Writer: Jean-Pierre Filiu
Artist: David B.
Such is the case with Best of Enemies, a series originally published in French, outlining the history of US relations with the Arab/Muslim world from American Independence to the present day. This first book begins with the Barbary pirates of the late 18th century and ends with a CIA-orchestrated coup in Iran, 1953. I'll admit upfront, I knew very little of this history before. I knew the ancient and medieval history through the Crusades. I knew a little about the Ottomans in World War I and the carving up of their empire afterwards. I knew the history of the Israeli conflict from 1948 onward. But the rest was all new. I'd heard of the Barbary pirates, sure, but never really gave much thought to who they were. The lesson is clear: learn about the world through comic books.
There is plenty of debate over how much of the world is actually encompassed by the term Middle East. Is it just the Arabian peninsula? Just the Arab-speaking countries? Plus Israel? Does Turkey count? Iran? Egypt? North Africa? For its purposes, Best of Enemies includes all of the above under the umbrella.
Impressively, the book manages to stay reasonably neutral. There are no heroes, exactly. Plenty of mud is flung in both directions. The history of relations between the two entities is one of compromise, corruption and manipulation. For both sides, money has always been king. American and Middle Eastern regimes have been willing to compromise myriad principles for the sake of cash. The discovery of oil only made things worse. The black-and-white artwork is somewhat satirical though again, evenhanded. I'm definitely keeping an eye out for Part Two: 1953-1984.