The Year the Sky Fell
Review of Black Wave by Kim Ghattas
In the Greater Middle East, the year 1979 felt like the end of the world. Americans know it as the ominous date of the Iranian Revolution, the hostage crisis, and the rise of the grim-faced, murderous Ayatollah Khomeini. But those weren’t the only pivotal events that unfolded back then. The scarcely known siege of Mecca occurred at the same time, and it was equally dreadful—and fateful. In an effort to appease an armed insurrection, the Saudi government sharply reversed what precious little social progress had been made and, in a revolution from above, transformed the country into an even more regressive and repressive place than it already was. The Saudi and Iranian governments, once grudging allies, became sworn, bitter enemies determined to export their own revolutions to the whole Muslim world, across the Middle East and beyond, including to Afghanistan, which coincidentally had just been invaded by the Soviet Union.
Nearly all the worst disasters that have swept across the Muslim world in the past four decades can be traced at least in part back to that year. That’s the thesis of the masterful book Black Wave, by Beirut-born, Emmy Award–winning journalist Kim Ghattas. She traveled from Egypt and Iraq to Iran and Pakistan, and no matter where she went, the people with whom she spoke let loose a tsunami of emotion when she asked how that year had devastated them and their countries. She felt as if she were “conducting national or regional therapy.…Everyone had a story about how 1979 had wrecked their lives, their marriage, their education, including those born after that year.”
More at the link.