Each is highly recommended
For Christmas I received this history of the British SAS during the Second World War. Yesterday I finished reading and highly recommend it. The book is based on first-rate primary source research and is very well-written. For anyone who’s ever lived in Cairo it will at times read like a walk down memory lane.
To be continuously updated
Below are 19 books that I consider essential reading* for understanding the nature of the Jihadism** problem and formulating the toughest and most strategic CT approach (as opposed to only tactical) during the Trump administration.
As a doctor will say, correctly diagnosing the cause of a problem is the key to figuring out how to stop it from happening.
Today President-Elect Trump announced he has chosen Mr. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobile, as top US Diplomat. This kind of innovative new thinking is why so many people are excited about the strategic possibilities of the Trump administration.
Four Points to Consider:
I have a new article out today explaining why I am optimistic about the strategic possibilities for the US-Saudi relationship under President Trump:
Here is the link.
I am reposting this piece that I wrote in November 2015.
As policy makers focus on what to do about the Islamic State over the coming months — you will hear people talking about the role of the Wahhabi version of Islam of Saudi Arabia, and what connection it has to the spread of this new wave of terrorism everyone is talking about.
For decades, there has been a school of thought that blames the Saudis for Al-Qaeda, or Salafism, and now, the Islamic State, as a result of some conscious strategy by the Saudi ruling class to “export” their version of Islam.
How Saudi Arabia Exported the Main Source of Global Terrorism
Central to this idea is that, if the Saudis did not take these actions to export their version of Islam, different things would be happening. Such as:
- Islam as practiced in many Arab countries would be more moderate
- Certain radical mosques in say France, wouldn’t exist
- Fewer Belgians would have traveled to fight in Syria.
- Radical clerics would have less followers on Twitter.
I have always argued — and will argue in this post — that the spread of more conservative Islamic views across the Middle East, and amongst Muslims in the West, both now, and over the course of the last several decades, cannot be blamed on any conscious strategy by people or organizations inside Saudi Arabia.
It is merely a natural reflection of the “demand” for more conservative religious views. People chose more conservative Islam because it is logical to them based on their personal surrounding environment.
I spent last week in the great city of Boston attending two Arabic-related events. One was the Middle East Studies Association annual conference. The second was a forum on Teaching Arabic sponsored by the Qatar Foundation.
I was there as a consultant with International Language Institute, an Arabic school in Cairo. I had studied Arabic there many years ago. Last July I did an interview with the school’s Directors on the situation facing Arabic schools like in the post-2011 era. Since October I’ve been working with ILI to help them increase their presence in the US market.
Like any school in Egypt catering to foreign ASL students, the last 5 years have been very difficult. Enrollment everywhere has tanked. Many a good teacher has lost their livelihood. Several schools been forced to shut their doors. They are working hard to make a comeback. But you can’t avoid:
The elephant in the room – the Security Issue
Anyone familiar with the study of Arabic knows the merits of Egypt. Cairo is by far the best place in the Middle East for learning Arabic.
But the security issues along is preventing a comeback for Egypt as a study abroad destination. A major element of that are formal US government warnings against travel to Egypt.
The main effect of the travel warnings occurs at the institutional level. In other words, the domain of formal arrangements between US universities and institutions in Egypt (such as AUC or ILI).
Before attending Boston I conducted a market research survey and spoke with people at about 30 universities. Nearly all Most were sympathetic to the idea that the travel warnings “hype” up the security issue more than is merited. Most US academics I spoke with are open to the idea of having students from their school return to Cairo. Yet they also pointed out that it’s a mute point, given the legal liability their schools face as long as the USG warnings are in place.
Back to blogging about Arabic – last few days have been a blur because of the election.
In the last few weeks I’ve been looking at written transcripts of spoken Arabic – from Algeria ( see here and here) and Morocco and trying to highlight practical takeaways for Arabic students, to make this whole process less intimidating than people often make it out to be. Here are 14 more takeaways.
Click the titles to hear the accompanying audio
The most informed voices on Saudi politics are quite often those working there over a long-term period, usually in business of some sort.* When there in that capacity, you are part of the system, and Saudis will interact and engage with you, tell you things etc, in a way that won’t happen with journalists or academics there for a 1 or 2 week visit.
For that reason, I place a very high premium on the opinions of expats in Saudi Arabia for work and mid-level/ rising Saudi managers. A Western reader with elite Arabic skills and who has spent several years in Riyadh for business sent me the below comment after reading my August interview with Greg Gause.
I thought it was too insightful not to share with readers and he graciously allows me to post for RWA readers. Highlights by me:
*Which is also why I consider this book, by an academic, who first worked in Saudi for business, one of the very best books I’ve read on Saudi politics to date.