Since I’m hosting the 2013 Middle East Reading Challenge, it would probably be a good idea for me to finally read and review a book about the Middle East. To get things started as far as my contribution to the challenge I decided to select Robin Wright’s Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam, primarily since it’s been sitting unread in my personal library for years. It’s one of the many books like Elie Wiesel’s Souls on Fire that a former mentor of mine bestowed upon me after he retired. Even after thoroughly enjoying her 2008 book Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to Sacred Rage for the simple reason it was published back in 1986. Could a book about the Middle East that was published over 25 years still have relevancy? After finishing Wright’s book early this morning I’m happy to say yes, it does.
Like all books, Sacred Rage is certainly a product of its time. Published in the mid80s, the major concerns of leaders and policy experts at that time happened to be the growing influence of Iran’s revolutionary government and its Shia allies throughout the Middle East, especially in Lebanon. Even many Sunni Arabs, after watching the people of Iran overthrow the American-backed Shah, began to see religion as a powerful new weapon in their fight against the region’s corrupt and oppressive regimes. In the power vacuum caused by the PLO’s evacuation from Lebanon and Israel’s partial withdrawal, an upstart pro-Iranian militia named Hezbollah would begin to take center stage as a result of its suicide bombings and other attacks on Western and Israeli targets. After Egyptian President Sadat’s assassination and a pair of bloody uprisings in Saudi Arabia, concerned individuals asked themselves and the world which Muslim country would end up being the next Iran.
Thanks to the gift of hindsight, one can read this 25-year-old book and see early signs that point to our contemporary situation. It can be seen in the Spanish Foreign Minister concerns over Islamic fundamentalism in North Africa, fearing “if the instability becomes more or less permanent in North Africa, it will not only affect Spanish politics in the area, but all of Europe”; the adoption of suicide bombing by Palestinians as a tactic to be used in the fight against Israeli targets; and the desire among some American policy makers to establish formal diplomatic relations with Iran, much like Nixon and Kissinger pragmatically reached out to Mao’s China in the early 70s. (This notion of American-Iranian realpolitik is popular with a number of current policy experts and the like. Robert Baer, Stephen Kinzer and George Friedman all advocate closer diplomatic relations with Iran, regardless of that nation’s status as a nuclear power.)
While her more recent Dreams and Shadows felt better written and overall seemed to be a much better book, I’m thankful that Sacred Rage showed me when it comes to the Middle East, the past is always with us. (I wonder if William Faulkner had that region of the world in mind when he said the past is never dead. It’s not even past.) Also, by reading Wright’s book I can apply it to a number of reading challenges. Besides the previously mentioned Middle East Reading Challenge, it also counts towards the 2013 Nonfiction Reading Challenge, the 2013 Nerdy Nonfiction Reading Challenge, the 2013 Off the Shelf Reading Challenge, the 2013 Mt.. TBR Reading Challenge, the 2013 Embarrassment of Riches Reading Challenge, the 2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge and my own personal Old Books Reading Challenge. I love it when a book can apply to so many challenges. Even if it is over 25 years old.