Conventional wisdom, often cited, is that the longstanding conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors is a root cause of today’s terrorism.
****** A View from the Eye of the Storm: Terror and Reason in the Middle East. By Haim Harari; published by Harper Collins, www.harpercollins.com (Web); 240 pages; $24.95.
Countless books have been written about the turmoil in the Middle East, mostly by pundits, social scientists, journalists, and so-called experts in the region. Conventional wisdom, often cited, is that the longstanding conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors is a root cause of today’s terrorism. Many people believe that radical Islam was nurtured by, if not outright born of, the environment of Arab-Israeli hatred. Would those opinions change if we had the perspective of an intelligent person removed from the realm of politics, like a scientist, or even a taxi driver, rather than a pundit?
In 2004, internationally known Israeli physicist Haim Harari was invited to speak to the board of an international corporation. While not intended for publication, his speech soon found its way onto the Internet. It became very popular and was translated into many languages. Harari decided to expand this speech into a book.
Harari comes from the world of hard science, and while he was trained in reasoning skills, he allows that applying pure logic to real life often doesn’t work. He suggests that perhaps the best way to view the world is through the eyes of the “proverbial taxi driver.” As he explains, taxi drivers interact with people from all walks of life, eschew political correctness, and never hesitate to share their opinions, usually with great common sense. Consequently, he sets out to adopt the cab driver viewpoint when scanning the region.
Beginning with a logical historical and geographical overview, the book adopts the reasonable premise that the entire Muslim region is a dysfunctional conflict system made up of tribal and ethnic divisions, artificial political boundaries, and wide disparities in population, wealth, and social development. As Harari puts it, these factors create a breeding ground for radical ideas, irrespective of the existence of Israel. This introduction is well laid out, and the author’s tone is of the “proverbial taxi driver,” getting the book off to a good start and promising a fresh way of thinking about the region.
But Harari quickly loses his scientific approach and dons a more parochial persona. He elaborates on his opinions that the United Nations is basically anti-Semitic and that the international press twists facts to the detriment of Israel. While there may well be elements of truth in those opinions, they begin to sound overly familiar and somewhat overdone.
Ultimately, Harari is often effective at sometimes approaching the issues as a scientist, sometimes as a taxi driver, but the balance tips to strike his fancy. He intelligently counters much of the conventional wisdom about Middle Eastern affairs and frankly evaluates the media’s approach to Arab-Israeli issues. He also compellingly demonstrates how the culture of terror is perpetuated in the socialization and education of young Arabs. Finally, he lays out suggestions for creating peace and stopping terror.
Harari never rants, but his presentation isn’t always balanced. While balance isn’t expected from a cabbie, shouldn’t we expect more from a scientist?
This book requires a careful, critical reading. Interwoven in the facts and common sense is some clear bias. In the final analysis, this book should be considered a good dish for a buffet of regional readings—and a welcome alternative to overly academic books on terror and the Middle East—though one that should be complemented by several other tastes and textures on the table.
Reviewer: Britt Mallow is a security professional and Middle East area specialist with 29 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. Retired after a career as an Army Military Police and Foreign Area Officer, he has served in numerous security and counterterrorism assignments in the United States and overseas. He is currently a principal with defense contractor SRA International in Virginia. He is a member of ASIS International’s Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council.