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Customer Review

84 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding discussion, March 30, 2009
This review is from: Engaging the Muslim World (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 2.7 million in the summer of 2008. Meanwhile about 200,000 Iraqi refugees live in misery in Jordan and another million live in Syria. Cole describes how he discovered, from his own visit to refugee camps and other sources in the region, that many Sunni refugees are afraid to go back to Iraq because they have been threatened with violent retribution from Shiite militias if they try to return to their old homes. Cole's analysis makes clear that the "surge" has not offered any long-term solutions to Iraq's most serious problems.

Cole is also great when he argues against the Islamophobic currents in western societies. He argues that the principles of mainstream Islamic thought going back to the medieval ages are anathema to the ideas of Sayd Qatb, the Egyptian fundamentalist executed by the Nasser regime in 1966 and a leading inspiration for Al Qaeda type ideologies. He argues that it is inaccurate to describe the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as a fascist movement. He cites a number of polls to show that all but a very small number of Muslims in the Middle East have any sympathy with Al Qaeda. He warns that the extremely brutal "search and destroy" operations by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan can only increase support for violent anti-American Islamists among the affected populations. Meanwhile peasants in southern Afghanistan have had their only source of livelihood, poppy crops, destroyed by US military operations. Cole warns that such actions can only increase sympathy for the Taliban as the US pumps weapons and troops into Afghanistan but disburses only paltry sums for economic reconstruction and alternative crops to wean peasant farmers off the poppy crop.

Cole was one of the first Middle East experts to point out that the allegation that Iranian president Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the map was based on a very misleading translation. Ahmadinejad may be a stupid ignoramus but it is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad, who controls the direction of Iran's foreign and military policies. Cole points out that there is strong evidence that Ahmadinejad has a great many opponents in the clerical establishment in Iran. But the Bush administration did its best to strengthen the most hard-line, reactionary segments of Iran's ruling elite, for example, rejecting the very conciliatory proposal for normalization of relations made by Iran through Switzerland in 2003. Cole notes that Obama, as well as McCain, played up the threat of Iranian nukes during the 2008 election, even though the US National Intelligence Estimate of late 2007 stated that Iran had stopped trying to develop a nuclear weapon in 2003. Iran insists that it is developing a nuclear program for civilian energy purposes only, which it is entitled to do as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Cole cites Jimmy Carter's estimate that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, so even if Iran developed one nuclear bomb .....Cole points out that the US was sympathetic to Iran's original development of a nuclear program back in the 1970's when its puppet dictator, the Shah, was in power. The Ayatollah Khomeini scrapped the Shah's nuclear program and declared that nuclear weapons were anathema to Islam.

Cole notes that genuine anti-Semitic feeling is not high in Iran; Iranian Jews face some modest cultural restrictions but they are far from being at risk for genocide. Iranian Jews have representation in Iran's parliament; no harm came to Iranian Jewish leaders who wrote to Ahmadinejad to criticize him for his unfortunate comments about the holocaust. Cole points out that several years ago Iranian state TV ran a very popular dramatic min-series about a Muslim male of mixed Persian-Palestinian descent who helps rescue a Jewish love interest from Nazi occupied France.

I may disagree with Cole on a few things but I can't dismiss the great pertinacity of this book in these times when discussion about Islam is primarily directed in this country by ignorant demagogues. Cole has actually lived in the Middle East and is learned in its languages unlike so many "experts" on the region. He presents his ideas in this book with impressive clarity.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 4, 2009, 6:16:17 PM PDT
I just watch C-span with Prof. Cole. He is the guy we should be listening to - not the spin doctors.
Great review.

Posted on Mar 6, 2010, 2:20:56 PM PST
Chris,
Thank you for your thoughtful and comprehensive review of Dr. Cole's fine book. As someone who has only modest knowledge of the Muslim world, I thought Dr. Cole's book was very informative. For the most part, I found myself agreeing with Cole's primary recommendation that our policies should emphasize constructive engagement with moderate Muslims. This will not only allow us to find and build upon common interests, but will have the effect of marginalizing the more radical Isalmic elements which threaten peace and security throughout the world. Others may not be persuaded to accept Dr. Cole's policy recommendations, but I believe that all fair-minded readers of "Engaging the Muslim World" will have to agree that this region of the world is strategically important, politically complex and highly unstable. Further, it is difficult to refute Cole's premise that current and past U.S. and western policies that rely on isolation and demonization of and military intervention in the Muslim world have not been successful in bringing peace and stability to the region - or to ourselves, for that matter - and, no matter how well intentioned, have not served our long term national interest or been consistent with our humanitarian values. It is definitely time for the U.S. and other western countries to rethink and reshape the way we interact with this part of the world.
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