The edited volume aptly titled Erdoğan’s ‘New’ Turkey endeavours and succeeds in examining thoroughly the multiple dimensions and ramifications of the July 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey. Edited by Nikos Christofis, this volume boasts eleven chapters from twelve contributors ranging from Europe to Turkey, with the many aspects related to the coordination process acting as testament to its importance and symbolism in cross-country and cross-academia collaboration. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the volume’s genesis originates from the 2017 international conference co-organized by the Netherlands Institute in Athens and the editor under the title Turkey in Transition (?): Before and After the Attempted Coup.
Drawing from a thorough research of Azzam’s writings and interviews with his family and friends, Hegghammer chronicles, in 17 chapters, Azzam’s life until his murder in Pakistan in 1989. More importantly, the 700-pages book analyses Azzam’s ideological contribution to jihadism both as an academic, on a theoretical level and as a fighter, on a practical level.
Hegghammer highlights the versatile personality of Abdallah Azzam. The author presents the various identities of Azzam as an academic, writer, Muslim Brother, teacher, ideologist and Palestinian. A part of the book focuses on Azzam’s activism relating to Islam and in other chapters he describes his ideology and how Azzam affected the spiritual part of salafism-jihadism. The book begins with the birth of Azzam in a village of al-Sila-Harithiyya in Palestine. An event that deeply affected his childhood was the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. This historical event had a crucial impact on Azzam’s future perspective. In his early adult life, Azzam focused on his studies on Islamic law and on making a family as per the Islamic law. Then, in the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Azzam went to Jordan and participated in paramilitary operations against Israel. Later on, from 1970, Azzam focused on his academic future and studies. In the late 1970s, he visited several countries, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and the USA. Azzam, like many other Islamists, was at first excited with the Iranian revolution, but its Shia-centric turn made him more skeptical.
Rolf Steininger’s diminutive book is a welcome addition to anglophone literature on Germany’s Middle Eastern involvement. It is addressed more to the layman than the specialized scholar, but that does nothing to detract from its status as a compact summation of the country’s regional role after its 19th century unification. The author states as much in the introduction, where he alludes to the book as an amalgamation and recapitulation of serious recent work on the topic. Summaries are often viewed as rehashings of the commonplace. Yet in their sober, distantiated approach they can also serve as reminders and enlighteners of the neglected. Steininger manages to do just that.
Guy Burton’s book is a highly timely and readable account of the rising powers’ policies vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict. The emergence of regional powers in the post-Cold War global setting has spurred an increasing volume of literature on their Middle Eastern policies. The author situates his work within this trend. His contribution is thus threefold: Burton puts together an assemblage of these states’ policies in one volume, which is a first. He addresses one of the conflict’s literature’s key disadvantages, which is the predominance of the great and super power vantage point. And by detailing both the contributions and shortcomings of the BRICS’ policies, the book serves as an innuendo on the BRICS’ potential to help resolve the world’s most intractable conflict and perhaps other conflicts too.
Régis Le Sommier’s just published book is a highly idiosyncratic contribution to a growing body of books on Syria’s civil war. The author is deputy editor in chief of the elitist weekly Paris Match. Like David W. Lesch’s 2005 book, this one too is largely based on the author’s intimate knowledge of Syria’s President, a number of interviews with him and his entourage, and six trips to Syria in two years. The book is not meant to contribute highly original information on any aspect of the Syrian war. It is rather a knowledgeable insider’s account of a host of events whose wider impact Syria watchers have often missed out on. It’s also an indictment of what has been a woolly French policy vis-à-vis the country. Its originality lies in its angle.
The contours of a different Middle East taking shape under a volatile global order are far from final. Yet recent years have witnessed a growing assertiveness on the part of countries like Russia and China. The interventions of these countries are usually less overt and more non-committal than those of their Western counterparts. But one would be amiss to ignore their symbolism: in what has been a rather unilateral post-Cold War region, new voices are heard and new possibilities are contemplated. It is with regard to China that Reardon-Anderson’s highly interesting edited book offers an almost encyclopaedic debate.
Nikolaos van Dam’s book is the work of a trenchant scholar and diplomat with a clear understanding of Syrian dynamics: the author is a decade-long Syria watcher who laments the country’s multiple plights. His book is an austere distillation of wrong choices, oversights and stubborn obsessions. It’s also a linear history of the Syrian conflict: van Dam shows how once the revolt broke out, war was inevitable. As the Dutch Special Envoy for Syria, van Dam is well-positioned to inquire into the 21st century’s most toxic conflict. His analysis is level-headed and intellectually coherent, quite possibly the best one so far in the form of a single volume.
Dawn Chatty’s book is a remarkable achievement in that it intertwines deep historical knolwedge with the impressions of the ever-curious traveller. The author has spent many years working in and on Syria. The book is not written from the perspective of the political sciencist, but that of the historian and anthropologist. In this sense, the reader should be familiar not only with modern Syrian politics but also with broader historical and geopolitical processes of the last two centuries around the area of ‘Greater Syria’. It is a history of broader human movements within a circle of continuous conflict and displacement. A light unto the nations, Syria has always been welcoming towards strangers.
Dmitri Trenin’s book is a welcome contribution to a thin body of print on Russian politics in the MENA region. Rather than enunciating in detail Putin’s regional policies -by definition an impossible task in 140 small pages- Trenin offers a succinct summation of these policies, their short-term impact and their perceptions by the region’s states. Well-versed in Russia’s geopolitical Weltanschauung, Trenin is aware of the country’s perennial interests in the greater Middle East. Far from a newcomer to the region, Russia has after all had a ‘rich history of involvement’. Yet continuities are often punctured by ruptures: the demise of the Soviet Union and the rejection of its mediating initiatives in the First Gulf War meant that the Middle East ‘almost vanished’ from Russian foreign policy. Moscow’s restoration of ties with Israel in the fall of 1991 and its co-chairing of the Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid the same year looked more like spasmodic attempts at survival of a flittering giant.
Frédéric Pichon’s diminutive book is more of a scathing indictment of what Western nations, France in particular, have done wrong in Syria. It is by no means a history of Syria’s war, which the reader ought to be familiar with before reading. French scholarship on Mediterranean affairs has been in no shortage. By virtue of its former regional status as a great power and an ever-sophisticated academia, France counts many knowledgeable pundits. Yet, an overwhelming preponderance of Anglophone international relations literature and the more introverted nature of the French academia has meant that francophone publications have made less noise.
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