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Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror [Hardcover]

Mahmood Mamdani
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 2004
In this brilliant look at the rise of political Islam, the distinguished political scientist and anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani brings his expertise and insight to bear on a question many Americans have been asking since 9/11: how did this happen?

Mamdani dispels the idea of “good” (secular, westernized) and “bad” (premodern, fanatical) Muslims, pointing out that these judgments refer to political rather than cultural or religious identities. The presumption that there are “good” Muslims readily available to be split off from “bad” Muslims masks a failure to make a political analysis of our times. This book argues that political Islam emerged as the result of a modern encounter with Western power, and that the terrorist movement at the center of Islamist politics is an even more recent phenomenon, one that followed America’s embrace of proxy war after its defeat in Vietnam. Mamdani writes with great insight about the Reagan years, showing America’s embrace of the highly ideological politics of “good” against “evil.” Identifying militant nationalist governments as Soviet proxies in countries such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, the Reagan administration readily backed terrorist movements, hailing them as the “moral equivalents” of America’s Founding Fathers. The era of proxy wars has come to an end with the invasion of Iraq. And there, as in Vietnam, America will need to recognize that it is not fighting terrorism but nationalism, a battle that cannot be won by occupation.

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is a provocative and important book that will profoundly change our understanding both of Islamist politics and the way America is perceived in the world today.

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Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror + Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (Fully Revised Edition)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books; First Edition Later Printing edition (April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375422854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375422850
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 778,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars NOT A MERE RELIGION 26 April 2013
By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
The first thing that anyone reviewing this book needs to tell prospective readers is what the book is about, because you would not guess from the front cover. It is about its strapline `America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror'. The more eye-catching main title `Good Muslim, Bad Muslim' relates to a particular `western' way of thinking. This topic is addressed, certainly, and addressed in the thoughtful and persuasive way that is characteristic of the whole book, but it is hardly more than an incidental discussion. In fact it gets wrapped up and put to bed on p175 with `political Islam is a modern political phenomenon, not a leftover of a traditional culture', leaving the author with 85 more pages in which to expand on the aspects that he feels call for more detailed analysis.

If you think that such a conclusion is less than the whole story you are very likely right. Indeed, my own reaction at point after point in the book was `There's more to it than this', and on looking at other reviews I find much the same sentiment expressed , sc `That's all very well so far as it goes, it's full of interesting and often brilliant insights, but the perspective is perhaps rather one-sided.' That in turn provoked the thought `How many (valid) sides are there to this argument? Has the author trained his (admittedly limited) focus on the issue that outweighs all the others?' His style of writing is persuasive, but his reasoning is even more so, and I have the uneasy feeling that if we want real light shed on the murky world of Islam-vs-the-West this book is a good place to look for it.

The author traces the origins of the current mess back to the later cold war, in particular to the world-outlook of Mr Reagan's administration.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  63 reviews
58 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Painful to read, but very enlightening despite some problems 22 Feb 2005
By AcornMan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As an American, even one who disagrees with much of our foreign policy since the early 1980s, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is a tough pill to swallow. If you're the kind of person who needs the reassurance of a staunchly pro-American ideological screed to sooth your delicate sentimentalities and shore up your patriotism without questioning your beliefs, this is definitely not the book for you. But if you go into this book with an open mind, willing to have your preconceptions about your country challenged, you will learn a lot from it, albeit painfully.

This book seems to have two main purposes: First, to dispense with the notion that terrorism carried out by Muslims is somehow an intrinsic element of either Islam or Muslim culture; and second, to identify the root causes of that terrorism. The second point is actually a bit more complex though, because what the author really sets out to do is blame the US for causing terrorism. And although he makes some excellent and well-supported points, this is one of the weaknesses of the book, as I'll discuss below.

It was only natural for me to squirm a bit when I read many of the accusations in this book, and because I'm not the kind of person who immediately believes everything he reads in a book that is very obviously tilted heavily toward a single viewpoint I did not simply swallow everything the author says. However, I have to concede that, on most of the major points, I cannot offer a rebuttal. One would think that a book of this nature would spawn a mountain of heated and defensive responses, but I have been very surprised to find that the overwhelming response has been no response at all. In fact, I have been unable to find a single rebuttal to anything in this book. It has either somehow managed to remain under the radar of its likely critics or those critics simply have nothing to say in response.

In the end I shorted this book one star because there were several glaring problems in both the central thesis and some of the factual details, some of which I'll mention here. Before beginning it is important to point out that the author goes to great pains to essentially blame the US for the very existence of Muslim terrorism today. But focusing on such a narrow mission I believe he goes astray from time to time and loses some credibility in what is otherwise a very well-reasoned book. First is his claim that the US was "the source" of chemical weapons to Iraq. This is simply not true, and while the US certainly did help Iraq develop its chemical and biological weapons programs, it is well-documented that Iraq's program was the product of a fairly fragmented system involving quite a lot of other countries.

