By Chet Yarbrough
Arabs (A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes, and Empires)
By: Tim Mackintosh-Smith
Narrated by: Ralph Lister
Tim Mackintosh-Smith (Author, British historian living in Yemen.)
Tim Mackintosh-Smith attempts to unravel a complicated political, and ethnic history of a society broadly identified as Arab. One begins Mackintosh-Smith’s book with a hope to understand the complex socio-economic ambition of the Middle East. In the end, the author shows there is an unresolvable contradiction that historically guarantees Arab disunity.
To be Arab, Mackintosh-Smith explains it is necessary to understand the intricacies of Arab language because language is what maintains and sustains Arab’ culture. He notes language holds Arabic culture together, but its use reveals an unresolvable contradiction, a desire for unity without human leadership.
The faults of human nature, the drive for money, power, and prestige generate Arab distrust of leaders. Of course, that distrust is evident in every ethnic culture, but Mackintosh-Smith suggests that distrust demands supernatural intervention for any chance of Arab unity.
Supernatural intervention came in the form of Muhammad as the messenger of Allah in the seventh century.
Muhammad ibn Abdullah (570 AD-632 AD, Arab religious, social, and political leader, founder of the Islamic religion.)
Jesus, in contrast to Muhammed, separates religion from politics. The devil allegedly offered earth’s rulership to Jesus, but Jesus refused. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus speaks to his followers, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
One might believe that is true for believers of other faiths, but the difference is that Muhammad ibn Abdullah chose to take Allah’s words as a political as well as religious mandate.
Muhammad did not refuse a political life and chose leadership to create a better world by using the word of Allah, as later revealed in the Koran. Arab experience and distrust of human leadership demands belief in a divinity. As an Arab, Muhammad recognizes the importance of the supernatural in being a leader and chose to take political leadership as an obligation to spread the word and practice of Allah on earth.
The course of Arab history is shown by Mackintosh-Smith to reinforce the importance of divinity in Arab unity. Most great leaders in Arab history led by the sword and the word of Allah, as revealed by interpretation of the Koran. The principle of “great” is not meant to be good or bad but only powerful enough to unite a community of Arabs. These leaders came from disparate backgrounds and nations. The first seven “great” leaders (with exception of Timur and Babur) of the Arabs came from different areas of the Middle East.
1 – Tariq Bin Ziyad (670? – 720) Persia 2 – Harun al-Rashid (763?-809) Iran 3 – Mahmud of Ghazni (971 – 1030) Afghanistan 4 – Saladin (1137/38 – 1193) Egypt 5 – Timur (1336 – 1405) Uzbekistan 6 – Mehmed II (1432 – 1481) Corner of Bulgaria, Turkey & Greece 7– Babur (1483 – 1530) Uzbekistan
Mackintosh-Smith’s history reveals how many Arab countries boundaries were determined after WWII with France and England intent on creating spheres of influence. These boundaries became solidified with the discovery of oil reserves.
The 19 Arab Countries are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Mackintosh-Smith notes the Arabic language, despite its many 21st century dialects, remains the glue that holds the concept of Arab together. However, dialects and geographic boundaries reinforced by oil reserves recreate the tribalist instincts of the past.
With the brief rise and fall of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Mackintosh-Smith suggests there have been no Arab leaders to rally nationalist feeling in the 20th or 21st centuries that could blunt Arab tribalism.
Gamal Abdel Nasser. (1918-1970, overthrows the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, President from 1954 until his death.)
The internecine conflicts between great powers like Shite Iran and predominantly Sunni Arab countries, like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, is missing from Mackintosh-Smith’s book.
Muqtada al Sadr withdrawal from politics even though he is a Shite is an ill omen.
Muqtada al Sadr makes it clear that religion is a motive force in Arab culture, but the history of the Muslim split becomes opaquer. On the other hand, the author’s detailed explanation of Arab tribalism and its resurgence is a valuable contribution to one’s understanding of Middle Eastern history.
There is a minor note of optimism in the future of Arab culture in Tunisia. But, overall, after wading through this long narration, it seems the Middle East is destined to remain a fragmented tribalist culture for centuries to come.