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  Sunday  October 21  2007    09: 52 AM

book recommendation

Napoleon's Egypt:
Invading the Middle East

by Juan Cole

We tend to view world events out of context. 9/11, for example. Our leaders would like us to believe that the hijackers woke up one morning suddenly hating freedom and decided to attack the country with the most of this despicable attribute. But history is not made up of disconnected events. It's a continuum. Here is Gordy's First Law of History: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. (With thanks to the Newton dude.) Kind of like toppling dominos. Which toppled domino caused 9/11?; which toppled domino caused the toppled domino that caused 9/11?; which topppled domino...you get the idea. Here is an early toppled domino. The first European invasion of the Middle East in July, 1798, by Napolean. Yes, we whiteys have been fucking up the Middle East for over 209 years. But who's counting? The western Chrisitian world certainly isn't. But rest assured, the Middle East is. This account is by Juan Cole who has one of the best blogs on events in the Middle East: Informed Comment. From Amazon:

In July 1798, Napoleon landed an expeditionary force at Alexandria in Egypt, the opening move in a scheme to acquire a new colony for France, administer a sharp rebuff to England and export the values of French republicanism to a remade Middle East. Cole, a historian of the Middle East at the University of Michigan, traces the first seven months of Napoleon's adventure in Egypt. Relying extensively on firsthand sources for this account of the invasion's early months, Cole focuses on the ideas and belief systems of the French invaders and the Muslims of Egypt. Cole portrays the French as deeply ignorant of cultural and religious Islam. Claiming an intent to transplant liberty to Egypt, the French rapidly descended to the same barbarism and repression of the Ottomans they sought to replace. Islamic Egypt, divided by class and ethnic rivalries, offered little resistance to the initial French incursion. Over time, however, the Egyptians produced an insurgency that, while it couldn't hope to win pitched battles, did erode French domination and French morale. Perplexingly, Cole ends his account in early February 1799, with Napoleon still in control of Egypt but facing increasingly effective opposition. Napoleon's attack on Syria is only mentioned, not detailed, and his return to Cairo and eventual flight to France are omitted altogether. In a brief epilogue, Cole makes an explicit comparison between Napoleon's adventure in Egypt and the current American occupation of Iraq. Though at times episodic and disorganized, this doesn't detract from the value of Cole's well-researched contribution to Middle Eastern history.

Juan Cole had a very informative blog in support of his book.

Napoleon's Egypt