Middle East 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Deployers, Travelers, and Concerned Citizens

  • Published

Middle East 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Deployers, Travelers, and Concerned Citizens by Youssef H. Adoul-Enein and Joseph T. Stanik. Naval Institute Press, 2019, 422 pp.   

While Middle East 101 is touted as a beginner’s guide, it actually provides an engaging, comprehensive overview of Middle Eastern political and religious history. Beginning in southern Mesopotamia in 5,000 BC, Youssef H. Aboul-Enein and Joseph T. Stanik recount the formation of Islam, the internal and external conflicts plaguing many areas of the Middle East throughout history, and the subsequent perversion of sharia law by small groups of extremist, militant jihadis. 

Where Middle East 101 proves to be a beginner’s guide is in the sense that no prerequisite knowledge is required to follow the authors’ explanation since background knowledge is provided, and everything is laid out in an organized, chronological fashion. Aboul-Enein is a US Navy commander and Middle Eastern Studies scholar who has authored many books. Stanik is a retired US Naval officer and History teacher who has published work as well. The authors’ credentials shine through in this work, as they are able to take a complex subject and make it reasonably simple to understand. 

The book is mostly expository, and the authors remain unbiased in their description of events. One of the only opinions implicitly posed is that there is a need for Western society—service members especially—to build a deeper understanding of the history which defines the relationships between different Middle Eastern countries, Islamic sects, and how history has shaped the region’s attitudes toward us, as well as how these relationships influence our US foreign policy. History tells us that a lack of information and understanding often leads to prejudice. The authors themselves mention that, “we must not alienate through prejudice or fear-mongering the very population whose help is needed to counter militant Islamist ideology and watch for militant Islamist cells forming in our communities. We are assuredly not at war with Islam. . .” (p. 367). It is indeed unfortunate that the average American war fighter knows so little about people whose lives have become so intermingled with ours, as our actions in that region and attitudes toward Muslims, both at home and abroad, affect them in a profound way. 

While they served the purpose of laying the ground for later chapters, there are some early sections in this book that are a little difficult to keep up with, due to the depth of information. The Middle East is an ancient and diverse region, which understandably makes it difficult to summarize its history without including a high degree of detail. 

Every service member and American citizen could benefit from reading Middle East 101. It would even be appropriate for a condensed version of this work or its themes and overarching message to be a part of various services’ military induction training curriculum because it would provide Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers a lens through which to view the region and gain a deeper understanding of what we fight for. 

Senior Airman Kyle K. Stiff, USAF  

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."