What's really wrong

I’ll be presenting my new book, What’s Really Wrong with the Middle East at the Edinburgh Book Festival next Thursday (10:30am in the Scottish Power Studio Theatre).

I have been asked several times whether the title alludes to Bernard Lewis’s book, What Went Wrong. Well, yes and no. It's not a direct response and Lewis isn't mentioned or cited, but my feelings about the American neocons and their flawed analysis of the Middle East were certainly one of my primary reasons for writing What’s Really Wrong. The book is basically about liberty and equality (or lack of it) in the Arab countries.

I have written a couple of appetisers for Comment Is Free discussing Islamic secularism (a contradiction in terms for some people, but they should get used to it) and the patrimonial style of government that is especially prevalent in the Gulf. A list of the chapter headings gives a more complete picture of the issues covered:

1. Thinking inside the box: education and restrictions on freedom of thought;

2. The gilded cage: family and tribe – and their impact on liberty;

3. States without citizens: autocratic regimes and how they cling to power;

4. The politics of God: Islam and secularism;

5. Vitamin W: wasta and corruption;

6. The urge to control: the stifling of civil society activity;

7. A sea of victims: discrimination and the problems of combating it;

8. Alien tomatoes: globalisation and its political consequences;

9. Escape from history: re-shaping the Arabs’ destiny.

The Edinburgh event is a joint session with historian David Cesarani, author of Major Farran’s Hat. I have been reading his book in preparation for the event. Its framework is the story of Major Roy Farran, a British war hero dispatched to Palestine in 1947 to sort out the Jewish terrorists. Farran abducts a youthful suspect and kills him in the course of interrogation.

Although this happened a long time ago, Cesarani’s book has an extraordinarily contemporary feel, highlighting how efforts to combat terrorism, whether of a Zionist or Islamist variety, have a habit of backfiring.