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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Appalling and Useless, 27 Aug 2012
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This review is from: The Syrian Rebellion (Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order) (Hardcover)
If ever there was a case for giving a book zero - or even negative - stars, this was it.

This is a badly written, uninteresting account of the background for the uprising in Syria. The book is full of views, analysis and postulates, none of which are backed up by a single statistic, source material or even reference. The book is full of quotes, but none are credited or referenced to a specific author, publication or even page number. The book does contain a series of Source Notes at the back, but it is the subject of a major forensic exercise linking each to a specific passage in the main text.

As a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Fouad Ajami should have known better and he has basically produced a piece, which he has rendered completely and utterly useless for academic or research purposes.

Whether your interest in Syria is academic or lies within current affairs, I can only recommend you give this one a miss and don't waste your money. Fortunately there are far better books that cover recent events in Syria, both from an academic and current affairs perspective.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Non-academic politically-motivated garble, 13 July 2012
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This review is from: The Syrian Rebellion (Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order) (Hardcover)
Although Ajami sets this book up as a serious study of the causes and progress of the Syrian rebellion this is really not much more than a badly researched and uninteresting article. Ajami's style is annoyingly simplistic and anyone with a serious interest in Syria or the Middle East will be struck by the thought that they are reading the observations of a man whose narrative fundamentally lacks depth. The book fails entirely at being anything more than an amateurish synthesis of the narratives of popular media organisations.

Ajami almost ironically gives a list of authors which might be on a reading list in a "Middle East 101" class (Hourani, Seale, Khoury) and says that the works of these authors form some sort of academic foundation for his piece. The lack of footnotes or references makes it difficult to see where exactly the inspiration that these distinguished academics gave him has manifested itself. One suspects Ajami is being a bit more honest when he credits Joshua Landis' blog - Syria Comment - as a source of inspiration, though Landis' thought and writing is far superior to Ajami. But one also suspects that, were Ajami feeling completely honest, he might have had the decency to credit his two main sources of information - Wikipedia and Fox News.

Most bizarrely of all, Ajami, on several occasions, asserts that "Itamar Rabinovich" is "unrivalled among the students of Syrian political history" and is a leading authority on Syria. As a student of Syrian political history myself I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of this distinguished author, so I googled him - he is the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and a fellow member of the Hoover Institution. If the political motivations for the publication of this book weren't clear enough beforehand, the constant praise showered on Mr. Rabinovich should clarify things a little.

Disappointingly, this book is written by a man who is not Syrian (Ajami is Lebanese), has never been to Syria apart from once or twice in his boyhood, over 40 years ago, does not have command of Arabic and, more to the point - is now working for the Hoover Institution. For those that don't know, the Hoover Institution is a far right wing think tank in the U.S. which puts out the most predictable dross about the Middle East in the interests of advancing the U.S. discourse on the subject. There is a good reason why the Hoover Institution needs its own publishing house to publish its "research", and there is a reason why Ajami's book was printed by that publishing house and not one which cared very much about quality of thought or writing.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Syria through a Sectarian Lens, 12 July 2012
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James Denselow "James Denselow" (London UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Syrian Rebellion (Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order) (Hardcover)
Ajami, author of `The Arab Predicament' a bombastic argument about the stalemate of political ideas in the Arab world, has written a timely and passionate account of the bloody events in Syria. The author is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution whose mandate states that "the war of ideas with radical Islamism is inescapably central to this Hoover endeavour" (XII), and the focus on religion and politics certainly underpins the central narrative of "The Syrian Rebellion". Ajami's main argument is that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is a "monstrous state" (p.70) that has manipulated the sectarian makeup of the country to ensure control, a control that would now appear to be fatally challenged. Indeed the current rebellion is described as "an irresistible force has clashed with an immovable object. The regime could not frighten the population, and the people could not dispatch the highly entrenched regime that Assad Senior had built" (p.9).

The work puts today's events into context with an abridged history of the Assad dynasty's rule over Syria. The history focuses on how the Assad family and their Alawi community would sow the seeds for a future sectarian conflict. Ajami describes them as "mountain people" without the "Diaspora that knit them into a bigger world. There was the military and, in time, the Baath Party that brought them out of their solitude" (p.14). The book quotes Martin Kramer who tellingly wrote that "the Alawis, having been denied their own state by the Sunni nationalists, had taken all of Syria instead. Arabism, once a convenient device to reconcile minorities to Sunni rule, was now used to reconcile Sunnis to the rule of minorities" (p.25).

According to the book the story of the Syria rebellion that began in March 2011 is that of a Sunni majority trying to overthrow the Assad-led Alawite government. Ajami explains that "It would simplify things to depict this fight as the determined struggle of the Sunni majority to retrieve its world from minoritarian domination. But that was the truth that finally animated, and shaped, this struggle" (p.174).

