Excellent! Empires of the Sand by Efraim and Inari Karsh should cause massive upheaval in academia. For many years interpretations of the history of the modern Middle East has been driven by Arabists, seeking to demonstrate that European powers carved up the region following the demise of the Ottoman Empire to suit their imperialist ambitions. Not so! In the deeply researched book, the Karshes show that the shape of the modern Middle East was as much down to local players, as to European powers. It blows the myth of an "Arab Nation".
To quote the eminent scholar of Islam and the Middle East, Daniel Pipes:
"In a tour de force that offers a pro-foundly new understanding of a key issue in modern Middle Eastern history, Efraim and Inari Karsh review the relations between Europe and the Ottoman empire in the final century-and-a-half of the latter's existence, and in the process nearly reverse the standard historical interpretation. According to that interpretation, from about the time of the French Revolution until World War I, a dynamic, arrogant, imperial Europe imposed its will on a static, humiliated, supine East. This framework is common to nearly every lead-ing historian, almost regardless of era or political disposition."
Step by evidential step, this book shows how Arabs were actively involved in shaping the course of the region; how the Ottoman's weren't lured into WWI by Germany, but that the Ottoman ruler recklessly risked the future of his empire in the hope of war-time glory; how the Pan-Arab ideal wasn't destroyed by the British, but by the entrenched fractiousness of Arab-Muslim culture (as if anyone needed proof of that); and perhaps the most infamous of Arab grievances against the West, the Sykes-Picot agreement, redrawing the boundaries of the Middle East. Sykes is shown to have prevented (rather than caused) great(er) Arab splintering.
To quote Pipes again:
"On a wide range of other issues, too, this wall-to-wall revisionist account upends the conventional narrative. It establishes that Ottoman (and not Russian) aggressiveness caused the Turks to lose control of the Balkans; that Great Britain found itself ruling Egypt more on account of Ottoman mistakes than out of its own imperial desires; that the Arab Revolt of World War I was inspired less by nationalist sentiments or other "lofty ideals" than by "the glitter of British gold." More broadly, the Karshes also turn around the usual argument for British duplicity in World War I, pinning this charge instead on the Arabs. Arab leaders, they demonstrate, made fraudulent claims about the extent of their own political authority, gave empty promises of military action, and bargained continuously with the Central Powers with an eye to double-crossing the British."
"Arab Middle Easterners have long sought comfort in the notion of their victimization at the hands of the perfidious, conspiratorial West. By coming instead to accept that they themselves largely created their own destiny and made their own history in the 20th century, they might persuade themselves they can do the same in the 21st - only this time by throwing off their habitual sense of grievance, reigning in their autocratic rulers, reforming their moribund economies, and overcoming their radical ideologies."
Here is part of a review of this book by Anthony B. Toth (DPhil, Oxford):
"This is a polemical book whose authors have extended the intemperate and unbalanced rhetoric customarily employed by dogmatic partisans of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the normally sedate and measured arena of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ottoman history."
Of Efraim Karsh, the principal author of 'Empires of the Sand', Yezid Sayigh (Professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London) has written in his review of the book:
"He is simply not what he makes himself out to be, a trained historian (nor political/social scientist)."
In the same review Sayigh encorouges, "robust responses [that] make sure that any self-respecting scholar will be too embarrassed to even try to incorporate the Karsh books in his/her teaching or research because they can't pretend they didn't know how flimsy their foundations are."
Richard Bulliet, Professor of History at the Middle East Institute of Columbia University, in his review of 'Empires of the Sand' describes it as, "a tendentious and unreliable piece of scholarship that should have been vetted more thoroughly by the publisher."