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Mirror of the Arab World: a review

This is a review of Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict by Sandra Mackey. W. W. Norton. 2008.

For more, please see Jonathan Mok’s interview with the author.

Why has the curse of assassination and war stuck to fates of Lebanon’s people? Why have the other Arab states recently intervened in the political deadlocks, resulting in the appointment of General Suleiman as the president? Why is Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization, despite enjoying a wide popularity among the poor? Well, if you are interested in Lebanon, Sandra Mackey may very well be a great guide.

Instead of providing a journalistic account such as Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, Sandra Mackey, a veteran journalist, opts to offer a timely collection of facts so that her readers may gain more insight into Lebanon’s affairs.

The book attempts answers to questions such as “Why did the civil war take place?” “Why dp olitical and religious conflicts seem to have no end in Lebanon?”, and “Why have the United States, France, various Arab states, Israel and Iran have all been interested in meddling in the affairs of Lebanon?”

Mackey reveals the bare bones of an international religious conflict, wherein Lebanon’s people seek support from their brothers and sisters abroad, and foreign countries are too happy to “help.”

Who should be blamed? Mackey’s writing on this subject is elusive. But the elusiveness is compelling, because rather than adhere to media stereotypes, Mackey ultimately shows how everyone is responsible for the chaos in the country.

While Mackey doesn’t offer any immediate solutions to the religious strife in Lebanon, she illustrates the essential ingredients of a successful democratic society: a common identity and a secular institution recognized by everyone. The lack of common values, the precedence of religious and family interests over public welfare, the meddling of foreign powers which have been tried to impose their versions of Lebanon on its populace are presently preventing Lebanon from achieving such success.

Mackey’s work may not be comforting, but it is comprehensive, and it’s narrative, to borrow from the title, mirrors the general progress of conflict across the Middle East and beyond.


Jonathan Mok

Jonathan Mok lives in Hong Kong. He reviews music and literature. Some of his chief interests include American and Middle Eastern politics.