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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable history, 12 Dec 2012
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This review is from: A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East (Paperback)
James Barr's book is a tale the activities of the British and French in the Middle East, from the Picot-Sykes agreement in 1915 to the British withdrawal from Palestine in 1949. But it is not merely a narrative, it contains a measure of analysis as well. Like many people, I knew a few of the highlights, if that's what they can be called, but this book enabled me to put the disparate pieces together.

Although the activities of both the Jewish and Arab peoples are covered, the book is really about the imperial rivalry between Britain and France. The two World Wars of the 20th century have perhaps hidden to many the fact that rivalry and war between the two goes back at least 700 years, and that much of second half of 19th Century was occupied by skirmishes between the empires of the two.

Given this situation, it was hardly surprising that the question of who should dominate the Middle East after the demise of the Ottoman Empire had potential for disrupting the Anglo-French alliance in the middle of the First World War. Even after an agreement between the two imperialist nations had been agreed - a line on the map from the 'e' in Acre, to the 'k' in Kirkup - each sought to undermine the other's position, and each proceeded to treat the people living in the the area they controlled in a way guaranteed to eventually cause rebellion.

Reading this book is a bit like watching a slow motion train wreck. We all know what the outcome was, everyone has their own idea of what should have been done, but Britain and France continued with the same policies that had already dug both of them into a deep hole. At times one almost fears to turn the page to see what the next blunder is.

I recommend this book to any one who wants to understand the history of the problems that currently beset the Middle East. To my mind it's pretty even handed in its approach to the main protagonists. Some of the uttering and beliefs of the leading characters will sound pretty appalling to the modern ear, but you have to remember that imperialism was a respectable and dominant ideology for both sides during the two wars and in the inter-war period.

Recommended.
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