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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2008
On the whole, I found Reconciliation a worthwhile and informative read. Bhutto is correct in her overall thesis that dictatorships (of whatever stripe) and Western interference in Muslim countries have retarded the development of Muslim democratic potential, and that this has helped spawn the Islamic extremist threat to Islam itself and the West.

Given her assassination, one gets the impression there might have been a rush to get this work to press. The book should have been better edited so the chapters did not seem overly dense, and the numerous quotations were footnoted properly.

Bhutto's analysis of stunted democratic growth across the Muslim world and the history of Western interference in Muslim affairs (colonialism and Cold War) is very good. She provides an in depth and firsthand account of Pakistan's domestic political development (and lack thereof), and the forces that have worked for and against democracy there. She is also clear about the goals and modus operandi of the Islamic extremists, militants and fanatics and their supporters within the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

Her treatment of the conflict within Islam between modernists and traditionalists is excellent. In essence, Bhutto advocates that Muslims reclaim their individual right to (re-)interpret their religious scriptures from the tradition-bound ulema (religious scholars) so that they can be aligned more with the realities of the present world and not the (largely mythical) past.

I do take issue with a number of Bhutto's observations and comments, and these are listed below:

(1) Bhutto gives a good overview of the "Clash of Civilizations" thesis. She criticizes Huntington's view that globalization will intensify civilization consciousness and the awareness of differences between civilizations, which will lead to cultural contempt and xenophobia. Her position is that it will instead lead to tolerance and pluralism.

In this, I disagree, as both outcomes are possible. Sayyid Qutb, for example, the ideologue of modern Islamism, studied in the U.S. Muhammad Atta and several of his 9/11 co-conspirators lived in Germany. They all suffered from culture shock and isolation, and their reaction to being in the West did not foster tolerance and pluralism on their part. Other people would have reacted differently or had different experiences, so, both Huntington and Bhutto's outcomes are possible. Just because one is exposed to something and understands it, doesn't mean one is going to like, tolerate or accept it.

(2) In the first chapter, Bhutto claims that while northern Europe was in the Dark Ages, "the great universities, scientists, doctors and artists were all Muslim." It seems to me that the Muslim proclivity to focus on the "West" (and Christians and Jews) too often ignores the "Rest" of the world (including other largely non-monotheistic religions), and she seems to suffer from this syndrome.

No doubt, there were also great Hindu and Chinese, let alone Byzantine, intellectuals, during this period, too. The Islamic "Golden Age" was to a large extent founded on borrowed learning (Greek, Persian, etc.) that Muslims added to (and later transmitted back to Western Europe). Not all of Europe was in the Dark Ages at that time, and the Byzantine civilization hadn't yet been completely destroyed by Muslim conquest.

In the last chapter, Bhutto gives brief acknowledgment to the contribution of the Greek intellectual tradition to Islam, yet she then states that "Islam's first generations produced knowledge and wealth that empowered Muslim empires to rule much of the world." Some of this knowledge was borrowed, as the Arabs found that the Persian and Christian civilizations they conquered (Syria, Egypt) were in fact much superior to their own, and some of the wealth was generated not through production or trade but rather through the booty and plunder of conquest and the poll-tax (jizya) levied on the subjugated Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. The prideful tone of her statement also conflicts with her interpretation of Islam as tolerant and peaceful.

(3) In Chapter 2, Bhutto states that, "Throughout history, the greatest crimes against humanity have been carried out in the name of God." Yes, and no. The fascists and communists may have created their own quasi-religions, but "god" wasn't part of their value system, and they slaughtered tens of millions.

(4) Although Bhutto does a good job explaining the different Muslims sects (though she chose to leave the Ahmadis out for some reason), and the currents in Islamic extremist thought and its modern reformist counterarguments, her portrayal of Islam is overly rosy and comes across as idealistic and a whitewash of both history and Islamic doctrine, something one might expect in Islamo-Disneyland.

Everyone seems to have an idea of what constitutes "true Islam," and she suffers from this complex. Specifically,

a. Democracy - she goes to great lengths to suggest that Islam's doctrines of consultation (shura) and consensus (ijma) and independent reasoning (ijtihad) make Islam and democracy compatible. Yet, from the earliest days, the caliphs were dictators.

b. Ijtihad seems to be the panacea for a modern Muslim reformist revival. The Shiites, unlike the Sunnis, never abandoned "independent reasoning," and yet they are stuck in the same ideological morass between tradition and modernity.

c. "Tolerance" and "Equality" - she claims these are inherent to Islam. From the earliest days into the mid-20th century, the Muslim treatment of the dhimmi Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians (let alone the Arab polytheists and non-monotheists subjugated or slaughtered during the Arab conquests) suggests otherwise. They may have more or less lived "peacefully together under Muslim rule," but maybe that was because the non-Muslim monotheists were forced to live in a ghetto, wear clothes that made them immediately distinguishable from Muslims, and be servile, while suffering for more than a millennium from fear, vulnerability and the constant threat of inhumane humiliations, tortures, persecutions, oppressions and massacres in the name of Allah. Nowhere in the book does she mention Pakistan's "blasphemy laws," which can get a Christian imprisoned or killed through no fault of their own.

