I’m reading The Arabs – A History by Eugene Rogan – lots of positive reviews by the likes of Max Hastings for example as well as Arab speakers. I’m only 90-odd pages in (out of 600ish), but I’m baffled. There are less than 10 pages from 1200 to 1500, and by page 90 we’re already in the post-Ottoman Greece of 1832. There is nothing pre-1200 !
Given the fact that it is hard enough to maintain distinctions between regional tribal origins, nomadic, sea-faring, agrarian and urban, the Arab language(s), the Moslem religion and its factions (and its neighbours and rivals), the imperial ebbs and flows of custody over the Moslem holy places of Medina and Mecca as well as the more strategic imperial resource and trade machinations – I’m simply amazed there is absolutely nothing about the origins of any of these before these dates ? What makes an Albanian an Arab ? It’s almost as if once-an-Ottoman is the definition of Arab – without any explanation.
The book is scholarly, with sources translated from contemporary Arab (and colonial) writers where available, and maybe it’s the availability of written records that limits the book’s time-frame ? Or maybe this is book 2 of a pair ? Either way, I’m missing something. I can’t believe it’s political correctness that excludes (say) the crusades from the story – or can they be irrelevant ?
So far what it does contain gels well with my readings of T E Lawrence, Edward Gibbon and Barbara Tuchman for example, but it seems a pity to skim the history just to get to the “hegemony” of France, UK and USA …. if that’s what we’re doing. Why is Moslem history pre-1200 not Arab ? And that’s not a rhetorical question.
Wikipedia offers (quite carefully IMHO):
Arab people, also known as
Arabs (Arabic: عرب, ʿarab), are a panethnicity
primarily living in the Arab world,
which is located in Western Asia and North Africa.
They are identified as such
on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds,
with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships
playing an important part of Arab identity in
tracing descent of a national from an Arab state.
The earliest documented use of the word “Arab” to refer to a people appears in the Monolith Inscription, an Akkadian language record of the 9th century BC Assyrian Conquest of Syria (Arabs had formed part of a coalition of forces opposed to Assyria).