Anderson believes that beginning with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003— and despite the brief promise offered by the popular revolts of 2010–11—the Arab world started a steady descent into wars over identity, as defined by religion, sect, ethnicity, and tribe. Anderson, a veteran journalist, uses portraits of three Arab men, two Arab women, and a Kurdish man to illustrate this process in personalized terms. He doesn’t quite pull it off, but the stories are compelling and well told, depicting jarring life choices in the face of horrifying circumstances. The resurgent “primordialism” that Anderson identifies is captured by an Iraqi Kurd he meets who wants to raze homes in his village so that their former occupants can never try to reclaim them. Sentiments such as that one have led some observers to conclude that only polities built on primordialism can survive in the region. Anderson doesn’t take a position on that question. One problem with Anderson’s overall argument is that by using the invasion of Iraq as a kickoff, it neglects the 50-year Sudanese civil war, the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq War, and three Arab-Israeli wars, all of which were steeped in the same kind of primordialism that Anderson laments in today’s Middle East.
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