Her arguments with respect to women probably carry more water, but she ignores the Koranic verses devaluing a woman's testimony and inheritance relative to that of a man.

d. Jihad ("struggle" to follow the right and just path) - this she addresses the way one would expect: "greater Jihad" being self-development in a spiritual sense, and "lesser Jihad" being "self-defense" or "just" war.

"Holy war" is a Western translation of Jihad. Although improper, that interpretation is not without merit. Islamic "holy war" was the Christian experience from the Arab conquests of Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, and Spain to central France (even Rome was sacked), and the Turkish conquests of Byzantium and the Balkans up to the gates of Vienna (1683). Had Islam been the "peaceful" religion its adherents make it out to be, then why the Arab conquest? Is aggression "self-defense" or "just" war? Why did Muhammad instruct his followers to conquer Egypt? Why didn't he send out missionaries, as the Buddhists and early Christians had done? Surely, that's "peaceful." Furthermore, the Hadith (traditions) define Jihad in terms of aggression with the aim of imposing Islam on the world. Arabo-Islamic imperialism easily ranks with British imperialism as the most successful in history. And it's still potent.

Bhutto acknowledges the "Sword Verses" (9:5) and states that slaying the
idolaters wherever you find them pertained to idol worshippers ("only those who reject God and his teachings outright") and not People of the Book (Christians, Jews). If Islam was "tolerant," then it should have tolerated Arab idol worshippers, too! There would be millions more Buddhists and Hindus alive today if it had.

Jihad, she claims, forbids the killing of innocents. Yet, the Koran also instructed Muslims to engage in "widespread slaughter," a policy of terror and intimidation carried out during the initial phases of conquest in each new land.

e. "Context" - throughout the book, Bhutto emphasizes the importance of historical context in interpreting the Koran. She criticizes the Islam critic Robert Spencer for taking verses out of context. Yet, throughout the book, she cites as an example of Islam's ostensibly inherent tolerance Sura 109:6: "You have your religion, I have mine. You go your way, I go mine." Nice quote, as is "no compulsion in religion" (2:256). What she doesn't say is that these verses were abrogated by later intolerant verses. 190:6 was "revealed" during the Meccan period when Muhammad and his small group of followers were being persecuted. Once they relocated to Medina and obtained power, tolerance went out the window. (Something that Europeans should take note of, if they have illusions to the contrary, like the former Swedish minister who stated that Muslims will treat Swedes well should they become a majority.) Again, Arab polytheists were given a choice of conversion or death. That's compulsion, not tolerance, no matter how you slice it. And slice it, they did.

f. Forced conversions - Bhutto suggests that Christian forced conversions of Jews and Muslims (there were many instances of this but she cites two: Spanish Inquisition and American slaves, respectively) "would not have been permitted in Islam." "True Islam?" There are innumerable historical instances when Muslims, not just the "street" but also caliphs, including some of the early ones, forced Jews and Christians (and others) to convert to Islam.

A few years ago in Gaza, a kidnapped Western news crew was forced to convert to Islam before being released. In Indonesia, in the late 1990s, thousands of Christians were not only forced to convert to Islam or be murdered, but (men, women and children) were also forcibly circumcised (or murdered).

g. Right to Religious Freedom - Bhutto states in several places that Islam allows for the free will of individuals to change faiths. Yet, a Muslim who changes to another faith is considered an "apostate," a capital offense. Either there is religious freedom, or there isn't. It can't be a one way street (e.g., conversion to Islam and no possibility of leaving that faith).

(5) Lastly, one of Bhutto's recommendations is for the Gulf States to "jump-start" the economic and intellectual development in the rest of the Islamic world. Yet, it is these very states, as well as Saudi Arabia, that have contributed to the funding and spread of the very Islamic extremist ideologies that Bhutto sees as a threat to the future of Islam, democracy in the Islamic world, and relations between the Islamic world and the West. Will they ante up? They didn't in 2006-2007 in the aftermath of the Pakistani earthquake and the tsunami off Indonesia.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2008
Benazir's assassination is one of the biggest tragedies our world has seen in recent years. She was a brave woman, and yes, a polarizing and controversial woman in Pakistan, but also, in my opinion - a true believer in democracy and political freedom. As Prime Minister of Pakistan, she never really was able to bring her vision to reality, due to oposing forces that never let her complete both her terms, but her return to her native land in 2007 brought a promise of hope and prosperity to the Pakistani people. She was a brave and inspiring woman, and her untimely death is one of the most unfortunate events in recent times.

