Book of the Month: Power, Faith and Fantasy

Power, Faith and Fantasy:  America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present 

by Michael B. Oren

I just finished reading this 600 page history of America’s dealings in the Middle East  and can honestly say there was never a dull moment. I saw this in the airport bookstore and later just had to order it on Amazon. I was interested in knowing how America came to be on such bad terms with the Arab countries. I know so little about the the subject.

T.E. Lawrence and camel

From our dealing with the Barbary pirates who seized American ships and enslaved the officers and crew in the 1780s to the United States  shifting stance  toward the establishment of Israel after WWII, Michael Oren is telling us a fantastic story with colorful characters like Mark Twain, T.E. Lawrence , Theodore Roosevelt, journalist Lowell Thomas, poet Khalil Gibran and an American born- girl who became prime minister of Israel (Golda Meir).

the young Golda Meir

I also read about the genocide of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish government in the early twentieth century. It was truly an “ethnic cleansing” of brutal means and scale. Anti-Christian pogroms began in eastern Turkey and the Islamic Turks were determined “not only to exterminate the (Armenian) Christian population but to remove all trace of their religion and  civilization.”

William Shedd who witnessed the execution of 800 villagers in Urmia, mostly old people and young women, said that  the governor, Jevdet Bey, enjoyed nailing horseshoes to his victims feet and other tortures.

I had never read about this and was shocked to read that America made a calculated decision not to intervene to save the Armenians, but elected to keep in the good graces of Turkey so as to protect American lives and to be able to continue their missionary schools and hospitals there.

The author also stresses the fascination American people had with Egypt , and Persia, exotic lands right out of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights! Movies like Rudolph Valentino’s Son of the Sheik  gave us a romantic notion of the nomadic peoples who lived in the Middle East.

“the Sheik” with Rudolph Valentino

Many famous Americans were drawn to visit and often shocked or disappointed in what they found. In particular, they noted how badly women were treated in the Islamic world. Edith Wharton charged that the entire Middle East was predicated on “slavery, polygamy and the segregation of women.”

I felt I had a much better grasp of the mid-Eastern conflicts after I put down this thrilling book. I would highly recommend it to anyone like me who knows little about how things got to be the way they are! I didn’t expect the book to hold my interest to such a degree.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. beckynielsen
    May 03, 2012 @ 00:50:55

    Good recommendation – I’ll look for it.


  2. Trackback: Black Dog of Fate | book-klatsch

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