Kim Ghattas has not only drawn the big picture of how those events shaped the region but offers timely and thought-provoking insights into their continuing destructive influence. The weaponisation of sectarianism, women’s rights, the frustrated hopes of the Arab spring, the rise of Al-Qaida and Islamic State are all richly contextualised and illustrated ... Ghattas spent a successful career as a journalist for the BBC. It shows in her wonderfully readable account. Intellectuals, clerics and novelists are highlighted because they represent ideas and suffering in the face of repressive regimes and intolerant ideologies ... Ghattas has an enviable gift for going beyond politics. Arabic dialects, the music of the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum, Beirut restaurants serving caviar during ceasefires and witty anecdotes about Hezbollah all serve as a backdrop ... Whatever happens next in this long-running, oppressive and dangerous Middle Eastern drama, Black Wave will be a vivid, indispensable guide to the story so far.
...[a] sweeping and authoritative history ... Ghattas’s narrative upends this Western misconception. Instead of feuding over theology, Ghattas shows, Saudi Arabia and Iran transformed latent religious divisions into weapons wielded in the pursuit of political power ... Ghattas tells many of these stories through the eyes of myriad individual men and often women who spoke out in one way or another against the post-1979 conservative turn in the region.
The book is packed with accounts of ambition, treachery and cruelty—with a wealth of historical detail down to the hour of the day ... She serves up a wealth of human interest wrapped in ambiance and atmosphere. She paints riveting portraits of the protagonists: the murderous zealots, and the reformers who preached moderation until they were exiled or murdered ... a superbly researched and subtly told story—current history at its best. 'Between despair and hope,' Ms. Ghattas writes, 'I ultimately settled on hope.' This blood-drenched plot deserves it. So, 'Amen' and 'Inshallah.'
Kim Ghattas’s book shows, however, that similarity can be as dangerous as difference. Discussing the involvement of the Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, she notes that his ‘ways were also the ways of the Islamic Republic, hunting down its dissidents everywhere, imprisoning and torturing women, instilling fear in its neighbours’. Ghattas, a Lebanese-born reporter for the BBC and the Financial Times, also presents a series of more admirable individuals, such as the Iranian scientist and revolutionary Mostafa Chamran, who lived in Lebanon for a number of years among a Shi’a community ‘in harmony with their Sunni and Christian neighbours’, until those powerful factions started radicalising sectarian differences for political gain ... In the course of her analysis, Ghattas adds support to themes that appear in Louër’s work: the frequent alliance of Iran and Saudi Arabia; the absurdities of the Wahhabi purists who banned table football because it involves the use of statuettes, and tinted contact lenses because they suggest feminine wiles; and growing polarisation generally – in Pakistan, half the respondents in one poll said that Shi’a aren’t even Muslims ... Ghattas doesn’t blame the intellectuals she cites, but her account has the unintended effect of portraying them as the losers ... Ghattas puts her faith in a younger generation. Two-thirds of the region’s population are under 30; and half of those under 15.
Black Wave is a cri de coeur, an action-packed modern history written with the pace of a detective thriller. It is also a post-Arab-Spring follow-up to the question posed by Bernard Lewis, the British-American historian of Islam, in his landmark 2002 book What Went Wrong? The answers, then as now, offer little encouragement ... It is true that both regimes will one day go the way of all flesh, but after 400 pages of pitiless reporting, in which desolation is piled upon despair, most readers will feel only a profound sense of gloom.
Well-researched and elegantly written, Black Wave...is particularly strong and vivid at the start, where the author describes the Lebanon of the 1970s, a haven for revolutionaries from around the world and from where some of the Iranian guerrillas would emerge who would play a key role in the toppling of the Shah. Ghattas’s book is a colourful account of their lives, interspersed with lines of poetry and the songs of the divas who defined the sound of that era ... The book often gets nuances right ... Another strength is that the book connects different countries and regions that are usually looked at separately, such as Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran but also Pakistan, and shows how 1979 was transformative in all of them ... Black Wave is a sobering testament to all those who have dreamt of a different Middle East, and sometimes paid with their lives for it.
... an ambitious retelling of the past four decades in the greater Middle East ... The choice of these two events is not especially daring. That they happened in the same year and are religiously symmetrical has attracted the attention of many observers before, although Ghattas’s insistence on the pivotal, rather than merely symbolic, importance of these events is more emphatic than most. She connects them to episode after episode in the region’s history, which she revisits at great speed, ranging across borders like a writer trying to collect passport stamps. The most vivid accounts, curiously, are from the seminal twin events themselves — the Grand Mosque seizure and the Iranian revolution — and not from the more recent past ... Most of this history is well-known, and almost every chapter’s historical episode already has multiple books in English written about it. But Ghattas’s contribution, as an aggregator of these accounts (she does original interviews, but most of the narrative comes from secondary sources), is to situate Sunni and Shiite politics as forces that both oppose and learn from each other.
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 ... 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.
...a fascinating and winding but highly readable tale ... Reporting on campaigns such as these, Ghattas ends optimistically. But it is notable that many of the people she praises for their resistance are doing so in exile (Naji now lives in the US). While she is right to point out that this is a complex story, and that extremism ebbs and flows, the black wave taints everything it touches, long after it recedes.
Illuminating account of the origins of sectarian violence and the current political shape of the Muslim world ... The headlines from the Middle East make a little more sense through the lens Ghattas provides. Essential for all who follow world events.