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Customer Review

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book Obama should read before more troop commitments ... and yet, October 27, 2009
This review is from: Engaging the Muslim World (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. But, SOME Sunnis are fundamentalists, just like some Christians.

Next, Pakistan and its formation. Cole claims Muhammad Ali Jinnah was worried about the tyranny of the Hindu majority in a united post-British India, citing comments by Gandhi as proof. He ignores that Nehru, et al, ignored Gandhi's call for a peasant India, all at the spinning wheel, and that Gandhi himself was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist. He also ignores the complexity of Jinnah's gradual embrace of a separate Pakistan that included selfish political reasons. Cole also doesn't mention that Pakistan originally included, of course, East Pakistan, today's Bangladesh and that, especially there, the issues were much more complex than Hindu-Muslim ones. (Ironic, coming from someone who wants to stress the complexity of "engaging the Muslim world.")

So, Cole can be a good starting point. Just make sure to have several grains of salt handy,
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 15, 2009, 12:02:02 AM PST
Ghazal says:
Actually Wahabism is in fact not an Islamic sect...but a political movement. You seem to imply that Cole is making outlandish claims without any "support". What is your claim and reference that seems to disagree with Cole's "claim."?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2009, 11:23:06 PM PST
S. J. Snyder says:
I've read other sources about Wahhabism. I don't deny it's a political movement. That doesn't exclude it ALSO being a religious sect, denomination or what have you. Calvinism in Geneva was very much both political movement and religious body, for example. The two aren't exclusive.

Posted on Jan 4, 2011, 9:51:32 PM PST
A.Z. says:
Wahhabism - is in reality a pejorative term, though not always intentionally so when used in the US. It has nothing to do with Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's teachings which are orthodox Sunni. His books are taught and read widely around the world, including the US, and "Wahhabism" studies have nothing to do with the real teachings of this important Muslim scholar. The "fundamentalist" label and others are really not interchangeable between Christianity and Islam, and terms like Wahhabi are based on some really long patterns of imitating others' scholarship. I don't know exactly what he says since I am yet to buy the book, but based on your review it sounds correct.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2012, 12:16:32 PM PST
Guy says:
I liked your review, but I'm not sure if it's fair. The explosive birthrate may not be a problem in many middle eastern countries because of infant mortality (Iraq and other places). Wars, famine, poverty, etc. end up causing a very large toll on life expectancy, thus curbing population growth.

Regardless, Islam, and in particular Wahhabism is highly misunderstood. The term itself is not use by people of that sect of Islam. They call themselves salafis. The Salafi group use to be monolithic, but they've diverged quite a bit, and are now several subgroups with their own understanding of Islam. (In fact, some Salafi groups call other Salafis infidels. There is a famous case with some salafi groups calling Yasir Qahdi an infidel.) Usually when political change becomes a primary motivating factor, groups take on other names like "Shabab," "Muslim brotherhood," "al-Qaida," etc.

Cole is incorrect to claim that salafism (or wahabbism) isn't a sect of Islam (if that's what he flat out claimed). However, the lore of many salafi groups is politics. The unbelievable suffering Muslims are going through causes them to gravitate towards slogans that promise a better life. The slogan "Islam is the answer" is quite popular. Since many want geopolitical changes, the slogan translates into "Islam will bring about geopolitical change to improve your life." In fact, many salafi groups claim that the reason things are so bad in the Muslim world is because of people lacking seeing reality through salafi eyes - the claim if that happened, then things would improve. So while "wahaabism" may technically be a religious sect, it's, practically speaking, a political movement.

Posted on Mar 3, 2013, 6:45:19 PM PST
Formation of Pakistan was based on the belief that Muslims in India should be rulers over Hindus and never as equal citizens. Islamic elite at the time in India were mostly the descendents of Islamic rulers who colonized India and kept Hindus as second class citizens (Dhimmies). These Islamic elite wanted to bring back the Moghul rule after the exit of British, or, they were going to have their own separate Islamic state exclusively for Muslims. Unfortunately, the non-elite Muslims did not even know what was happening, they stayed back in India with the encouragement of Gandhi and Congress leaders, but they have nothing to regret about their decision knowing where Pakistan is going.

In Pakistan the belief is that everything will be good after people adopt "True Islam". What is true Islam? No two Muslims can agree. It goes anywhere from a secular society in Pakistan to global domination by Islam. How does one engage with such people?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2013, 9:04:33 PM PST
A.Z. says:
To Mr. Lakshminarayan: "How does one engage with such people?" With an open mind and an open heart. Islam is submission to God alone, without taking partners with Him in worship, upon the Sunnah or way of His final Messenger, peace be upon him. This is the religion of all the prophets from Abraham through Isaac, and through Ismael to Muhammad, peace be upon them all. How can Pakistan or any other country attain what the early Muslims did when they venerate and worship graves, tombs, saints, swamis, babas, etc.? Only when they establish first monotheism and call to it will they be successful. This is what the Muslims who read the Qur'an and understand it and follow it believe and call to, and is the way to success in the hereafter and in this life.

To Mr. Guy: I don't think you understand, with all respect, what Salafiyyah is at all. From calling someone like Qadhi an infidel (he is a misguided individual but a Muslim), to the political slogans, and al-Qaeda, and Ikhwan al-Muslimeen as being part of Salafiyyah, is like including Baptists and Amish within the fold of Catholicism. Salafiyyah is the Qur'an and Sunnah upon the understanding of the Pious predecessors, which is a tenet clearly outlined in the Qur'an and Sunnah itself. It is not a political movement except in the sense of Islam being a political movement, for Islam includes al-Siyasah al-Shari'iyah, or legislated government. But the Muslims today are ignorant of the very basics of Islam, as is unfortunately, after reading Cole's book in school, the author of this book.
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