In This Review

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East
Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East
By Kim Ghattas
Henry Holt, 2020, 400 pp.

A number of pivotal events in the years around 1979 transformed the Middle East: the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist insurgents, and the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat. Ghattas describes how waves of extremism and bigotry flowed out from Iran and Saudi Arabia, reshaping a region that had been generally pluralistic and fundamentally tolerant. After 1979, “the dictatorship of the closed mind” took hold in many societies in the Middle East. Ghattas paints a big picture through a number of small portraits. Many of her protagonists tried to resist the rising tide of extremism, including the late Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose killing at the hands of Saudi operatives Ghattas narrates in the conclusion of the book. She is unsparing in her critique of regional leadership through the decades, from Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in modern Saudi Arabia. Ghattas eschews despair and finds heroes among her own millennial generation, men and women who refuse to buckle under the inherited calamities of an earlier era.