This book had me captivated until we arrived at the modern period What started as a brilliantly emphatic history of the Arabs from before Islam till our times ended in a poor and biased coverage of the most recent hundred or so years Written from his home in war torn Yemen his cynism over the meddling of modern empires like Britain and France and later of the United States in carving out modern borders can be excused What can t be excused is the lack of balance and historical depth in the later narrative I highly recommend the book for the history of the premodern Arab world but it wont offer new insights in the recent history of the Arabs This is a humane scholarly but highly readable book by one of that diminishing breed the sensitive British Arabist who is as much Arab as British and who manages to be both detached in observation and engaged as a liberal who loves his adopted cultureHe is based in Yemen South Arabian and Yemeni examples and anecdotes pepper the book giving perhaps a slight bias against the Maghreb and Mashri in favour of the complexities of the Arabian heartlands But you can only do so much in 536 pages Order has to be given to a tale of 3000 years Arab origins in the tension between badawah and haradah and the importance of the Arab poetic heritage are to be found in the Arabian Peninsular and are central to understanding what may be to be an Arab The bias is legitimateI say what it may be This book can t be rated The author is rabidly anti Israel As examples the books says that the only place that post holocaustJews could be sent without causing a problem was Antartica p 442 the book cites pre 1948 Jewish terrorism but no Arab terrorism against the Jews eg p 462 the book does not mention the UN resolution about Israel the Israelis acceptance of the UN boundaries or the other nations recognition of Israel the book states that the disaster of 1948 will not be remedied until the Palestinians are returned to their homeland p 463 the book calls Israel the dagger in the map p 461 regarding the 1967 war the book does not refer to the Arabs blockade of international waters mass hysteria for war and troop movements for staging an attack on Israel p 477 the book calls the outcome of the 1973 war a stalemate p 556 the book deplores the conditions in Gaza but does not state that Israel turned over Gaza to the Palestinians who promptly destroyed the infrastructure The book calls Gaza a giant concentration camp p 499 the book repeatedly is enthralled by the Koran s statement that Allah is the one and only God but mentions nothing about the Torah or Ten Commandments eg p 140The author has a right to his opinions The author s choice to omit material facts undermines the credibility of the whole work With little written history but a whole lot of oral tradition its little wonder that Tim has taken writing about the Arabs focusing on their language and cultural traditions which makes this book very uniue The Arabs have pretty much maintained their rich tribal culture of raiding and pillaging through the pre Islamic era to the modern times of ISIS type raids It s a culture which to this day glorifies the Beduin way of life over stable urban life which is completely opposite to most western cultures And urban Arabs will form temporary groups to counter an external enemy and in the absence of an external enemy they will fight against each other making the concept of an Arab unity nonsensical by definition Arabs also have a very rich tradition of hiring mercenaries to fight their wars a practice which to this day is obvious in the economy as well as their armies This prolonged exposure to internecine warfare must have given the Arabs the ability to judge the uality of their enemy That must have been a reason why the Arabs are divided over how to counter Israel today and have resorted back to infighting instead This book deserves to be remembered as a modern day classic of scholarship Tim Mackintosh Smith writes with great lucidity and insight and he has a way with words Throughout the book there are some nice alliterative flourishes For instance describing the Abbasid Caliphate as 200 years of pathos and 300 years of bathos as well some very insightful comments about Islam such as The uran was embalmed in sanctity and shrouded in layers of exegesis Public ritual tended to be important than private spirituality An insight that is elouent profound and absolutely trueTim vividly describes the Arab culture from which Islam gestated Any religion needs to be understood in the context of the time in which it was purveyed Tim made me aware of a scarcely nown fact That in pre Islamic Arabia a man s veracity was indicated by his elouence and this fact was the major marketing force for Islam This is also alluded to in a few places within the Holy uran when the challenge is thrown to the unbelievers And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant Muhammad then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah if you should be truthful The book also reveals that during the time of the Holy Prophet PBUH there were solitary individuals called Hanif s who were monotheists and like the Holy Prophet PBUH secluded themselves in caves for a short periods of time And amongst the Sabatean the Arabs who resided in South Arabia it was a habit to make a pilgrimage to a temple during which no physical relations were permitted similar to the Hajj The Bedouin Arabs were a people who loved raiding and poetry and I did feel that at times the author s reverence for the Arabic language perhaps skewered some of his He belabours a point that it was the classical High Arabic which gave the Arabs a of unity If this were true why was internecine warfare between different tribes so freuent and bloody He also seemed to suggest that a matador crying Ole when confronted with a bull was