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The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 27, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 359 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586486357
  • ASIN: B002UXRZ8U
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,000,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While a glut of recent books on the Middle East have addressed Western perspectives on the region, this excellent book emphasizes questions Arabs ask themselves. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iranian revolution serve as backdrops, but veteran Mideast correspondent MacFarquhar (The Sand Café) focuses primarily on Arab nations and a grab bag of Saudi teachers, Moroccan dissidents broken by their years in prison, individuals searching for political freedom and Muslims struggling to sustain their faith in the face of violence from within and without. MacFarquhar's approach is well-rounded; he includes less palatable facts (those who argue that the word [jihad] contains no implication of violence are glossing over the fact that for some zealots, jihad means only one thing) and facts often overlooked (when most Arabs talk about reform, they usually mean curbing rampant corruption). If America is to overcome Arabs' deep distrust, MacFarquhar suggests, it must abandon policies too often based on expediency and listen, not to its own domestic politics but to the concerns of the people in [Arabs'] own countries. (May)
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From Booklist

Drawing on his many years as a journalist in the Mideast, including work as Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, American MacFarquhar starts with a detailed discussion about fatwa, jihad, Al-Jazeera, and other front-page political topics and then talks to people today in Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Libya, where he spent time as a child. He admits that his interviews focus on dissidents, diplomats, and government officials, while neglecting ordinary citizens. But he speaks Arabic, and the openness and immediacy of his on-site reporting reveals the diversity in country and culture as he explores current Arab attitudes toward the U.S., the oppression of women, the power of the Internet and satellite TV, the stifling control of the secret police, and much more. The professor forbidden to pluck her eyebrows sums it up: “They focus on the trivial . . . so we don’t worry about the big things.” Those big things will grab American readers, from religion’s blocking of science to U.S. expediency in backing the powerful and, always, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. --Hazel Rochman

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Customer Reviews

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It is a thoughtful, insightful, informative book and an easy read.
B. Buchanan
MacFarquhar's book manages to both educate and entertain, and is a must read for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of the Middle East.
After being in the Middle East, I realized how incredibly accurate this book is.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Peter Waldman on May 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Neil MacFarquhar has gone where few Americans have dared to go--to the Arab and Islamic Middle East with an open mind. Maybe it's because he grew up in Libya, the son of an American oil engineer. Maybe it's because, as the New York Times Middle East Correspondent for many years, he's professionally wired for objectivity. Maybe it's because he's just a damn good storyteller, with a keen eye for detail and nuance. Whatever, MacFarquhar has written a witty and incisive survey of life in the contemporary Middle East, with deep dives into the worlds of Kuwaiti sex therapists, Lebanese hashish farmers, survivors of Moroccan political prisons and much more. He doesn't ignore the angry radicalism, the omnipresent secret police, the draconian limits on speech and assembly he finds. In fact he describes despicable acts in grim detail, unsparing in his condemnation. But what makes this book so important is that MacFarquhar manages to uncover a wide subculture of committed reformers from Cairo to Tehran. He leaves readers with a convincing case--foreshadowing Pres. Obama's inauguration speech--that the U.S. must hold out an open hand of support for all those struggling for decency in this all-too-often indecent part of the world.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By C. M. Peterson on August 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am an American and have travelled extensively in the Middle East since 2006. I must say that The Media Relations Department book is the most illuminating treatment of what is happening and not happening in the Middle East that I have ever read. Neil's travels take him from Morocco to Iran. Along the way, he finds the potential change agents in the different countries - those who resist governmental oppression and continue to speak out for needed changes in societies burdened by autocratic regimes. Neil interviews these heroes for human dignity and allows the reader to understand the human dimension of the current dramas in Middle Eastern countries.

Neil's explanations about the 1967 Israeli victory in the Six-Day War as being the start of Muslim fundamentalism's rise throughout the Middle East is very useful for understanding how things moved to where they are now in most Middle Eastern countries. Neil's explanation of how the mukhabarat - the security services - in Middle Eastern countries have taken on unprecedented power in each country for defending the status quo is extremely valuable. Neil provides numerous encounters with these security services. As a result, I now feel that I have gained an awareness for a dimension of life in Middle Eastern countries that I did not have when I was a tourist or occasional sojourner in the Middle East. I now better appreciate what citizens of Middle Eastern countries must think about on an ongoing basis - whether one's actions or words will prompt an "invitation" to come speak with the mukhabarat.

The book moves fast and includes humorous episodes (in the midst of daunting circumstances).
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. E. Balcer on June 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Neil MacFarquhar has done something very rare here: he has given us a fresh view on the Middle East that is at once entertaining, based on long personal experience AND well-researched. That a book with "Hizbollah" in the title can make you laugh is an achievement in itself--but this book will make you reassess your views on what is going on in this key part of the world without making you feel that you are being beaten up or forced to take "sides" in a war that never ends. Rather, your eyes will be opened as to how the world is viewed from the Middle East.

The excellent reviews the book has received will tell you about the wonderful character sketches he draws from across the region. What I can tell you is that this is the book I am buying to give to my friends. After Obama's speech in Cairo, reading this book is a must...and a treat.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dena/Daniel Bugel-Shunra on January 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a good introduction to the Middle East for Westerners who thinks of the Middle East as a monolithic block. However, his observations are largely impressionistic, based on conversations with casual encounters as well as with people sought out for interviews. The result is a condensed travelogue. Conveniently organized by subject, but a travelogue nonetheless, entertaining but non-committal, clearly written by someone with the liberty to fleet in and out of situations, without ever being seriously challenged by one's own preconceived opinions. On the one hand, MacFarquhar has not made the concerns of the people he lives among his own, and maintains an outside view; on the other hand he is not distant enough to write scholarly research. This book is written in the best and worst traditions of orientalism, but with that in mind, it can be an enjoyable read.
(Review by Daniel)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Keija K. Parssinen on September 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In "The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah...," Neil MacFarquhar has written an engaging, funny, and moving account of the present-day Middle East. What most distinguishes this book from others on the subject is Mr. MacFarquhar's ability to take us into the homes of the citizens that often seem to be obscured behind the great bulk of the state, or in the shadow of the extremists. He takes us behind the sometimes-clinical language of news reports and begins to unpack the complex experiences of people around the region with a frank but deeply human tone. The author artfully renders the nature of the citizens' struggle in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, and, quite refreshingly, doesn't rely on the vocabulary of violence that has lately plagued most books on the region. For the lay reader, Mr. MacFarquhar unwinds the tangled threads of Middle Eastern politics. He explains the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood, puzzles over the information he receives in his many meetings with state officials, and travels through the streets of a divided Beirut. He makes visceral the experiences of human rights activists, web-savvy techies who are changing the nature of the political and social conversation in their countries, and poets and writers who use their words to enlighten and serve their fellow citizens and to push back against their oppressive regimes. In the end, the author's greatest accomplishment is revealing to readers the beating human hearts of his subjects. He explodes otherness in an effort to achieve a more real understanding.

I originally checked this book out from the library, but after reading it, I went out and bought it in hardcover as an investment. I know that I will return to it many times, and will lend it to friends eager for a keen-eyed assessment of the Middle East.
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