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Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up A Woefully Incomplete Guide Paperback – September 25, 2007
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“The geopolitical equivalent of scorecards that get hawked at ball games. Only Bob could make a user’s guide to our increasingly hostile world this absorbing, this breezy, and—ultimately—this hopeful.”
—Ken Jennings, author of Brainiac
“It takes deft touch to combine this much-needed research with a razor-sharp wit... You’ll laugh ‘til you cry, but at least you’ll be one step ahead of CNN.”
—Gus Russo, author of Supermob and The Outfit
“If you read one book this year, be like me and choose this one.”
“Bob Harris, perpetual Jeopardy underdog, now turns his polymathic curiosity to the subject of GLOBAL CONFLICT—the result: this handy history of violence that is at once surprising, fascinating, enlightening, and surprisingly: NOT TOTALLY DEPRESSING. A gimlet-eyed look at the world we endure that’s also suitable for enjoying with a gimlet.”
— John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise and correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
About the Author
BOB HARRIS is the author of Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!, and has written for media ranging from National Lampoon to the television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Think of Who Hates Whom as a "Cliff's Notes" version of dozens of world conflicts. Bob humbly apologizes for not having the space or time to devote to ALL the world's conflicts, but as he reminds us again and again, there's a lot of hate in this world. Somehow, in Bob's words, it comes out more like conditions that have been inherited for generations -- conditions that nobody really wants, but once these things get started it's hard to stop them. He always finds a flower in the abyss, though, and never leaves you hopeless and desperate for goodness. These are often good people who cannot help but do bad things, for the conflicts are much bigger than any individuals.
For example, here's Harris's take on "The Difference Between Tutsi and Hutu:
In short: not all that much. Tutsis and Hutus have lived on the same land, spoken the same languages, intermarried, and sometimes had trouble telling each other apart for centuries. Genetically they're indistinguishable. Y'know that episode of Star Trek where Frank Gorshin has half his face painted black, and the other guy has the other half painted black, and they hate each other? This is that. ...
...What matters: enough locals believed in the difference."
Bob Harris is smart and sensitive. But that he finds elements of humor in these dark places, without ever being insulting or insensitive, takes a special, uncommon skill. A gift, if you will. If you find yourself hearing about conflicts in parts of the world you scarcely knew existed, you should read this book. It's fast reading. It can be read in short bursts. It's informative and important. In our shrinking world there is no longer any excuse for ignorance. You can't say "I couldn't have helped; I didn't know about it," because the information is at hand, and because too many people are using that excuse to let too many people die, starve, or suffer extreme conditions -- even torture -- when some awareness and letter to Congress might help bring their plights to light. Recent publicity has highlighted the tragedy and trauma that is/was Darfur, but such things are being repeated around the world. Get to know the score. Read this book.
I do agree with the author's conclusion. But even though there is greater good, everybody thinks slightly different and probably violence and abuse of some nature will always be a part of human society. They will find something or the other to disagree on - if not religion, then the color of your underwear. Ignorance which plays a huge part in this, can possibly be diminished by persuading as many people to visit and learn about other places/countries. But then as the author says, fanatics tend to stick with their idiocy even in the presence of overwhelming evidence that screams the opposite. Still, traveling could be an opportunity to grow up.
Throughout a book of outrageous, murderous behavior on one side and another (he warns us not to look for good guys), Harris remains a genial and witty guide. The humor is a way of detachment, of course, but also there just isn't any better outlet for outrage. In examining the philosophy of the Taliban, he writes that their ideas come from an Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb, "whose writings from prison in the 1950s and 1960s are like a bizarro _Letters from a Birmingham Jail_, replacing Dr. King's nonviolence and compassion with a violent contempt for most of humanity." He refers to the 2006 Festival of Holocaust Denial, in which the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "invited the world's leading crackpots for a shindig of wrongitude." In Thailand, the former Siam, _The King and I_ is banned "as false and insulting to the royal family. Even discussing the subject is frowned upon. While visiting, whenever you feel afraid, do _not_ whistle a happy tune." But the current Thai king is much beloved because, for one thing, "the guy's a jazz musician who puts his mp3s online." Kalimantan, the Indonesian state, "is the opposite of Java - so densely forested that some chunks remain completely unexplored, although international timber and mining companies are doing their best to give us a view." When a dictator in Turkmenistan dropped dead, "he was replaced in a rigged election by his former dentist, whose name in English contains more than half of our alphabet, including every vowel. (Really.)" Reflecting on the ephemerality of his own book, and the horrid conditions in Somalia, Harris writes, "Sadly, I cannot imagine things will have quieted much when you read this. Even if you've just found a dog-eared copy that your dad used to own."
Harris has not included a chapter on the United States "since this edition is mostly for U.S. readers, and you already know whom you've recently hated and feared." American influence is all over, though, often baleful leftovers from the era when any oppressive dictator could count on our financial aid if he just assured us he was anticommunist. In many current conflicts, our interest in making money is making humanitarian goals less achievable. There may be implicit and explicit criticism of U.S. policy here, but Harris knows there is much to admire: "... for all its faults, the U.S. is history's best example of a country where people from literally the entire planet manage to live in peace, all at once." He says that researching this book has given him more hope for humanity, reminding us that 150 years ago the U.S. practiced slavery, colonialism was the standard way of doing things, and women could not vote anywhere on the planet. He asks us to remember that there are a few places on the globe you'd never consider visiting because it is just too dangerous, but they are relatively few. "Every city has its bad neighborhoods; that doesn't mean you can't love living there. Same with Earth: except for some specific dicey bits, most of our planet is still full of wonderful surprises." Despite all the madness, this is a hopeful book, and also a useful one, and also an entertaining one.
Good thumbnail guide to world strife.
Uses political humor to deal with what would otherwise be a emotional trainwreck, but rarely comes close to bad taste.
The Hipster gives it a Thumbs Up!
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I'm really interested in this sort of thing. I've read several books on conflicts around the world, both non-fiction and fiction.Read more