What Defines the Past, Makes the Future
By John M. Willis
Columbia University Press, $55.00, 472 pages
Yemen is a country that a vast majority of Americans have never heard of. Yet it is a country that is now a front line on the war on terror. The United States military sends drones to take out people that we believe to be terrorists. However, many people could not find this country on a map, let alone know about its recent history. This book attempts to correct that deficiency. Author John M. Willis explores the recent past of Yemen. When part of it was controlled by the British Empire and part was controlled by the Ottoman Empire the various tribes of Yemen attempted to carve their own niche out of this contested territory; a territory that was never strongly held by either major power. Instead the powers allowed these tribes to move around and create their own identity. An identity based on geography, cartography, and a reading of the past that put them in charge. The idea of an Imam ruling a country through the right application of the law is not a modern concept. Instead it is a concept that stretches back to 19th Century Yemen. This work explores a country that is little known, but plays a large role in the modern day.
Reviewed by Kevin Winter