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Spies and Holy Wars

The Middle East in 20th-Century Crime Fiction

By Reeva Spector Simon

Publication Year: 2010

Illuminating a powerful intersection between popular culture and global politics, Spies and Holy Wars draws on a sampling of more than eight hundred British and American thrillers that are propelled by the theme of jihad—an Islamic holy war or crusade against the West. Published over the past century, the books in this expansive study encompass spy novels and crime fiction, illustrating new connections between these genres and Western imperialism. Demonstrating the social implications of the popularity of such books, Reeva Spector Simon covers how the Middle Eastern villain evolved from being the malleable victim before World War II to the international, techno-savvy figure in today’s crime novels. She explores the impact of James Bond, pulp fiction, and comic books and also analyzes the ways in which world events shaped the genre, particularly in recent years. Worldwide terrorism and economic domination prevail as the most common sources of narrative tension in these works, while military “tech novels” restored the prestige of the American hero in the wake of post-Vietnam skepticism. Moving beyond stereotypes, Simon examines the relationships between publishing trends, political trends, and popular culture at large—giving voice to the previously unexamined truths that emerge from these provocative page-turners.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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1. Crime Fiction as Political Metaphor

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pp. 1-13

Called “Allah’s Arrow,” Hamir, the ruler of a small sheikhdom on the Red Sea, was educated at Caltech, where he was a brilliant student, but as a foreigner on campus, he felt slighted by the Americans he met. After completing his studies in the United States, he returned to Arabia, and with his self-esteem revitalized,

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2. Spies and Holy War: Jihad and World War I

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pp. 14-31

The story begins during World War I with John Buchan’s novel Greenmantle and the plot to bring down the British Empire: “There is a dry wind blowing through the East,” we read, “and the parched grasses await the spark and the wind is blowing towards the Indian border. . . . ...

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3. Holy War and Empire: Fu Manchu in Cairo

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pp. 32-49

Buchan created the paradigm for spy novels that appeared during the interwar period. With their heroes smiting foes of the British Empire throughout the world, novels could be set anywhere—in essence presaging the thrillers that emerged during the 1960s with the popularity of James Bond. ...

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4. The Publishing Explosion and James Bond

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pp. 50-67

Between 1950 and 1969 more than one hundred ninety-five crime fiction novels about the Middle East were published—almost four times the number of spy novels that appeared from 1916 through 1939 when Buchan’s Greenmantle and Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu first appeared. Of the titles published before World War II, ...

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5. Secular Jihad: International Terrorism and Economic Destabilization

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pp. 68-91

By the 1980s, almost 600 thrillers and spy novels using the Middle East as a backdrop for action, characterization, or plot material had appeared in the United States either as British imports or as American originals. Suddenly, it seemed that supermarkets, drugstores, bus stations, and airports were inundated ...

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6. The American Crusade Against Terror

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pp. 92-109

In 1975, just before the fall of Saigon, the magazine Soldier of Fortune: The Journal of Professional Adventurers (SOF) appeared on the newsstands. Founded by a former captain in the United States Army Special Forces at a time when many of America’s Vietnam veterans, depressed at the defeat, were returning to an unsympathetic America, ...

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7. Jihad, the Apocalypse, and Back Again

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pp. 110-126

The Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979 sparked a resurgence of novels about religious jihad against the West. By the mid-1980s, authors were once again writing about trouble emanating from Iran and spreading throughout the entire Islamic world. The fear that something “ugly and unprecedented was threatening civilization, ...


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pp. 127-150

Fiction Bibliography

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pp. 151-182

Nonfiction Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 183-200


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pp. 201-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780292784666
E-ISBN-10: 029278466x
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292723009
Print-ISBN-10: 0292723008

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 5 tables
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 688305863
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Spies and Holy Wars

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Espionage in literature.
  • Spies in literature.
  • Politics and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 20th century.
  • Politics and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Detective and mystery stories, English -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Spy stories, American -- History and criticism.
  • Spy stories, English -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Middle East -- In literature
  • Jihad in literature.
  • Film noir ǂz United States ǂx History and criticism.
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