Today I took advice from Marc Lynch and pulled out a great read on the Middle East while languishing on a beach north of Beirut.
I read journalist Victoria Clark’s Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes, an engrossing account of a small area on the south-west corner of the Arabian Peninsula, covered by the nominal nation-state of Yemen; famous for its once unmatched coffee trade, a dialectical proximity to formal Arabic, and as the ‘ancestral homeland’ of Osama Bin laden in addition to being a beehive of present terrorist activity. The former president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Salih described the art of governing Yemen as “dancing on the heads of snakes.”
Having just finished the book, I can say assuredly that Victoria Clark’s work is beautifully written, taking the reader deep into a maze of complex and colorful persona’s of both Yemeni and foreign background. Clark is in a unique position, having been born in the British protectorate of Aden. This aids her in penetrating the riveting history of this highly misunderstood corner of the world. Clark captures in plain language the perspectives of the various peoples; families, tribes, clans, federations, communities, and sectors inhabiting Yemeni society.
Some care not for religion and ideology, but guns and money. Others care for respect and acknowledgement, be it by the state, foreign governments, or other tribes. And some, like the third-generation of Jihadis who grew up burnishing their credentials fighting the Americans in Iraq, can not be cajoled by carrots and sticks like any other snake, but want only to extend their sway across the peninsula.
In as complicated a time as this, Victoria Clark is an illuminating expert on the protracted problems we are likely to witness out of Yemen. The book only gets better as it progresses out of history, and into the contemporary.