The Old Social Classes & The Revolutionary Movement In Iraq
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"Batatu's book is by far the best book written on the social and political history of modern Iraq."--Ahmad Dallal, Stanford University
About the Author
- Publisher : Saqi Books (May 1, 2004)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 1300 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0863565204
- ISBN-13 : 978-0863565205
- Item Weight : 1.12 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.2 x 2 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #608,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The Romans were renowned, evidently, for being arrogant, smug, complacent, ignorant, contemptuous of their enemies (always called `barbarians'), and utterly assured of victory no matter who their opponents were. Indeed, they were often successful, but sometimes they were crushingly defeated because they paid so little attention to the capabilities or characteristics of those arrayed against them. Murphy then fast-forwards to the newly-established Green Zone in Baghdad in the early days of America's conquest of Iraq (near the time of the "Mission Accomplished" speech.) An Arab translator sits in a cubicle studying a textbook. An American general comes in and asks what he's reading. "The bible" answers the Arab. "You don't read the Bible, you're a Muslim," the officer challenges. The man holds up his book: "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" by Hanna Batatu, which he considers absolutely essential to understand Iraq, its people, its conflicts, its likely responses to events going forward. The general reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a tatty paperback of a tourist's guide to Iraq and proclaims "Everything I need to know is in this."
The stunning connection between this American soldier and Quintilius Varus, the officer whose name is attached to one of the worst military fiascos in Roman history (Clades Variana - The Disaster of Varus) put pins and needles in my hands and neck. Because of that debacle, the nature of Europe was given part of its qualities. Our leaders may choose to nurture their ignorance, but I want to read the book the translator had.
The copy I obtained is a paperback 2004 reprint of the original published in the 1970s. It is enormous, dense, packed with facts, statistics, graphs, charts, lists, footnotes, some maps, and needing study with a highlighter rather than a simple read. The more I absorb of Batatu's opus the less fuzzy the lens through which I look at what our president calls our national "frustration." Today is September 11, 2007. General Petraeus speaks to Congress with reassurance that though things are bad in Baghdad they are improving in the edges of the provinces. Last night Batatu's details revealed the enduring strength of the smaller communities held at arms' length from the capital city (nicknamed "the devourer of men".) Batatu's words can take scrutiny, which is more than I can say for the policy papers our government is presently using for reference.
I give the book four stars - the same as Petraeus wears on his uniform.
I have not looked into this book for some time. It is exhaustive and from memory there is a "lack of woods for the trees" element to it. At times one is given too much detail about exactly what class of peasant someone's father was.
Nonetheless, the key point I took away from it is that Iraq is a "country" full of complexity and tension. That is a simple lesson which someone who, for example, might want to invade the country would have done well to heed.
If nothing else, this books teaches us the value of history in unearthing complexity. If we try and paper over that complexity, or ignore it, reducing it to elements of "good" and "bad" things often turn very ugly indeed.