I’ve got a review of Michael Young’s book, The Ghosts of Martyrs Square, up in this weekend’s Review over at The National, so go have a look and come back here to comment. I’m not sure if it comes out in the review, but I actually kind of enjoyed the book, even if I disagree with much of what Young has to say. Here is an excerpt:
Most parachuting Western reporters are intent to leave it at that: an incongruous snapshot of burqa and bikini, booze and bearded cleric. To his credit, Young pushes the idea further; not content in just giving a thumbs-up to Lebanon’s diversity, he explores what he thinks it is that allows for such contrast. For Young, the enemy of liberalism in the Middle East is the state, and given the lay of the land, from hereditary monarchies to ostensible republics headed by (increasingly hereditary) presidents-for-life, it’s hard to argue with the diagnosis. According to him, it is Lebanon’s lack of a strong state – the absence of a centre of gravity – that guarantees its comparative freedoms. On this point, Young leaves us to guess why this is, whether state despotism is a congenital Arab phenomenon as his friend Lee Smith would have it, or a symptom of larger geopolitical ailments.