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Engaging the Muslim World Paperback – September 14, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

University of Michigan history professor and blogger Cole (Sacred Space and Holy War) takes aim at the Bush administration's Islamophobic discourse, highlighting that some of the very people who promulgated the phobia (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld) once sang a different tune. He calls instead for evenhanded and pragmatic policy changes, not least a reckoning with the heterogeneity of the Muslim world. Yet for all his expertise, Cole fails to source some of his harshest accusations; moreover, for a scholar championing greater subtlety of thought, he too often discards nuance himself. To the extent that Cole argues against painting the Middle East with overly broad strokes, he brings a constructive addition to public discourse; his failure to be consistent is a lost opportunity. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Cole has delivered an important book that members of the administration would be wise to read en route to the Middle East. (The American Prospect)

[A] balanced and effective antidote to oversimplified Western views of Islam. . . . manages to prick western misconceptions without taking extremist movements entirely at their own estimation. (The Economist)

[Cole] brings a constructive addition to public discourse. (Publishers Weekly)

Intelligent, clear and erudite. This is a timely and incisive retrospective of the Bush administration's calamitous encounter with the Muslim World by one of the most noted scholars of the subject. Cole looks deep into what went wrong to show the way forward to a new engagement of the Muslim World. (Vali Nasr, bestselling author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future)

Juan Cole, distinguished specialist on the Muslim world, delivers his most comprehensive and erudite commentary to date -- covering imperialism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, American oil politics, radical Islam and Middle Eastern terrorism. Engaging the Muslim World is the book every educated American should read. (Chalmers Johnson, bestselling author of Nemesis and The Blowback Trilogy)

Engaging the Muslim World is a MUST read, the right book at the right time for anyone who wants to understand 'What went wrong, why, and where do we go from here.' Juan Cole is uniquely qualified to provide a critical, incisive, provocative analysis and commentary that will be welcomed by experts, policymakers and concerned citizens. (John L. Esposito, Professor of religion & International Affairs, Georgetown University and bestselling author of Who Speaks for Islam? and What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam)

Cole provides a comprehensive alternative analysis of the current situation in the Muslim world and reveals how new U.S. policies might succeed in bringing peace where wars now rage. He proves the key role of oil interests in American foreign policy and demonstrates how incorrect or exaggerated ideas now prevalent in the U.S. are about the intrinsic militancy of Islam, and the aggressiveness of Iran. Everyone should read and ponder the facts he presents and the solutions he proposes. (Nikki Keddie, Professor Emerita of History, UCLA and author of Modern Iran and Women in the Middle East)

Juan Cole's depth and breath of knowledge on the Middle East has made him the most prescient analyst of the region's politics. It might infuriate the neocons who are proven wrong again and again, but Cole's insight is invaluable to anyone interested in the truth. (Markos Moulitsas, DailyKos)

A well-reasoned, useful vision for Western-Muslim relations. (Kirkus)

A leading American expert on the Islamic world, seeks to dispel many of the persistent myths about Islam and the Middle East. Cole convincingly demonstrates why one should not confuse Muslim activism with hidebound fundamentalism. The chapter dealing with Iran is particularly informative and evenhanded, and the analysis of myriad issues in U.S.-Iran relations is a welcome antidote to the barrage of alarmist commentaries on Iran in much of the U.S. press. This readable and intelligent book is a must read for policymakers and the informed public. (Library Journal, starred review)

Juan Cole's 'Engaging the Muslim World' maps those fault lines, and one can only wish Bush had mulled over such material before the misadventures of the post-9/11 era began. Like Lawrence Wright's remarkable 'Looming Tower', published almost three years ago, this field guide to the politics of modern Islam traces the history of the different movements, whose violent offshoots are still morphing into new forms. (New York Times Book Review)

The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole's, because he's smart, well-informed and sensible -- in other words, I often agree with his take. (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times)

The Obama administration, as it seeks to correct a decade of self-fulfilling phobias, will find no better guide than this nuanced, clear-headed, visionary book. (The Huffington Post)

I cannot improve on Juan Cole's thorough and excellent debunking of the results [of the Iranian Presidential Election]. (Laura Secor, The New Yorker)

Provocative and sweeping . . . Of the three books, Cole's is the most critically rigorous and empirically informed. Agree or disagree, one cannot ignore cole's historically and sociologically driven analysis and moral courage. (Fawaz Gerges, National Interest)

