I’ve always loved Leon Uris’ epic Exodus, a novel that is ostensibly about the founding of the State of Israel, but that also manages to blend in the pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust, and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, all of which are necessary preconditions to understanding Zionism; anti-Semitism; and Arab hatred for the West and, especially, for Israel. Uris is not an elegant writer, but he is a compelling story teller, which is why the book works so well.
I’m not the only one who appreciates this book, warts and all. Michael Medved recently reread it, and comments on one of its great strengths when read now, in this modern age:
Most importantly, it remains blessedly free of trendy notions of sensitivity, diversity and moral equivalence. This fifty year-old book, still haunted by ghosts of World War II, makes clear that the dysfunctions and dementia of Arab culture never amounted to a reaction to controversial US policies (like the War in Iraq or support for Israel) since those dysfunctions (so memorably delineated by Uris) clearly pre-dated the nation’s current posture toward the Middle East.
In other words, US foreign policy didn’t cause the pathetic breakdown of Arab societies, but rather those policies did represent a reaction to that long-standing record of breakdown and violence. The novelist noted that “cruelty from brother to brother was common” among the Arabs and commented on the “cunning, treachery, murder feuds and jealousies” in their culture—a situation that can hardly be blamed on George W. Bush since he was only in Middle School when those words were written.
For all his faults, Uris also sounds downright prophetic regarding the power of oil. Early in the book, a British general lectures his subordinate that he should never expect fairness in affairs of state. “Foreign policies of this or any other, country are not based on right and wrong. Right and wrong? It is not for you and me to argue the right or the wrong of this question. The only kingdom that runs on righteousness is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdoms of the earth run on oil. The Arabs have oil.”
If you haven’t yet read Exodus, I highly recommend it. If you’ve read it a long time ago, you might want to join Medved in rereading it. And if you’ve only seen the dreadful movie (although it’s got a great soundtrack), be sure to read the book, since the movie cannot give you a sense of what Uris really wrote.