Sunday, October 04, 2009

Engaging the Muslim World: Overview

Lately I've been doing a chapter-by-chapter review of Juan Cole's Engaging the Muslim World. Those chapter reviews are linked below for convenience, but first, I want to make a few comments about the book as a whole.

Contrary to what critics, and not a few fans, of his blog might think, this is not a book filled with criticism of the United States. It is instead an examination of the relationship between two worlds Cole knows deeply and cares about, and a prescription for how to prevent that relationship from being torpedoed by the twin threats of "America Anxiety" and "Islam Anxiety" which have led many on both sides to perceive a clash of civilizations. In fact, it moves beyond that to show how both worlds are thoroughly intertwined, both in our strengths and our challenges, and that perceiving an essentialized cultural enmity makes no sense and is dangerous. With this project, I am in passionate agreement. Readers of my chapter reviews will note that my few disagreements are on points incidental to the work's central thrust, and that far more often my tendency is to pile on additional information that serves to strengthen the argument. Really, I am aware of no better text through which to examine this relationship and its problems in the contemporary world, and if I were still at Colgate, would definitely include this in my "Core: The Middle East" syllabus.

The book's biggest strength is perhaps its lucid portrayal of information many of us who know the Middle East take for granted, as well as the way he weaves together contemporary issues with historical context in a way that lets us see where different parties are coming from. Cole's own background as someone from an American military family who has actually gotten his hands dirty in the Middle East as opposed to just studying statistics in expat enclaves makes him the perfect person to write it, giving him a sense of perspective on what matters to people and authentic sense of commitment to both worlds.

The book's conclusion delves into the founding ideals of the United States, and notes that the authors of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence had a much more reasoned appraisal of Islam than do many national leaders today, while creating a system of government admired the world over.

Cole's final paragraph:
"The contemporary world offers unprecedented opportunities for political and cultural teamwork between the North Atlantic countries and the Muslim world, and the pressing problems we face can only be resolved through such collaboration. Doing so will require a setting aside of Islam Anxiety and American Anxiety,a return to wise and persistent diplomacy, and a spirit of compromise on all sides. We can do it, if we engage."

Chapter Reviews:

Chapter 1 - The Struggle for Islamic Oil: The Truth about Energy Independence

Chapter 2 - Muslim Activism, Muslim Radicalism: Telling the Two Apart

Chapter 3 - The Wahhabi Myth: From Riyadh to Doha

Chapter 4 - Iraq and Islam Anxiety: How Fearmongering Got Up a War and Kept It Going

Chapter 5 - Pakistan and Afghanistan: Beyond the Taliban

Chapter 6 - From Tehran to Beirut: The Iranian Challenge

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the question you propose at the end of Chapter 5, about Hazara/Shia/Taliban ball of yarn...

There are Hazaras who are aligned with Taliban (an interesting question is: when exactly does one become a Talib?) but they are mostly Sunni Hazaras. Among the Shi'ites some elements opposed to Mazari (the leader of the biggest Shi'ite Hazara party) also collaborated with the Taliban as did some of the Sayeds (descendants of the Prophet). (Again are they Taliban? I am sure many of the Pushtoons aren't Taliban, but for one reason or another join their networks for the patronage.)

10:54 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home