Through "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy & The West", her legacy lives on, providing a coherent and articulate picture of her world-view, specifically as it relates to religion, geo-politics and specifically, Pakistan's future. Benazir and her co-author, Mark Siegel, provide a though-provoking and interesting view of where the world is headed, and through her words, we learn the extent of her vision which is now lost to us. A great read for those interested in the region and world politics and conflict, and also for those, who want to get an insight into the mind of one of the world's bravest women.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2009
On December 27, 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, mere days after finishing her last book. It is basically propaganda, an extended piece of campaign literature aimed at a western audience to shore up support for an ultimately successful bid to topple dictator Pervez Musharraf. Because of Bhutto's prominent place in world history and Muslim politics, her ideas and influence are inherently interesting to students, scholars, and anyone who wants to understand the world. The book is written to the non-specialist, so it is highly accessible.

Bhutto essentially argues two themes: that Islam is not fundamentally at odds with democracy (indeed, that democracy is a core tenet of Islam), and that a clash between Islam and the West is not inevitable. As subset themes, she also argues that (1) fostering democracy inevitably defeats terrorism, (2) Islam favors gender equality, and (3) Muslims should adopt modernity and abandon reactionary interpretations of sharia.

Obviously I have no problem with those themes, so stated. On the contrary, if every Muslim would read this book and agree with Bhutto's argument, the world would doubtless be a much better place. The problem is that her argument is not very persuasive, and cannot bear even casual scrutiny. Bhutto undermines her argument with glaring errors. Some of these are factual, like her assertion that ISI created the Taliban (p. 14), or that Muslim territorial expansion ended in the 9th century (p. 25; assuredly a surprise to citizens of southeastern Europe, the Crimea, northern India, and Africa), or that the English called Muslims "Mohammedans" to distinguish between Jewish and Christian "Muslims" (p. 34), or that Herat is close to the Southern Pakistani border (p. 55). Some are stylistic oddities, like suggesting that toxic rhetoric is an "opiate that keeps Muslims angry" (p. 4; anger is an unusual side-effect for a narcotic), or that Muslims were the victims of 9/11 (p. 17).

More noxious are her persuasion errors, which undermine the entire purpose of the book. These are of two types. First, her readings of Islamic sources are tenuous at best. She often cites to secondary sources for striking propositions -- Islamic society is "contingent" upon mutual advice (p. 18) -- or offers no cite at all -- the Quran has example after example of respect for women as leaders (p. 19). Her references to "religious freedom," (p. 33) sound hollow in light of the Pakistani Constitution's special protection of Islam against free speech. When she does quote the Quran, the passages have enough wiggle room for an extremist to easily explain it away. Second, she repeatedly makes insulting generalizations about the West, which is her clear audience. In the process of arguing that Islam is inherently tolerant, she argues that Christianity is not (p. 37). Laughably, all of her protestations about Islamic tolerance are restricted to monotheists -- no small detail, considering Pakistan's history with polytheistic India.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2008
...offers her take on Islam, democracy, and Pakistan. It is amazing that a true intellectual could have been so successful as a politician. I learned a lot from this book. She offers an interesting take on Islam and the Quran, on the prospects for democracy in the Middle East, on the history of Pakistan, and on international relations. I say "an interesting take" because one gets the feeling that there are other sides to many of the positions she sets out--especially concerning interpretation of the Quran, and Pakistani history. One can't help but be impressed by how well-reasoned and well-supported her positions are. Her optimiism about the future of Islam and democracy seems deeply dependent on her rationalistic approach to these issues. She repeatedly claims that democracy is the best defense against extremism. But Bush's notion of allowing democracy is to create safe space for it to develop (thus, the build-up in Iraq), whereas she is quite clear that it takes considerable civic development, which will not grow overnight. The difficulty of getting others to take this same approach was painfully shown by her recent and tragic assassination. What a loss!
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27 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2008
Reconciliation is a worthless book written to please the author's supporters in the west. The truth is that Bhutto and her entire family have never stood for "democracy". Rather, for multiple generations they have stood for a corrupt version of populism that over the decades has brought Pakistan to the brink of destruction.

Her father was the architect of two disasterous wars with India and brought about the civil war that ended in the dismemberment of Pakistan. Benazir, building on her father's legacy pursued a covert wars with India over Kashmir and greenlighted the creation of the Taliban. Over three generations, the Bhuttos have undermined any possiblity of democracy in Pakistan by turning one of the main political parties into their personal family posession.

But what does the book say? The book talks of the evils of dictatorship and western influence. The claims about dictatorship might be taken as remotely serious but for the sad fact that the Bhutto fortune and political legacy were originally built on their service to a military dicatator. There is also understandably no understanding or admission that the corrupt version of "democracy" associated with her family has promoted extreme Islam.