Unlike a number of books on the subject, in particular "The Arab Revolution" by Jean-Pierre Filiu and "The Battle for the Arab Spring" by Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren, Ajami largely ignores the underlying causes of the Arab Spring that have manifest across the region. Instead of examining issues of youth unemployment, lack of political freedoms, communications technologies and protest, the central pillar of the book sees the conflict through a sectarian lens. Ajami dismisses the idea that people rose up over "unequal access to economic opportunity and state patronage....on the face of it, this kind of proposition could be given credence. But the resentments were long in the making" (p.137). The author's juxtaposition of the Sunni majority with the minority communities leads to overly simplistic scenarios whereby the minorities, as if homogenous groups, have a choice between the "shield of the secular dictatorship, or the risks and rewards of democratic politics......the Christians has bet on Arab nationalism, but it had failed them as it was Islamized from below" (p.115).

In such a rapidly changing conflict the book has of course already been overtaken by events, as this review has likely been too. Ajami rejects any international stomach for intervention and writes that "no Srebrenica had yet occurred in Syria" before the massacres in June in the towns of Qubair and Houla. Depressingly the author outlines how the development of "tolerance aplenty for massive human suffering" means that bloodshed in Syria may be stomached indefinitely.

Beyond the Hoover Institution's ideology Ajami's personal perspectives make the book feel an extended op-ed rather than a classic work of academia. As Ajami puts it "I did not hide my sympathies in this book. No author is a moral umpire calling strikes, and I did not pretend to be one in this endeavour" (p.215). Ajami was born in Lebanon and is particularly scathing of Syria's numerous interventions in the country, describing Syrian rule over Lebanon a "great, pitiless hoax". He reflects bitterly on the decision to allow a pax-Syriana following the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1991, bemoaning how "the Syrian arsonists had come to be seen as the fire brigade of a volatile Lebanese polity" (p.47). There are no foot or endnotes but rather a limited bibliography at the end and much of the final part of the book is made up of interviews with the Syrian opposition conducted on a brief trip to Turkey that offers little beyond anecdotal snapshots. That said it is a very readable account by an individual whose has spliced a broad knowledge of the subject with a core of emotion.

The options for the near and medium future in Syria appear bleak. Ajami writes of the Alawi Dilemma - that they "were invested in the regime and captured by it" (p.123) and posits the larger debate over the "the unity of this odd nation-state" (p.89). The scale of the challenge for the future of Syria is encapsulated in an activist's quote on Twitter about how a "revolution for a change" has become "a battle for existence".
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Petrodollar propaganda, 1 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Syrian Rebellion (Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order) (Hardcover)
The book is simply al-Qaida/ Aljazeera style propaganda. It presents no facts or evidences. It provides one sided view of the complex situation in Syria. the main argument of this book is that is that the Sunnis are the majority and they are all conservatives thus the whole country should adapt Taliban laws.
The American writer attacks the Syrian government for allowing females and males to study together (see page 196). indicating that a student was "raped by a classmate" oh my god, something like that would never happen in the decent great countries such as Saudi Arabia or Taliban. This is bad and a sin, women should be kept at home or sold as wives when they are 12 years old, right???.
Moreover, the book does not contain any references or data whatsoever to support its unrealistic claims and arguments.
another appalling argument in this book/ propaganda-leaflet is that the writer is doing his best to fragment the Syrian society in a way that suits one side: Al-Qaid. He keeps indicating that the Sunnis are oppressed under the dictatorship of Alasad and the only evidence he presents, more than six times, is that the oil refinery of Baniyas has a majority of Alawis. He fails to mention that this refinery is in an area where Alawis represent a majority. Most importantly he fails time and again to mention that all the prime ministers in the past 40 years were Sunnis, over 90 percent of the ministers are Sunnis, the current minister of defence and the head of the security forces and the head of the interior minister and the information minster are all Sunnis. More than that, the Syrian dictator is married to a Sunni, like all his siblings. By the way unlike the Sheikhs of oil the Syrian dictator has one wife and 3 children. He is a Dr and was educated in London.
The most evil thing in this book is the attempt to glorify known criminal extremists such as Riad Shaqfa (see page 201), shaqfa which was introduced as the Secretary-general of the Muslim brotherhood and an engineer who left his country in 1980 is the man responsible for the massacres that took place in Syria from 1979 to 1980. Most importantly he was Saddam's hit man; he spent 26 years in Iraq under Saddam and carried out many tasks for him. Of course the honest author does not mention that and he fails to indicate why would the Secretary-general of the Muslims brotherhood chooses Iraq's Saddam as refugee after deserting his own country?????
It is heartbreaking to see academics producing such books that indicate loudly and clearly how powerful is the petrodollar and how frail is the intellectual integrity
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