I recently finished reading Robert Fisk's monumental The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. I cannot recommend it enough. It's 1300 pages of modern history of the most troubled part of our world, written by possibly the only person to have witnessed almost every key moment in the last 30 years in the region first-hand, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the current civil war in Iraq. Fisk shows how all these events are connected and in what ways the western powers are involved. But most importantly, he is always reporting from the viewpoint of the - mostly innocent - victims in all these conflicts.
The feeling one gets from reading this book is one the one hand a great sensation of learning - I can't remember the last time I learned so much new and important things about our world. On the other hand one feels a lot of outrage, not least directed towards the foreign policy of western powers that have done so much to make the situation worse, how much racism, violence, and, well, evil there is to found in the actions of various intelligence and military organisations.
Of course, Fisk does not fall into the trap of claiming that the leaders of the muslim world are innocent victims. Quite to the contrary, every gruesome crime committed by shahs, presidents and kings is treated in detail. But when it comes to the bigger picture - the roots of all the problems, it is hard to avoid the notion that most of the problems in the Middle East originate in the two European "World Wars" and their aftermaths. In a sense, Fisk shows that the WWI never really ended, it just moved to the east, where it is still being fought.
Fisk's job has been to write about war, and this is where his focus is. There is some irony in this. Even if Fisk has a lot to say about the role of bad journalism in these conflicts - in fact he shows that the Western media is a huge part of the problem - he seems to fail to recognize that the kind of journalism he himself represents also is part of the problem. Preferable as it is to have it done well as Fisk does, the kind of journalism that focuses on violent conflict has a huge part in the way we in the west always look at the Middle East.
Of course, one would wish that no one would make to many remarks about the middle east without having read this. But if anyone who reads this knows any major world leader, please, get him or her a copy of it for Christmas.
You can check out some of Fisk's writings at his paper the Independent, this unofficial homepage or at Wikipedia.
1 day ago