Most of her analysis of Pakistani history is self-serving and false. Her goal at all times is to protect the corrupt legacy of failure associated with her own relatives. She puts them up as the democratic alternative to Islamic extremists. She does this of course without revealing the anti-democratic origins of her political party or her father's role in driving Bengaledesh out of Pakistan through violence. She is also dishonest about the origins of the Taliban and "islamic extremism". She would rather blame (as her father did) the military rather than tell the truth about the corrupt commerical interests who were behind support for the Taliban. The intelligence services were the means but the end was willed by Pakistani trucking and other business interests.

Her views on Islam are incredibly bad. In her world, its the Ulema thats the problem. She favors an individualist interpretation of Islam no doubt so that the Ulema can be eliminated as a source of criticism for her party machine. The argument will go over very well with her western sponsors though because its what they want to hear.

She also parrots back to the western audience of the book their views on Islam. None of what she says is credible and none of it would be said at home in Pakistan. But her sponsors in Washington and London will eat up every word.

Bhutto's untimely death proved yet again what the real game here is. With her death, the party passed as a family posession to the next generation. Even though that next generation was a 19 year old child. That is the contradiction in the book among the Bhuttos. Democracies are not created by political parties whose leadership is passed generation after generation from parent to child. That is rather something like a monarchy. Pakistan will only begin to progress when the family politics that the Bhuttos represent disappears.
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21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2008
This is an incredible book with an extremely important message. The world lost an amazing leader and a fascinating woman when Benazir Bhutto was assasinated, but her last words will resonate for generations to come. A MUST READ.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2008
This book really opened my eyes about the content of Islam as well as the politics pursued by west in other countries. I would really recommend it to everybody as it really gives a perspective! Furthermore, it makes one realize what a fantastic person Benazir was and what the world really lost when she was assassinated last year.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
in this book, bhutto examines the recent history of many countries with islamic majorities and many of the issues surrounding islam and conflicts in understanding with western democracies. she offers hope that the people of pakistan will experience true democracy, and that that democracy may expand beyond its borders. published just weeks after her assassination, it is quite timely and germane to issues that the United States faces in the next few years, especially in its fight against terrorism and its disproportionate financial aid for military and intelligence operations in comparison with areas in which democracy can be achieved, such as election oversight, education, women's rights ... this is by far not the greatest work that i've read. the occasional bias seeps through in her writings. nevertheless, this is a book that is very important and ought to be read by those with interests in spreading democracy, achieving women's rights globally, and, in particular, the development of democracy and capitalism in pakistan.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2009
Definitely a must read as it gives the reader an other means to make a judgement on the Muslim faith and understand what is cultural and what is really due to the faith itself. It also address the issue of commitment from the outside on dealing with that part of the world and how countries' actions affect each other. I might not agree with everything that was written, but some of the issues brought forth, though tough to accept, were right on and apply to other parts of the world as well
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on November 13, 2011
This book is rare and extremely relevant. If you are like me, an average joe American who knows very little about India-Pakistan, etc., then this book will shed some light on to an otherwise removed region. Unfortunately, our educational system does not make South Asia a priority, even though so much of our foreign policy pertains to this critical region. I viewed this book as an oasis in a desert of knowledge.
It was rich and enlightening to get the Pakistani perspective on foreign relations and American power. Her views were very interesting, even if I did not agree with all of them. I found her descriptions of different sects within Islam fascinating and more accurate than other books I have read on the same subject. I also enjoyed her arguments that Islam supports a higher status for women than what is currently enjoyed. She quotes specific passages in the koran that designate women as wage-earners. Mohammed himself married a successful businesswoman named Khadija. She also points out the there were no cars in the 7th century and that Mohammed's wives were known to have rode on camels. She argues that the Saudi ban on women driving has nothing to do with Islam and has more to do with Saudi fanaticism and a need for despots to maintain control over an unwilling population. And of course, her successful elections clearly demonstrate that a majority of Muslims (in Pakistan) believe in female leadership.
She also quells some fears about Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Pakistan feared an Indian takeover or subordination and will only use its nukes in a doomsday scenario. I would like to believe that Pakistan has rational leaders who do not want their country to be destroyed in a nuclear standoff.
I found this book compelling and hard to put down. It really expanded my knowledge on a region which usually elicits flimsy evidence and hysteria over fact.
On another hand, Benazir Bhutto may be playing to the tune of the West. She is well aware of her audience. She knows that democracy and human rights, which she stands for, prevailing in the struggle with tyranny and wanton murder is highly appealing to Americans. Perhaps she is an opportunist, a liar, a sooth-sayer, telling us what we want to hear so her country can get more USAID and weapons. Who knows. Whatever the case may be, I found this book enlightening and enriching and highly recommend it to anyone desiring to learn more about Pakistan and the region as a whole.
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