- Hardcover: 640 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (July 1, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0470182571
- ISBN-13: 978-0470182574
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,743,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Prophets and Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present 1st Edition
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Saudi Arabia is a land of contradictions. It is the economic center of the Middle East, yet almost thirty percent of its young men are unemployed. It has a quarter of the world's oil and a booming economy since prices began rising in 2003, yet it often increases its oil production to keep prices down and the global economy stable. It has been a staunch U.S. ally for more than sixty years, yet Americans across the political spectrum distrust the kingdom. One reason for this mistrust is the parade of hostile books and articles about Saudi Arabia that have been published since 9/11, most of them by people who have never visited this bewildering country.
In Prophets and Princes, Mark Weston presents a balanced, informative, and complete history of Saudi Arabia, from the birth of Islam to the discovery of oil, and from the founding of the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance in 1744 to the rapid changes that have taken place since 9/11.
This book offers insights into key people, events, and issues. It covers the lives and writings of Muhammad and his seventh-century successors; ibn Abdul Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism; and Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian whose writing has inspired al-Qaeda. Weston also tells the story of the Sunni-Shi'ite split and how it affects us today, and provides up-to-date information to give a nuanced picture of Saudi Arabia's more recent history. He describes in detail how the Saudi government has stopped Saudi charities from sending money abroad since 9/11, fired 1,300 radical clerics and forbade them to preach, and has nearly finished replacing more than a million textbooks that contained derogatory comments about Christians and Jews. Prophets and Princes also presents a thorough account of the terror-filled spring of 2004, when Westerners were being killed every few days, and of the police raids on terrorist hideouts that brought an end to this violent spree.
Weston covers events that have increased the suspicion that many Americans feel toward Saudi Arabia. He explains how and why twenty-two members of the bin Laden family were ushered safely out of the United States in the days after 9/11 and gives the most comprehensive account to date of the tragic girls' school fire in Mecca in 2002, when religious policemen prevented firefighters from entering the school because the girls were not wearing the full veil. He examines the thorny issue of women's rights in Saudi Arabia and discusses education, satellite television, Saudi attitudes toward Israel, and much more.
It is essential to learn about Saudi Arabia's past in order to understand its present. Weston's lively and important book may change your opinions about Saudi Arabia and will certainly leave you better informed.
Top customer reviews
Previously the two best histories were Lacey's "The Kingdom," and Holden and Johns' "The House of Saud." Each is now three decades out of date, thus missing the period of the Kingdom's dynamic growth. Neither discusses the importance and continued influence of the early Islamic period on Saudi Arabia today. Weston rectifies these deficiencies. He deftly covers the period of Mohammed's life, the first four caliphs, who were known as "the rightly guided ones," (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali), the beginnings of monarchy, with Muawiya and Yazid, the fifth and sixth caliphs, and on to the Sunni - Shiite division which began on the plains of Karbala. As Weston points out, all Saudis know this history; they are the equivalent of Westerner's Bible stories, or for the more secular Americans, Bunker Hill and Valley Forge. Decisions made today have antecedents in the 7th Century, much as other religions adhere to events that occurred thousands of years ago. Weston "telescopes" a thousand years of history onto one page, and then commences with the first and second Saudi states, and the alliance of the House of Saud with an itinerant fundamentalist preacher, Abdul Wahab, known today in the West, generally pejoratively, as the founder of "Wahhabism."
About a fifth of the way into the book, Weston commences the story of Abdul Aziz taking back his family's ancestral home in Riyadh, in 1902. In roughly 150 pages Weston parallels the work of Lacey and Holden & Johns, covering the 20 years in which Abdul Aziz, in his alliance with the Ikhwan (the Brotherhood) warriors, consolidated most of the Arabian Peninsula into one country, which was named after his family. Eventually Abdul Aziz had to turn his guns, or more precisely, some British guns, on his messianic warrior allies, whose rigid theological outlook was incompatible with the exigencies of political rule. This action would be mirrored over 70 years later, when the House of Saud had to turn much more sophisticated weaponry against similar ideological extremists, Al-Qaeda. Much of the significance of the book is that over half is devoted to the post-Lacey, Holden & Johns era, from the early 80's through 2007.