reminiscent of an Arab footballer exclaiming Allah I think you can justifiably say the author got a little carried away with flights of fancy There were however aspects of his research that I disagreed with I felt that his description of the third Caliph Uthman ibn Affan as a Capable and hands on ruler contradicted the fact that Uthman ibn Affan s nepotism caused widespread unrest culminating in his death I also found his reticence of the rule of Hazrat Ali ibn Talib to be puzzling For an Arabphile he doesn t seem to think that Nahjal al balagha is worth mentioning Even though it is commonly regarded as a book of elouent classical Arabic Tim makes what I feel to be a hugely important point when you consider the trajectory of Islam from its genesis to the present day A failed objective of the mission of the Holy Prophet PBUH That Arabs regard their inship of faith superior to their tribal ones This highlights another point the author makesBlame it as they might on other peoples empires Arabs had never been a happy family not since the division of the spoils of Islam not since the pre Islamic War of al Basus that forty year super suabble over grazing rights They had never really been a family at all except in tribal fictions of shared descent If empires were to blame it was as much as anything for inspiring by reflex the myths and mirages of unattainable union Imperialists certainly divided and ruled but often than not they were driving their wedges into old splitsA lot of my Muslim brethren are burdened by historical grievances But their bitterness towards the colonising superpowers of that time and the current time needs to take into an account an important fact The Imperial English exploited the fissures that were already present within the Arabs The influence of today s Superpowers is due to the complicity of erstwhile Arab rulers who in their greed for power and riches happily co opted overseas allies The history of the Arabs is for a significant part the history of Islam Here the author has some interesting and revelatory things to say I liked his observation regarding the Hadith The Hadith literature needs a cautious approach Collectors of Hadith amassed as many as million which works out about one for every eight minutes of the Holy Prophet PBUH walking life Of the million around 5000 are supposed to be reliable2001 for the proportion of reliable hadith The Arabs loved to memorise lists Every tribe had a poet who could uote lineage for the past five hundred years uite a feat As such I don t think it is unreasonable to say this throws into doubt the legitimacy of Isnads the chains of transmission for Hadith The latter part of the book shows how Pan Arabism that need for Arabs to feel part of a nation was born and died I found this to be a very salient point As a second generation Pakistani I was often told that Pakistan was a renaissance for Islam a homeland for Muslims That to disparage Pakistan is to disparage Islam The reality of Pakistan is about as incompatible as you can get with the reality of Islam And I think the same can be said for the Arab states Nationalism is a British construct the most successful part of their destructive legacy But Tribalism predates nationalism and is the reason why nationalism failed to unite Muslims Why liberated countries such as Ira failed to prosper under the canopy of democracy Because as Tim rightly points out that freedom for an Irai any Arab means freedom to be dominated by someone of your own tribe or failing that protection from someone from a different tribe Not giving people ballot boxes through which they can democratically elect their leader This is the book to read if you want to understand the history of Arab Forget Bernard Lewis s The Arabs In History It pales into insignificance when compared with this very comprehensive and illuminating book In 1992 on a flight from Cairo to Sana a I found myself sitting next to an Englishman "of almost exactly my age who was returning "almost exactly my age who was returning his home in Yemen Smalltalk developed into conversation which developed into an offer of a lift from the airport into the city Once he had blagged his way through immigration he didn t have a visa the lift developed into an offer to stay at his house for the night which led to me using his house as my base for the next six weeks as I explored that magnificent country and got to now its extraordinary people That in turn led on to a friendship which has now lasted nearly 30 yearsDuring that six weeks Tim began work on his first book Yemen Travels in Dictionary Land That won the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year in 1998 bizarrely another friend was also shortlisted for the prize that year and he then went on to write a number of books and appear in a TV travelogue on Ibn Battuta whose 14th century voyages Tim spent a decade retracingGreat though those books were this latest of his is in another league entirely and deserves to become one of the classics of Middle Eastern scholarship This is not bias through friendship I ve given low marks for friends books on this website before Most extraordinary of all he wrote it in the middle of a civil war I have an email from him dated about 18 months before publication in which he talks poignantly of a dinner party he attended. A riveting comprehensive history of the Arab peoples and tribes that explores the role of language as a cultural touchstone This aleidoscopic book covers almost 3000 years of Arab history and shines a light on the footloose Arab peoples and tribes who conuered lands and disseminated their language and culture over vast distances Tra.