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How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066727
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066728
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

This book offers an informed critique of good-and-evil dualisms on both sides in the war on terror. Terrorists and their opponents share an "us against them" conception of reality that vilifies the enemy as irredeemable and suited only for destruction. Political estrangement and isolation nurture the cosmic dualism inherent in violent jihadist ideologies, argues Aslan (creative writing, Univ. of California at Riverside; No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam). But a similar dualism lies behind ill-founded American responses to terrorism. In quick, informative surveys, Aslan takes readers through the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, zealotry in ancient Jewish and contemporary (evangelical Christian and Zionist) forms, the history of Islamic jihadist distortions of Islamic teaching, and the repressive postcolonial governments that nurture such radical ideologs. But Aslan is hopeful: radical groups moderate their ideologies when they are drawn into the political process, and a new U.S. administration may adopt a more enlightened foreign policy. Aslan's suggestions are simple but not simplistic. Recommended for all readers interested in viewing the war on terror from this alternative perspective.—Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Aslan’s thoughtful analysis of America’s war on terror argues that the nation’s jihadist enemies believe the conflict is taking place on a spiritual, “cosmic” plane and thus cannot be lost. Only by denying the terrorists their good-versus-evil religious narrative can the United States keep the war grounded and winnable. Certainly this is good advice, although, given President Obama’s abandonment of his predecessor’s Manichaean foreign policy, it may have been overtaken by recent events. Far more interesting is Aslan’s agreement with Bush on the question of democracy. He distinguishes Islamist nationalist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah from global jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda, and contends that recognizing the former as legitimate participants in the democratic process will undermine support for unyielding war. It’s an appealing, if unproved, claim.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

More About the Author

Dr. Reza Aslan's bachelor's degree is in religious studies, with an emphasis on scripture and traditions (which at Santa Clara University means the New Testament). His minor was in biblical Greek. He has a master of theological studies degree from Harvard University, in world religions, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the sociology of religions. UCSB's doctoral program is an interdisciplinary one that draws from religion, history, philosophy, and sociology, among other fields. Aslan's doctorate in the sociology of religions encompasses expertise in the history of religion. Reza also has a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa.

Dr. Aslan is currently professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, with a joint appointment in the department of religion, and he teaches in both disciplines. He was previously Wallerstein Distinguished Visiting Professor at Drew University, where he taught from 2012 to 2013, and assistant visiting professor of religion at the University of Iowa, where he taught from 2000 to 2003. He has written three books on religion.

Customer Reviews

Reza Aslan's book, Beyond Fundamentalism is wonderfully written and very insightful.
Raelyn
It is very informed and filled with a beautiful combination of facts and history with personal anecdotes to add perspective.
Stephen
She explains middle east religious fundamentalism in terms the western mind can understand.
eve salkind

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With his second book, How to Win a Cosmic War, Reza Aslan has solidified his place as the voice of moderation in the battles of Christian vs. Islam. As an American-born Muslim, he has insights for his fellow citizens about the history and perspective of those whose hearts and minds we are trying to win in the Middle East.

Unlike his previous book, No god but God, which was more of a history lesson in Islam for those of us in the West, this book focuses more specifically on the issues of fundamentalism and terrorism with which we are dealing today. He describes the growth of radical groups throughout the twentieth century. He shows how the idea of jihad was perverted by certain Muslims and what that means for us today.

Ultimately, he is trying to convince us to take what is too often articulated as a "cosmic war" (often unthinkingly) and bring it back down to earth. The terrorists we battle are dangerous because they don't have attainable, negotiable goals. The overthrow of the West, worldwide Islamic rule--these are not likely to happen and are certainly not things we can negotiate. This rhetoric elevates their struggle to the cosmic plane. The image becomes one of Good vs. Evil, God vs. Satan. Yet, when we allow ourselves to echo this rhetoric and inflame tensions by using words like "crusade," we are fighting a cosmic battle, not a real one. Cosmic battles cannot be won. Mr. Aslan reminds us that only by focusing on real, attainable goals can we make progress and reduce terrorism. By changing the "real world" around the terrorists for the better, they cannot recruit. There will always be radicals, but they are criminals, not warriors, however they see themselves.

Mr. Aslan has a rare point-of-view.
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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Magnus on January 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
So unlike what most of the detractors here claim, this book is not an apology for terrorism. Its essential point, as the the title suggests, is that if we accept the battle as defined by the Jihadists -- as a cosmic war-- then it is unwinnable, and pursuing it on those terms will inevitably distance us from the Muslim world.

My sense is that Aslan's most fundamental allegiance is to the Muslim world, which he would like to see become democratic, but that he genuinely believes in the American dream as well and wants to be one with it. He is doing his best to make a positive contribution toward a better world by describing the world through his eyes, and he is not stupid. His description of the young jihadist mindset as acting out of misguided love rather than hate - was subtle, accurate and brave, and a real contribution to the discussion. He does a good job of explaining the difference between Jihadists vs. Islamists, and why we fail to understand the dynamic between them at our peril. I think he describes the wound so effectively, because he is wounded himself, and that in itself doesn't diminish the book.

But in failing to overcome the wound, he fails to convince the unconvinced. In what follows, I overemphasize the negative. The book is mostly fair, and he has a point, but I'm trying to explain what will set people off. He is upset that Western countries don't have more toleration for Muslim cultures, despite the fact that the degree of toleration they do display would be unthinkable in many Muslim majority countries. Consider:

"Even in Europe and the developed world, the idea of secular nationalism was problematic. That is because membership, or rather citizenship, in the nation-state requires submission to the state's sovereignty over all aspects of life.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Muhammad A. Syed on September 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Reza Aslan has done remarkably well in explaining the philosophy that drives Islamist terrorism. How collective guilt is assigned and collective punishment is justified. How the apparent injustice of killing innocent civilians and innocent children is explained away.

These ideas have been touched on by others as well (like Fawaz Gerges), but Aslans book connects the dots between different ideas and puts them together to make sense.

The war on terror cannot be won by bombs. This is an ideological war. It requires a different approach.
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49 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Aphrodite D. Navab on April 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I finished reading Reza Aslan's "How to Win a Cosmic War" yesterday when the WHO, World Health Organization, raised the level of influenza pandemic to five. In my mind, both Albert Camus' "The Plague" and the orange alerts raised by the Homeland Security's "War on Terror" collapsed into one war waged against our deepest fears.

Against this landscape, both real and imagined, Aslan's book speaks volumes. Through a critical analysis of the violence committed in the name of religion and renamed as politics from Judaism, Christianity to Islam, Aslan contends that the "War on Terror" cannot be won, for it is a cosmic one at the level of ideology. No armies, no nations, no treaties can solve a war between good and evil. Rather, Aslan posits, an honest, down to earth, and diplomatic discussion of the grievances is what is necessary. Not in the heavens of religion nor invention, could a cosmic war be won.

Aslan's astute analysis and conclusion comes at a crucial time when we need to imagine alternative ways of interaction than to demonize and dichotomize. Only by refusing to fight one, by bringing disputes to the flesh of the real, of the terrestrial, can we begin to have a real conversation. By reading "How to Win a Cosmic War," one takes a profound step towards beginning this dialogue.
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