The Reading Room

Yasser Arafat-Behind the Myth

A book review twenty five years late…

yassI have just been reading extracts from the excellent book ‘Behind the Myth, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Revolution’ by Andrew Gowers and Tony Walker. First published in 1990 Gowers and Walker were well placed to write such an insightful and comprehensive book following years of working in the Middle East as journalists for the Financial Times.

Whilst the book was a gratefully received gift I could have course bought a more up to date account of Arafat which would have included his death and the allegations made as a result of it but one must never be too quickly dismissive of ‘out of date’ books. This particular book perfectly captures the mood of that period and whilst many of the facts have already been well documented the difference with this book can be found within the title.

Few political leaders since the Second World War have managed to portray themselves as such a mysterious, cult-like figure as Arafat. For millions of people around the world he was whatever one’s political stance portrayed him as; hero, terrorist, guerrilla leader, peace-maker, war-maker. He divided opinion as dramatically as the did the cause for which he dedicated his life and there can be no doubting the personal sacrifice he made for his belief. Regardless of one’s own political view, Arafat lived a life under constant threat of assassination, he rarely stayed in one place for more than two days and faced continual threats from both sides of the political divide. Throughout his life he gambled with the highest stakes be it an allegiance with Saddam Hussein or his renouncing of terrorism at the UN General Assembly and this book captures quite brilliantly the path to that point whilst tackling the myths and legends of such an enigmatic figure.

Arafat was supremely confident on the world stage and his foreign travels took in the lands of the most controversial leaders of the seventies and eighties from Fidel Castro to George Habash of the PFLP, Saddam Hussein, Egypt’s Nasser and Sadat, leaders of both the Chinese and Soviet Communist parties to Assad, Gadaffi and the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini.

The authors set out the maze of dilemma’s which inevitably faced Arafat’s every consideration and decision and the frustrations he felt as those closest to him rebelled against the path he believed easiest to tread. This is a well balanced and authoritative documentary about a man and a situation few of us will ever barely fathom but within these pages you can find a clarification rather than a justification of Arafat and the man he became.


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