"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Review

I have a review of Victoria Clark's Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes in The National.    It is a worthwhile read (the book, not my review, though that isn't terrible, you know?). 

1 comment:

  1. Brian, thanks for linking your review - and your own insightful analysis is always welcome!

    I had sent you my own criticisms of Clark's book, which I wanted to offer here as well. In general, while I agree that it's a much-needed introduction to the multi-faceted and highly complex dynamics that make up Yemen, I found it lacking in a number of areas:

    1. Clark grossly underestimates the influence of Yemeni nationalism, instead focusing on tribal, regional, and pietistic identifications and loyalties. While these are often important pulls away from the nation-state, I think the reader walks away without appreciating the genuine compulsion most Yemenis have towards a unified Yemen.

    2. Clark's portrayal of the Saleh regime as a continuation of the Zaydi Imams’ policies vis-à-vis both placating the Northern tribes and dominating the South is simplistic. While some important connections and legacies do exist, she overplays this idea. At times, the reader is given the impression that Saleh is just another “Zaydi Northern tribesman,” which is highly problematic, particularly considering the extent to which his regime has repressed Zaydi activism. I should say, however, that I found her section on the Huthi conflict quite nuanced.

    3. Clark's assessment of the tribes and their role in Yemen’s contemporary problems lacks depth, which you alluded to in your review. At times, it comes across as simplistic and frankly, accusatory rather than objective. It's as if she were only speaking to frustrated city-dwelling southerners who blame the Northern tribes for all of Yemen’s problems. Plenty of blame to go around, yes; but I often found the tone oft-putting.

    Nevertheless, I welcome Clark's intervention, and I certainly believe that her book will spurn some meaningful discussions.