The author astutely handles the political forces and the conflicts, along with the basic overall harmony among the principal individuals in the Saudi leadership, including the delicate questions of succession. Naturally the oil industry, and the impact of fluctuating prices, is likewise covered, along with the remarkable development of the country's infrastructure and the attendant transformation of the Saudis' "small town" and nomadic societies. A key event was the first Gulf War (1990-91), and the consequent backlash against the Saudi leadership's need to have American troops defend the country. This was a significant contributing factor to the rise of forces that supported Osama bin Laden, now that he was "cause-less" after the eviction of Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The book is current and fresh, and has a reasonable analysis of the rule of King Abdullah, since he formally assumed the throne upon the death of King Fahd in 2005, as well as the growing concern about the power, including possibly nuclear, of Iran. Overall, Weston is judicious in his comparisons and analogies, and I particularly thought his comparison of Wahabbism with Calvinism useful. Finally, unlike most other authors on the Kingdom, he actually lived in the country as a scholar at the King Faisal Center, interviewed some of the top leadership, and was able to provide a few personal anecdotes on life in the Kingdom.
I tend to rate books on Saudi Arabia "on the curve" because there are numerous ones that are sheer fantasy and/or ill-informed political "hatchet jobs." I've given two books, "The Bin Ladens," and "Inside the Mirage" a 5-star rating even though each contained at least one egregious error. Despite his seeming good intentions, I had several problems with Weston's book, and particularly since he actually lived there (and therefore should have known better!) I've only given it a 4-star.
Weston called the 1973 Israeli-Arab war the "Yom Kippur" war, which would grate in the Arab world just as much as if an American was touring the battlefield at Gettysburg, and heard the park ranger refer to the conflict as the "War of Northern Aggression," which I'm sure is a term used by a very few "un-reconstructed" Southerners still. The author could easily have explained that the Israelis and some of their supporters use "Yom Kippur", the Arabs, and their supporters use "the Ramadan War," and those seeking to be neutral would use "the October, 1973 Arab-Israeli" war. Likewise, chapter 17 is entitled "the Persian Gulf War" when the Saudis prefer the term "Arabian Gulf," and simply "The Gulf" is preferred (in context). Far worse that the nomenclature of wars is his use of the word "terrorist." It is used as an all-encompassing objective fact, and always means "them," not "us." On page 557, in his Conclusion, he uses the familiar concatenation of Islam and terror: "The United States cannot win the war against Islamic terror alone." Recently an American walked into the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and killed a security guard; another American walked into a church in Kansas and killed a doctor who happened to perform abortions. Both crimes were politically motivated; neither was labeled a "terrorist" act. Many other examples abound. On page 390 Weston discusses the killing of Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, but does not mention the number of civilians killed by the missile shot from an airplane. Indeed, are the deaths of any civilians killed as a result of aerial action every labeled a "terrorist act"? Wisely, President Obama, realizing that "terrorist" is a very loaded word, eschewed its usage in his recent speech in Cairo. Weston also quotes Gerald Posner (!), of all people, concerning dirty bombs - at least Weston says that his claims were met with skepticism by many journalists, and those in the intelligence community. But why quote him at all? The author's most stunning mistake was accepting, apparently unexamined, a portion of the bigotry of expat "Saudi tales" when he said: "On the outskirts of cities, the livestock pens behind the car dealerships disappeared because the Bedouin no longer swapped camels for their first pickup truck." (p 251).
I am also bothered by formulations such as: "...what the Saudis saw as Israel's noncompliance with UN resolutions demanding its withdrawal from the West Bank." (p 392). Isn't it an objective fact that Israel has not complied with UN resolution 242 (and others), and don't most Europeans, Americans, and numerous Israelis concur?