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith ´ 0 Free readAt our house only two or three years earlier belonging to an unreachable past and throughout the book he makes freuent references to the conflict outside my window The book is very much a history of the Arabs rather than the history of the Arabs It starts in pre historic times and as with all histories that begin in pre history that section of the book is problematic being based on very limited information and necessarily being very speculative That said he deals with this difficult period admirably and whilst it may not be the most gripping section of the book it is far absorbing than most pre historic sections in history books than one of which has caused me to abandon a bookWhat makes the pre historic section particularly interesting is that much of it is an exploration of exactly who the Arabs are This uestion develops into a central theme if not the central theme of the book Are they the settled agrarians of Southern Mesopotamia and Arabia Felix Are they the nomads of the desert region in between Are they the people who embraced Islam in the initial 7th century conuests and who unlike the Turks and Persians still preserve that culture Are they as the modern pan Arabists would have it anyone who speaks Arabic As the book progresses it becomes rooted in recorded history and therefore accessible getting fully into its stride when it reaches the time of Mohammad Even then and as he progresses from Mohammed through the Umayyads and Abbasids he treats the chronology as being less important than the central theme of the book namely the exploration of the very identity of the Arabs Covering that period he focuses therefore not on who conuered which territory and when but on the wider history of how the Arabs took their culture belief and identity to distant regions and saw them adopted by the inhabitants of those regions only for the conuerors themselves to gradually become isolated and disempowered not only in the lands that they had conuered but also in their own home territories This will frustrate someone looking for a conventional history or someone looking for an entry level introduction to the Arabs He spends longer for example covering the tradition of foreign rulers sending an empty palanuin to Mecca for the Hajj than he does on the Suez Crisis the former being a vehicle to explore and highlight bigger themes of identity change and belief than the latter which arguably had a greater impact on Britain and France than it did on the Arab World anyway A basic grounding in the Arab World and the Arabs will therefore help the reader and the better one nows them the one is likely to take from this book His exploration of their ability probably not uniue amongst Arabs but arguably refined by them to levels that no one else has achieved to pretend to ignore incontrovertible evidence in front of their eyes in order to preserve a societal belief system and not rock the boat particularly resonated with me Something I learnt indirectly through the book is that the Arabs love of conspiracy theories with which I have had a lifelong frustration because of the extent to which it impedes self Guide to the Contemporary Harp knowledge and growth seems to be rooted less in blaming outsiders as I have always thought than though no less destructive in supporting and preserving the societal status uo by not blaming their own leadersTim is a big lover and student of language often using the etymology of Arabic words to explore hidden meanings behind them His love of language extends to English with his use of written English being unuestionably scholarly I was grateful to be reading on a Kindle which enabled me to easily look up some of his erudite language something I ve never felt a need to do when conversing with him his spoken English being that of a regular Joe This raises interesting uestions as to whom the book will appeal to As I wrote above the better onenows the Arab World the one will get out of this book but for those actually themselves from the region the very scholarship of the book and I must emphasise that the book is one of lively scholarship and not dry academia is going to be a barrier you need to speak good English arguably better than most native English speakers to really get to grips with this book entirely A mutual Arab friend tells me that Tim s working on a translation of the book "adding that this will undoubtedly mean that it s censored in some "that this will undoubtedly mean that it s censored in some thereby making it a must read and therefore a best seller on the black market which comment is consistent with my previous point about pretending to ignore in order not to rock the boat The modern sections of the book dealing with the 19th century awakening Nasser pan Arabism and the rise of the autocrats and Islamists are by reason of their proximity the most accessible in the book What is remarkable about his coverage of those periods is his understanding and analysis of the significance of very recent and even contemporary events in the wider sociological political and geopolitical development of the region over a period of time that runs into the millennia It is extremely hard to understand the wider significance of events as they are unfolding around you Tim does that convincingly though only time will tell if he has done so accuratelyThis is a book that starts strongly and then just gets stronger and stronger as it becomes and contemporary Very very impressive A must read for those with an interest in the region An excellent and enormous 536 pages plus end matter history of the Arab people whatever that means as Mackintosh Smith shows the definition is far from clear from pre Islamic times right up to the present day He makes an important distinction between Arab and Muslim not all of the former are the latter and vice versa although the global spread of Arabs and Arab ness is due in large part to Islam and the empire won and enjoyed by early caliphs Mostly