Hussein Ibish

  • The Unwinding

    Americans and Libya go way back. The opening lines of the “Marines’ Hymn” commemorate the First Barbary War (1801–05), one of the young republic’s earliest forays into international military intervention. During the Reagan era, Libya and its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, became synonymous with terrorism for many Americans, after the Libyan-sponsored bombing of a West Berlin nightclub frequented by US soldiers. This mistrust was famously dramatized in Back to the Future, in which the panicked cry “The Libyans!” was intended to be both bloodcurdling and somewhat absurd. And during the last presidential

  • Pushing the Extremes

    The last thing most Americans wanted during Barack Obama’s second term was another war in the Middle East. But now we’re in one, and an inevitable and necessary raft of new books is emerging to explain to the public how and why this came to be. Patrick Cockburn’s The Rise of Islamic State is an important contribution to this topical genre, even though his account is deeply flawed in key respects. It is, at best, half the story, and readers will have to look elsewhere for a more comprehensive and balanced assessment.

    Obama swept into office in 2008 in large measure because he vowed to end the

  • politics January 08, 2015

    The False Piety of the Hebdo Hoodlums

    Fanaticism has an unerring ability to undermine its most cherished values. The fanatic’s fog of irrationality and rage typically renders him (and the most powerful fanatics are reliably hims) not only incapable of successfully pursuing imagined goals, but often only effective in damaging or destroying them. The thugs who broke into the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo yesterday and murdered twelve people in the name of God and religion no doubt imagined that they were “avenging blasphemy.” But in reality, they committed an act of supreme blasphemy. They insulted, traduced,

  • Battle Ground

    As this review was going to press, the latest bout of hostilities between Hamas and other Gaza-based militants and Israel had become even more bloody and destructive than 2009’s brutally named Israeli incursion into Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. An estimated 1,700 people have been killed. Between 70 and 80 percent of them were Palestinian civilians, and at least 200 were children. Israel has so far attacked seven UN schools serving as refugee shelters, provoking harsh condemnation even from the United States. Meanwhile, Hamas has drawn criticism from the global community for using abandoned schools

  • Rites of Spring

    Henri Lefebvre’s notion of “Revolution as Festival,” which the great French political thinker developed in his account of popular uprisings of the twentieth century, continues to inspire today’s global Left and its ideas of “people power.” Cultural theorist Gavin Grindon cannily sees this vernacular spirit of celebration in “the global cycle of social struggles since the 1990s, from Reclaim the Streets to the Seattle World Trade Organization Csarnival Against Capitalism, Euromayday and Climate Camp to Occupy’s Debt Jubilee.” And this same narrative—which at times approached a shared, lived

  • Democracy in Arabia

    If anybody asked me, particularly in a plaintive tone of desperation, for a comprehensive backgrounder on the uprisings that have convulsed much of the Arab world since December 2010, I’d have no hesitation in pointing them to The Battle for the Arab Spring. Lin Noueihed, a Reuters editor, and Alex Warren, a consultancy expert, have joined forces to produce a remarkably far-reaching and exceptionally precise summary of the uprisings generally, but unfortunately, referred to as the “Arab Spring.” Particularly for the uninitiated or those seeking a synoptic but relatively detailed account of what

  • Eastern Promises

    ANTHONY SHADID, the lead Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, died on February 16 at only forty-three, succumbing to an asthma attack as he snuck out of Syria while covering the popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Shadid, who had twice won the Pulitzer Prize, was universally acknowledged as the premier American reporter on the Middle East of his generation. He left behind an extraordinary body of work, culminating in the just-published House of Stone.

    However, House of Stone is not a work of Middle East reportage; it is, rather, a memoir, devoted to Shadid’s deeply

  • Under Western Lies

    With the recent wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East, Western observers have had the chance to face up to an important realization: that the oldest of clichés about Middle Eastern politics, “the Arab street,” is both a pernicious myth and a dynamic reality. For decades, Orientalist stereotypes about Arab culture and attitudes imbued this so-called street—a crude and monolithic metaphor for Arab public opinion and popular political sentiment—with almost uniformly negative connotations, which would then segue into dire warnings about the consequences of its eruption. Now the uprisings in


    American foreign policy in the Middle East has reached one of those moments at which almost everyone agrees that things are going badly but no one can agree what to do about it. Passionate disputes regarding the American approach toward Iran make this lack of consensus abundantly plain. On one extreme, neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz demand war with Iran at once, some even saying it is long overdue. On the other side, a growing chorus, both liberal and conservative, argues that war with Iran is not an option given its high costs and limited benefits; instead, they counsel containment