Caught in Crossfire: Civilians in Conflicts in the Middle East by P R Kumaraswamy
Caught in Crossfire: Civilians in Conflicts in the Middle East,by P R Kumaraswamy (ed) (Reading, UK: Ithaca Press: 2008), 239 pages + index; ISBN: 978-0-86372-331-5 & ISBN: 978-0-86372-334-6 (paper)
There is something to be said about the German military officials who resigned in November 2009 upon acknowledging their errors in striking civilians in Afghanistan. Rarely do top level officials assume the moral responsibility of killing civilians. At most, apologies are blanketed inside disclaimers, attempting to explain away "collateral damage." Given this backdrop, the book Caught in Crossfire Civilians in Conflicts in the Middle East is very timely.
Ten scholarly contributors have written informative and compelling chapters, beginning with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and including civilians in Iraq, Kuwait, and Iran. The book opens with P.R. Kumaraswamy's introduction, in which he provides an overview of the nature of conflicts and the victimization of civilians in the Middle East from the age of decolonization to the present. He emphasizes that, "Caught in crossfire, civilians continue to suffer more than men and women in uniform....Their suffering is prolonged agony and often is bequeathed to the next generation" (p. vii). Professor Kumaraswamy articulates the qualitative and quantitative costs of human casualties, and emphasizes the plight of refugees in the region. However, terrorism is the real scourge: "More than wars, it is terrorism that has become a major menace to the Middle East's civilians" (p.xxi).
Other critical issues he discusses include the role of religion in violence and conflicts; use of "human shields"; suicide attacks against Israeli civilians; Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran's Ayatollahs; Shia-Sunni violence; kidnapping and murder of civilians by insurgent groups and militias; and other nuances of "civilian lives during various wars in the Middle East" (p. xxvi), which is the focus of the book.
In their respective chapters, Avraham Sela and Amira Hass examine the 1948 Palestine War and the Al Aqsa Intifada. Sela specifically discusses Jewish and Arab civilians in the 1948 war. Hass provides detailed firsthand accounts of Palestinian individuals and families, beginning in Gaza in March 2001, including the West Bank and refugee camps, and culminating in March 2006.
Meron Medzini and Dalia Gavriely-Nuri focus on Israeli society. Medzini examines the effectiveness of Israeli actions during the 1967 Six Day War, and the impact of the war on Israeli civilians. Nuri takes a hard look at Israeli civilians (families), women and gender roles, children and youth, social institutions, the media, and public morale during the 1973 October /Yom Kippur War.
Samir Khalaf describes the resilience of the Lebanese people during the Civil War. Stuti Bhatnagar delves into public sentiments in post-Islamic Revolution Iran, and the treatment of minorities.
The rest of the chapters focus on wars in the Gulf region. N. Janardhan explores the impact of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on civilians, including the large number of expatriates living and working there. William W. Haddad examines the disastrous impact of the 1990-2003 sanctions on Iraqi civilians. Girijesh Pant reports on Iraqi civilians following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He writes about the violence, displacement, collapse of infrastructure, increasing poverty, women, children, and families, and in general the toll that the war-related factors have taken on the Iraqi psyche. Although there are some references to the Iran-Iraq War, especially in the introduction, there is no chapter devoted specifically to exploring the impact of this war on the two countries' civilians. A chapter devoted to terrorism is also absent. Since in the introduction, terrorism is explicitly, identified as the greatest menace to civilians in the region, it would seem appropriate to include a chapter devoted to this topic.
Also, the one core concept that is not directly addressed in the book is the actual definition of the term "civilian," which is increasingly becoming distorted, particularly from the perspectives of many terrorists and even some state-sponsored militaries and security services. Indeed, there is a general understanding of what is meant by civilian. But, given the nature of violence, conflicts, terrorism, and victims and perpetrators, which often alter and affect each other in the most bizarre and obscure ways, the meaning behind the word "civilian" requires further inquiry and analysis.
Overall, this is an extremely important book for academics and the general public alike. It is educational, especially for those unfamiliar with the region\\\'s war-torn history. The book is also well researched and profoundly compelling. It is a must read for understanding the turmoil and suffering of the people in the Middle East's modern history.
Dr. Hayat Alvi is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College, Newport, RI.Email.
Note: Originally published in Review of Middle Eastern Studies, [vol.44, no.1, Summer 2010, pp.97-98] the Review is reproduced here with permission.
As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy