Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
In 1979 the Middle East was rocked by a series of well-known momentous events: The revolution in Iran, which transformed the country into an Islamic Republic; the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Less well known was the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by a group of Islamic fundamentalists. With 1979 as her starting point, Kim Ghattas tells the story of how the Middle East, and by extension world politics, was riveted by a Black Wave of radical or hyper-conservative Islamic politics and an increasingly ideological conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The story she tells is very well told and weaves together individual narratives and great power politics into a highly engaging story stretching across the broader Middle East, including Pakistan. The book is a depressing read, but a very useful run-through of these highly dramatic events and the structures they created. This might seem odd, but one of my criticisms is that the story is too well told. Everything seems to fit perfectly into a political narrative in which a Black Wave washes over a region despite the heroic individuals who tried to stand up against it. This can be illustrated with a repetition of phrases leaving the reader feeling like each separate context is actually just variations of an inescapable theme. Another problem is that while the author promises not to be nostalgic about the past, the narrative makes it clear that she is. Nostalgia for the age of the Shah is not a pretty thing, even if one thinks that what came afterwards was worse.