• Eva Strnadová

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry

Native to the Middle East, Kim Ghattas brings together multiple stories which alter the view on the region.



About the Author


Kim Ghattas is a Dutch-Lebanese journalist for the BBC who has covered the US State Department. She has previously written a book called The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power (Times Books, 2013).


Black Wave


Born in Beirut on the front lines of the Lebanese civil war, Ghattas is a native of the Middle East region. She has spent two and a half years focused on her book. She brings together multiple stories which alter the view on the Middle East.


There is no scholarly agreement on the turning point for the region. From the end of the Ottoman period to the end of the British and French colonialism, no consensus has been reached on the pivotal year for the Middle East.


1979 hijacked our collective memory and changed who we are.” Kim Ghattas

Ghattas argues it is the year 1979 because of the three events that occurred that year: Iranian Revolution, the siege of Mecca and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These events were intertwined and brought the ‘black wave’. The turning point of 1979 is not just political or geopolitical, it altered the religious and cultural identity of the region.


She explores how Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, once allies and pillars of US strategy in the region, became enemies after 1979. As stated above, 1979 brought about not only political and geopolitical changes. From the cultural and religious perspectives, intolerance, suppression of cultural expression and the war for cultural supremacy led to Iran’s fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, the assassination of countless intellectuals, the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the rise of ISIS.


I did think that the question of what happened to us in the Middle East was being asked elsewhere of what went wrong in the region, why is it the way it is today. And I wanted to bring an answer that was coming from our perspective in the region.Kim Ghattas

Ghattas creates the bigger picture of the region through smaller stories of characters who lived these events, including the late Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

She criticises regional leadership from Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in modern Saudi Arabia. Ghattas finds hope in the biographies of people who refused to follow the mainstream lead.


Book reviewed: Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (Henry Holt and Co.: 2020).