I also had a problem with his use of statistics, given invariably without specifying their derivation, and with no caveats. Implied was an exactitude that simply is impossible. As is known, such a figure as the US unemployment rate is given to different interpretations, and is subject to political manipulation. How much more so the numbers that he cited. In particular I had a problem when he cites polling data. I once looked at the methodology of one of the polling companies. Their poll takers call from a foreign country, and "try" to match genders. Anyone who actually knows a Saudi would consider it hilarious that a Saudi woman, for example, might tell a strange Arab man who calls from a foreign country what her true sentiments were, about, say, Bin Laden or the Royal Family. Indeed, how many Americans would? There IS a reason why all too many Saudis answer the phone not with "marhaba" (hello), but "Min" (who) (as in, who is this?).
The book could benefit from much tighter editing, for example, there are numerous duplications, sometimes in the same chapter, such as being told South Koreans earn $20,000 a year on page 480, and repeating it again on 490. Weston adds to the numerous Western mis-translations of "Tash ma Tash" with "Does it Splash?" Finally, although the author actually lived in the Kingdom, I doubt that he ever spent a night around a desert campfire. His primary adjective for the desert is "harsh." And even, "Compared to the almost lifeless Arabian Desert, the American Southwest is a garden." Well, yes, I do like our trees which elevation gives us, just like they do in the Kingdom, in the Asir, but Weston must never have seen the wildflowers around Hail in March.
Overall though, Mark Weston has written a very important, needed book - a comprehensive, fairly balanced history of Saudi Arabia. He humbly points out that deficiencies exist, and the ideal author would have a much better background. It is unlikely that the person he describes exists, so I hope he will come out with a revised edition that merits the full 5-stars.
(1) The book is so openly propagandistic that sometimes I thought it was commissioned by the Saudi royal family. I'm not saying that it was, but very ofter it reads as if it were. The book tries to paint a picture of a warm and fuzzy Saudi Arabia where everything is great or improving, where every Saudi is a devout Muslim and respects and admires the royal family and so on, exactly the sort of image that the Al-Sauds themselves try to establish internationally. This takes away massively from the book's credibility. Some typical examples (the whole book is like that):
page xiv: 'Today the majority [of Saudis] enjoy a first world infrastructure, modern conveniences and at least high school education.'
page 377: 'Being good Muslims, most Saudi women do not mind wearing the abaya.'
page 551: 'The majority of Saudis are devout Muslims who are content with their monarchy.'
(2) In the last few chapters, the amount of data is overwhelming. Instead of a piece of writing, the book turns into a mere listing of numerical data, for at least a hundred (sic!) pages, in the following fashion:
'Saudi Arabia's negotiations to join the WTO took twelve years and involved 314 rounds of talks with trade representatives from other countries. The Saudis prepared more than 7000 pages of documents to answer more than 3400 trade related questions over the course of these negotiations. Saudi Arabia signed 38 trade arrangements with various countries that covered 7177 separate tariffs on agricultural and manufactured goods and 155 different kinds of services.' (page 488)
(3) In the concluding chapter, surprising as it may sound, the author seems openly proselytizing for Islam. He implies that Jews and Christians should recognize Muhammad as a prophet. He quotes from the Koran, and closes the text with an Islamic phrase 'inshallah' which means 'God willing' in Arabic. I have no problem with Islam or promoting Islam, but here it makes the real aim of this book very ambiguous.
page 558 (this is the voice of the author): 'Jews and Christians revere Obaidah and Haggai as prophets, even though their books at the end of the Old Testament are just twenty-one verses and thirty-eight verses long. Yet many would balk at granting the same honour to Muhammad, although he has nearly doubled the number of people who believe in one God'
As it shows the same AMOUNT of bias, it may be possible that 'Prophets and Princes' was written to counterbalance the flow of books about Saudi Arabia such as 'Princes of Darkness' or 'Hatred's Kingdom'.
In short, to me, this book is far too propagandistic and biased to be given any credit or taken seriously as a whole. Certain parts can be useful for research, though, and hence the two stars.
Most recent customer reviews
PROPHETS AND PRINCES, by Mark Weston, is a throughly researched, fully documented,...Read more