Mackintosh Smith says Arabs are defined by their use of the Arabic language He s a wonderful guide to it wry witty widely read and Plato and Parmenides: Parmenides' Way of Truth and Plato's Parmenides keenly alive to subtleties of dialect and register One has to make an initial effort with this book but it turns out delightfully readable and obviously seminal Originally posted on my blog Elle Thinks If you like what I write why not buy me a coffee This was overall a pretty good book One of its best aspects is the elouent style and the depth of the author snowledge of the subject matter Unfortunately however his nowledge seems to be biased towards the Middle East proper Arabia Levant Mesopotamia Egypt about which he writes profusely whereas the Maghreb is depicted with only some sketchy less satisfying details Thus many uninformed readers might assume that history unrolled in a or less similar manner in the Maghreb as it did in the Middle East and project the same events mentalities and aspirations on the the western part of the so called Arab world and its population This could not however be further from the truth While the author addressed some historical events such as the Banu Hilal invasion in the 11 13th century he did not explain how they contributed to the slow Arabization process of the Maghreb and how most of the Arabization in fact took place in the 20th century under governments that sought to eradicate any aspect of non Arab culture or language Indeed at the beginning of the 20th century both Morocco and Algeria had a majority Berber aka Amazigh speaking population while literacy in Standard Arabic even after the independence from France was less than 5% Aggressive Arabization policies succeeded in less than 3 generations to bring the number of native speakers of Amazigh from above 60 70% conservative estimates to less than 30%
And yet even modern Moroccan Algerian and Tunisian cultures and dialects bear heavyyet even modern Moroccan Algerian and Tunisian cultures and dialects bear heavy from the old Amazigh culture and languages open for view to those willing to look It seems rather unfair to lump these countries in such a facile manner into an "ARAB WORLD WITHOUT LOOKING AT THEIR INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES THIS "world without looking at their individual differences This something that the author alludes to but does not explicitly mention than once perhaps since it would shake the whole premise of the book a common thread of Arab history woven through the ages or even bring it to naught Indeed this little fact lifts the mystery as to why Arabs never unite or are always united in division because the answer is really simple there is no Arab world there never has been and never will be At least not in a wide geographical sense encompassing the whole region of MENA It would be like trying to sueeze all of Europe into a Latin world and force Europeans to use Latin as the sole official language It would not workWhat is called the Arab civilization was in fact a network of interconnected civilizations that relied heavily on the use of Arabic for religious intellectual and administrative purposes and shared a common religion Islam But beyond that there was little resemblance The Moorish civilization in the territory of modern day Morocco Southern Iberia and West Algeria had its own characteristics such as a uniue architecture traditional clothing cuisine etc that distinguished it from the rest of the so called Arab world I once sat with a Syrian colleague and we started comparing traditional dishes between our countries with the assistance of Google Images We could not find a a single common dish between Morocco and Syria not a single one zero zilch How can this be the same civilization or the same culture when not even the most basic thing what people put on their tables has anything in commonThis was however a nice ride through time to understand the evolution of the Middle East and North Africa and I find the book uite valuable if only to provide good material for criticism What failed the author in the end is the very thing that he only shyly admitted that there is no Arab world that it is in fact multiple intermingled worlds each with their own evolution and history and that attempting to weld them into a single melting pot has most often resulted in disaster A book that tries to draw Arab history into a common thread would by definition have to fail in a similar mannerWe should simply stop this futile exercise and each of our countries should figure out its own solutions for its own problems build its own identity based on its own history and endemic properties perhaps learning from each other but not copy pasting Tim Mackintosh Smith is one of those romantic Englishmen who used to go and settle in far off lands and go native He lives in Yemen apparently still there even during the civil war and has been writing about the region and the Arab people for several decades This book is the culmination of a lifetime of study a comprehensive history of a people and civilization to which he has become attached and about whom he nows than most It is well worth readingHe begins by making it clear that this is a history of the Arabs not a history of Islam The first mention of the word Arab actually occurs in in 853 BC and concerns the employment by the Assyrian state of a transport contractor a certain Gindibu Locust an Arab chieftain who owned vast herds of camels This is about 3000 years ago and the com. Cing this process to the origins of the Arabic language rather than the advent of Islam Tim Mackintosh Smith begins his narrative than a thousand years before Muhammad and focuses on how Arabic both spoken and written has functioned as a vital source of shared cultural identity over the millennia Mackintosh Smith reveals how lingu. ,