“What happened to us?” This question haunts the Middle East and the Arab world, from Iraq to Syria, Iran to Saudi Arabia. It’s also the question posed by Kim Ghattas at the beginning of her new book, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East.
Ambitious and novelistic in its approach, Black Wave attempts to answer this question through extensive research, vibrant reporting and personal stories. At its core, the book is a survey of the once harmonious relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. As Ghattas examines how a culturally diverse region full of hope could twist itself into an entirely new body of destruction and instability, she explores the events that led to these nations’ opposition of each other, and to their desire for cultural supremacy over an entire region and its people.
Ghattas, an Emmy award-winning journalist who was born and raised in Lebanon, focuses on the three major touchstones in 1979 that led to the current crisis: the overthrow of the shah and the Iranian Revolution; the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca by Saudi militants; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As Ghattas writes, “Nothing has changed the Arab and Muslim world as deeply and fundamentally as the events of 1979.”
Unlike narratives told from a Western point of view, this book doesn’t highlight terrorism or ISIS but instead seamlessly weaves history and personal narrative into a story that explains the gradual suppression of intellectualism and the creep of authoritarianism in the region, while highlighting those who have tried to fight against it, like murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It also shows how the United States’ numerous attempts at intervention have made the situation indelibly worse.
Illuminating, conversational, rich in details and like nothing else you’ve ever read about the Middle East, Black Wave will leave you with a new understanding of this diverse and troubled region.