successfully scaled the ladder of English studies (hardly a quarter where Zionist sentries would be posted) before launching his brilliant attack on the citadel of area studies in Orientalism ...

The Fall of the Shah

Malise Ruthven, 4 July 1985

Shah of Shahs 
by Ryszard Kapuściński, translated by William Brand.
Quartet, 152 pp., £9.95, March 1985, 0 7043 2473 3
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The Pride and the Fall: Iran 1974-1979 
by Anthony Parsons.
Cape, 160 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 224 02196 6
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Iran under the Ayatollahs 
by Dilip Hiro.
Routledge, 416 pp., £20, January 1985, 9780710099242
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Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career 
by William Sullivan.
Norton, 279 pp., £13.95, October 1984, 0 393 01809 1
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Envoy to the Middle World: Adventures in Diplomacy 
by George McGhee.
Harper and Row, 458 pp., £15.95, January 1984, 0 06 039025 5
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The Persians amongst the English 
by Denis Wright.
Tauris, 273 pp., £17.95, February 1985, 1 85043 002 0
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... The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 is the most massive popular upheaval to have occurred in a developing country since the Second World War. Within a period of a few months the Middle East’s most powerful military autocrat and the West’s most trusted ally in the region had been overthrown by an unarmed but disciplined crowd of citizens acting under the instructions of their religious leaders ...

Onward Muslim Soldiers

Malise Ruthven, 1 October 1981

Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 399 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 233 97416 4
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Muslim Society 
by Ernest Gellner.
Cambridge, 267 pp., £18.50, June 1981, 0 521 22160 9
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... Fourteen centuries ago the Prophet Muhammad united the tribes of Arabia under the banner of Islam and reconquered for the One True God the Holy City of Mecca which had long been a centre of pilgrimage. Within a generation his successors – the caliphs – were in control of territory stretching from the Atlantic to the Indus valley. This was not just an astonishing feat of world conquest, comparable to the feats of Alexander and the Caesars: it had religious and social implications as far-reaching as the death of Christ and the Bolshevik Revolution ...

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