The blurb on the back of this book augurs well. “In the aftermath of 9/11, America has been haunted by one question: Why do they hate us?” Perhaps, one thinks, some intelligent discussion by a leading US commentator (Pintak is a veteran journalist who has reported on the Middle East for many of the big names of the international English-language media) of why the USA has become such a symbol of oppression for so many. Progression to the next few sentences reveals that such hopes may be premature.
This book - a kind of memoir of the author's stints in Lebanon during the 1980s, clumsily combined with attempts at analysis of the situation there and in the subsequent global context - posits the theory that “the roots of terror” (whatever that is meant to mean) can be identified in Reagan's disastrous management of the Lebanese civil war. Now, whilst I am no fan of Ronald Reagan and would quite like to blame anything and everything wrong in the world on him, I have a nagging suspicion that things are a little more complicated than that. And Pintak's arguments do nothing to convince me otherwise.
Arguments, actually, might be too strong a word. Pintak's tales of his Lebanese years contain some interesting factoids and anecdotes but ultimately it would be more profitable for those wanting an intro to 1980s lebanon to stick with Robert Fisk or, at a pinch, Jonathan Randal.
The extended description of US actions in Lebanon and support for Israeli incursions may provide partial explanations for the mess that is the present-day Middle East, but they hardly form the basis for a theory of why movements from Latin America to South-East Asia or North Africa identify the USA as their prime enemy. There is no discussion of decades of US imperialism, no mention of Vietnam, Chile, Korea, Somalia or Nicaragua. Even the use of suicide bombing as a tactic is seen entirely in a vacuum, as an entirely novel activity, not as one of numerous ways in which human beings have used themselves as weapons and have glorified the “sacrifice” they make in so doing. Pintak's thesis is bizarrely narrow, historical and decontextualised - an ill-thought out addendum to a fairly pedestrian book.