When John McHugo began to think about writing his new book, A Concise History of the Arabs, a growing sense of anger coursed through his veins. And anger, he says, \"is not a good thing to base a book on\". McHugo, a British intellectual who undertook undergraduate and postgraduate Arabic studies at Oxford University and at the American University in Cairo, is a seasoned lawyer who worked for long periods in Egypt, Bahrain and Oman. As a board member of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, he is also an advocate of calm thought and reasoning over provocative and partial commentaries. So what irked him so badly? To answer that question, one has to wind back the clock a decade to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. \"If you occupy a foreign country by war, you have responsibilities to preserve normal life as much as you can in those occupied territories,\" says McHugo. You may not bring in legislation except to preserve order. \"The whole approach of the Coalition Provisional Authority [the transitional government which presided over Iraq for 14 months beginning in April 2003] was not even to notice that. I became increasingly angry and I thought the root of it all was this ghastly rhetoric about the \'clash of civilisations\'. I thought that someone had to try to show that this is actually not the case. \"I know that anger is a very bad counsellor. So I have tried to put things in perspective to show faults on each and every side and to keep things in proportion - and keeping things in proportion has turned out to be the hardest task I set myself.\" Keeping things \"in proportion\" also involved settling on a digestible length for his book - 100,000 words - to deliver on the promise of a \"concise\" history. A figure short enough not to be either overwhelming or intimidating, but long enough to be rich in context, detail and nuance. (In comparison, the exhaustive Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, published earlier this year, had a cumulative word count of 500,000 words.) Published by Saqi Books, McHugo\'s volume has been praised by a clutch of reviewers for being highly readable, lucid and erudite. Joy Gordon, who wrote Invisible War: The US and the Iraq Sanctions, described the book as \"invaluable for those seeking to understand the depth and complexity of the contemporary issues in the Arab world\". The debunking of the notion of the so-called \"clash of civilisations\" - a loaded and generally intellectually lazy term - emerges as absolutely central to McHugo\'s concise historical survey. \"Even before 9/11,\" he writes \"there had been loose talk of a \'clash of civilisations\'. For many people, this put Islam - and therefore the Arab world - in existential opposition to the democracies of the West. \"I believe that history shows that [this clash] does not exist. Civilised cultures influence and benefit each other. If they do not, they are quite simply not civilised. The expression \'clash of civilisations\' has come to be used as a slogan. The \'clash\' has a resonance for people with a certain attitude of mind - and a certain view of history. \"Misguided policies and willful ignorance have opened an ever deepening rift,\" he tells me during our interview. \"This has led to moral nihilism and I don\'t say it on one side or the other. The ends justify the means and it is much easier to justify the means if you haven\'t made an effort to understand and sympathise with the decision of the people who you consider yourself to be opposed to.\"