This review of Michael Totten’s new book, “The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War against Israel”, was written by Hadar Sela, and published in The Propagandist.
The current political and social upheaval throughout the Middle East and North Africa has highlighted something that those of us living in the region have known for a long time; just how rare accurate reporting and analysis of events in this area is.
Too much of the commentary produced by foreign correspondents and Middle East ‘experts’ is one-dimensional and it is the result of both the inability of writers to set aside their own cultural straight-jackets which have little or no relevance in this region, together with the commercial pressures to compete for headlines in a digital age in which speed and volume of content trump accuracy and quality reporting.
I often think of this prevalent sort of Middle East journalism in terms of mass-produced, flat-pack chipboard furniture. It’s not meant to last, it all looks pretty much the same, it doesn’t aspire to quality in terms of the materials used, and it comes in a one-size- fits- all form of presentation designed to appeal to the broadest possible consensus.
By contrast, Michael Totten is a master carpenter. His work is a long, slow process using only carefully selected quality materials, often acquired with difficulty. In terms of volume, he comes nowhere near the output of many of his colleagues, but what he does produce will stand the test of time because Totten does not seek to tell his readers (or himself) what they want to know – he informs them of what they need to know.
Over five years of research went into “The Road to Fatima Gate”, which begins with the ‘Beirut Spring’ of 2005 which followed the political murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. The book documents the subsequent seismic shifts in Lebanese politics over the next half-decade and the related events in the broader region, including the 2006 summer war between Hezbollah and Israel.
Not only does Totten manage to unravel for his reader the intricacies of the various factions at work in Lebanon, he succeeds in mapping their changing alliances and connections to the broader regional picture, whilst at the same time deconstructing the often one-dimensional impressions which many Westerners hold of the players at work in the entire Middle East.
Read the rest of the essay, here.