Cole has written a gripping, accessible and elegant book. One of its great strengths is its weaving together a wealth of data into compelling historical vignettes and anecdotes. The author is an excellent storyteller and this book is a pleasurable and entertaining read. (Ziad Fahmy, H-Levant)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Rev Upd edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230102751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230102750
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #516,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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84 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Chris on March 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
According to Dr. Cole's book, US interest in Middle East oil has been motivated by a desire to ensure a stable supply of it to Western Europe and Japan. On the other hand, it is widely believed in the Middle East that American and British oil companies have made huge profits out of Middle Eastern oil while the people of the region, at best, obtain small benefit from it. . When puppet dictators that ensure the flow of oil and petrodollars to western corporations are overthrown, the Americans get very worried. Cole discusses the US overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 and the Kennedy administration's "blowtorch Bob" Komer's worries about the threat to American oil companies posed by the Kassem regime in Iraq. Cole notes that Komer was very happy when the Ba'ath party launched its successful coup against Kassem in 1963; the Ba'ath minister of interior later said that the coup was backed by the CIA.

The best part of the book is Cole's attack on American military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Take his analysis of US Iraq policy. What mainstream debate about the "surge" has ignored but which Cole discusses in this book, is that large scale ethnic cleansing is largely responsible for the alleged "success" of the surge. For example, Shiite death squads allied with the Iraqi government cleansed Sunnis out of Baghdad during the surge. Cole writes that Baghdad, in 2003 was 50 percent Sunni; at the end of the surge in 2008, it was 75 percent Shiite. Obviously the elimination of rival ethnic groups from Iraqi neighborhoods has reduced the justification for violence by ethnic militias. The surge dramatically increased the number of internally displaced refugees in Iraq, most of whom live in squalor: the total went from about 1.8 million in January 2007 to 2.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Snyder on October 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Cole provides a good overview of the Middle East, and does a good job teasing out the difference between Islamic influences, oil influences, poverty influences, and more. He also does a good job of distinguishing hot just between Sunni and Shi'a Islam, but some of the major trends within each, in the different countries of his focus.

Most valuable is his take on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If President Obama DID read this book, he'd not send one more boot on the ground to Afghanistan, would give Pakistan primarily non-military foreign aid, and would rethink other things.

And yet...

First, although Cole touches on poverty here and there, he writes this whole book without touching on the explosive birthrate in the Middle East, surpassed only by some sub-Saharan African countries. If I were the American Prez, "engaging the Muslim world" would start with a frank talk about birth control, which, of course, comes in fair part from empowering women.

That, in turn, is something else Cole glosses over. He talks a bit about patriarchy, but there's no depth.

Second, he's either naive, or whitewashing, with two countries, to various degrees. (And, no, I don't count Iran as one of the two, really.)

They are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Page 83, for example, he accepts at face value Prince Turki's claim that bin Laden chose Saudis for most of his hijackers so as to sour Riyadh-Washington relations. Next page, he flat-out claims that Wahhabism is not a sect, denomination, or whatever within Sunni Islam. Of course, he does that to preserve his "big tent" understanding of Sunni, only saying that the big tent doesn't go that far to the "right." Nonsense. Just as not all Sunnis are fundamentalists, neither are all Christians Pat Robertson, etc.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Samuel M. Brummitt on August 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Cole's writing has an obvious liberal slant, but his deep knowledge and experience living in and studying the Muslim world makes for an enlightening read. He dispels many myths and misconceptions that we hold against Muslim people and Islamic societies. He sheds light on the fears and misbeliefs that exist on both sides - giving the name "Islam Anxiety" to describe our fear of Islam, while also (briefly) describing the "American Anxiety" that many in Middle East feel towards our society and government.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By V. Lakshminarayanan on November 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
Juan Cole articulates the mistakes of the younger Bush administration in dealing with the Islamic world effectively in this book. He also presented logically the chokehold that pro-Israel lobbyists hold over the political process in Washington. However, his recommendations are no more than wishful thinking in the current political atmosphere since none of them are likely to be implemented. He has no words on how to overcome the power of the pro-Israel lobby or the political realities in Washington.

The author is way off the mark on his narrative of violence and belligerence by the radical Islam. He is basically glossing over the problems within the Islamic society about their mistaken feeling of being victimized, their practice of committing violence even on ideological and rhetorical issues, their blind support to fellow Muslims even when they were on the wrong and simplifying the terrorism by Muslims as isolated acts of a few misguided. No other society in the contemporary world seem to commit the level of societal violence that Muslims have done whether in Chechnya, Europe, India or Middle East. Muslim intellectuals hardly ever seem to do any introspection over such violence and routinely defend their faith as if they are protecting a brand name. Until such introspection takes place within the Islamic society and they develop a new discourse to live peacefully in the modern pluralistic societies without demanding special privileges, any amount of reaching out to Muslims by others will be seen by all as appeasement. India experienced this first in the modern history by suffering dismemberment of their country.
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