Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Review: Engaging the Muslim World

Title: Engaging the Muslim World
Author: Juan Cole
Rating: ****1/2
Tags: islam, middle east, iran, pakistan, energy, oil, non-fiction, afghanistan, egypt, saudi arabia

Juan Cole is an expert on the Middle East and Islam. He first encountered Islam as a boy when his Army father was sent to the Horn of Africa. Later he spent 10 years living in Muslim countries and learned several of the languages used in this part of the world, and he has continued to travel extensively in the region.

The book is his attempt to show how Islam anxiety in the U.S. and American anxiety in the Middle East fuel misunderstandings. The book is a corrective to Islam anxiety in the U.S., which is dangerously under-informed about Islam. Cole seeks to remedy this ignorance.

The first chapter of the book is an excessively grim, albeit realistic, view of the world's energy situation. The world currently produces 15 terrawtats of energy. Estimates are that by 2050 the demand will double. Alternative energies aren't yet able to suppy a large part of the need. The U.S is more dependent than ever on foreign oil, and the chances are small it will be able to reduce that anytime in the forseeable future. And that's why Cole believes that Dick Cheney became convinced that a war with Iraq was necessary to secure the rights of U.S. oil companies to a supply of Middle Eastern oil.

Cole then goes into the histories of various Islamic groups and countries. For the most part, Muslims are more moderate than Americans give them credit for, and that is the lesson that comes across over and over as Cole shows the potent mix of religion, ethnicity, nationality, economics, colonialism, post-colonialism, and other factors that have created the current situation. If you know someone who blithely tosses off the term Islamofascism, please give them this book to read.

Cole's book was reviewed in the New York Times by David Sanger, author of The Inheritence, a book I read a few months ago and which scared me silly. He and Cole seem to have very different views of the Middle East, especially the dangers posed by Pakistan and Iran. I suspect, as is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. Read both, and decide for yourself.

Publication Palgrave Macmillan (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0230607543 / 9780230607545

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