The author makes the point several times that terrorism is a political response to certain repressive conditions rather than simply a religious response. And while I agree with this 100%, he overplays his hand by next claiming that the US is primarily to blame for the political conditions to which terrorists are responding. In doing so the author almost completely ignores decades of often brutal oppression by Muslim governments. Perhaps it is convenient for disenfranchised elements of the populations in those countries to blame the US for their plight in life (and to be sure, the governments often promote that view as a safety valve to shield themselves), but that doesn't mean they are correct in blaming the US. The author should have explored the subject of Muslim oppression of other Muslims much more thoroughly. Somewhat related to this issue is the fact that the governments and people of many Muslim countries (such as Saudi Arabia) have contributed a tremendous amount of support to terrorist organizations. The author acknowledges this in passing but fails to explore it further, focusing instead on how actions of the US have contributed to terrorism.

Where the author really went overboard was his claim that the US committed widespread war crimes and used weapons of mass destruction during the first Gulf War, in Afghanistan, and in Kosovo. Specifically, he says the use of depleted uranium weapons, cluster bombs, and Mark-77 firebombs violated humanitarian law because they are "incapable of distinguishing between civil and military targets." He also says the US conducted bombing with no regard to the civilian population. These claims are really quite silly. Had the US really wanted to kill the civilian populations in those engagements it could very easily have conducted the sort of saturation bombing so prevalent during WW II. Instead, it is quite clear that great pains were taken to minimize civilian casualties in all these engagements. The fact that these efforts were not always successful does not mean the US simply disregarded those concerns. With regard to the specific weapons used, there really is no such thing as a weapon that can distinguish between civil and military targets. The best one can do is try to hit the intended target, but obviously that doesn't always work as planned. I feel that I need to specifically address depleted uranium weapons. The author makes it sound like some kind of nuclear weapon was used, when in fact it is simply a very dense metal (albeit one with low grade radioactivity) used in armor-piercing munitions and even in the armor of some vehicles. Even after it impacts with a target it does not add significantly to the normal background radiation we encounter in the natural environment every day. And while the potential danger of these materials is not disputed, there is a lot of misinformation out there about them, and their long-term health risk is very debatable. Referring to them as a "weapon of mass destruction" and calling their use a "war crime" is way over the top and exposes the author's predisposition.

There are other instances where the author overreached, but this book review is already long enough and I don't want to nitpick every single little point I disagreed with. In the end the problems I have identified do not negate the central theme of the book. However, they do damage the credibility of the author a bit and help illustrate how the book goes a bit off course by focusing almost solely on the US rather than discussing many other factors that have contributed to terrorism. I still believe this book is very much worth reading, with the understanding that the reader will encounter some claims that need not be accepted as completely accurate or evenhanded.
48 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, important reading. 17 May 2004
By L. F Sherman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the best of the forty or so books I have read recently on the results of recent US foreign policy, on forms of political Islam, on the roots and character of terror, as well as on common misperceptions. Chapter two on "Culture Talk" is itself worth the price of the book. The origins of our enemies in US policy, CIA training, even University of Nebraska contracted textbooks is damaging to the myths supporting US policies now.
Discussion is painfully frank, honest, and thought provoking. Some will be unwilling to face this.
The origins of the worst may be in the Reagan era and now with this preemptive war but Carter and Clinton's errors are noted in what is a constructive rather than partisan analysis.
The types and motives of political Islam is a useful antidote to the simplistic poisonous tripe so common from the Media and the Administration and even scholars who should know better like Lewis and Huntington.
The summary of major costs of the focal Afghan War include, and continue to include, eroding democracy at home; US blowback from the creation of international trained and experienced terrorist Alumni; dramatic increases in Drug trade and users from financing methods of the wars; increased incoherence and decreased communication between the CIA and FBI. One can add that Press self censorship and complicity recently rated the US as not in the top 20 world wide for having a "free Press." The author does not mention that after first disarming then attacking Iraq the US `bully' inadvertently makes a case for nukes for all for some deterrent (remember that word?).
The analysis of an commonality of irrational interest with Israel as another settler state and the discussion of the nature of suicide bombing will upset assumptions widely held but deserve thoughtful consideration.
Read this book! More importantly, THINK about what is said. Definitely worth buying. I'm giving a copy to the local library too!
87 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired, Disciplined, Nuanced, Nobel-Level Thinking 13 Aug 2004
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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This is an inspired, disciplined, nuanced, Nobel-level book, and if it ends up saving America from itself, then it would surely qualify the author for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is the first of three "must read" books that I am reviewing today, and it is first because the other two are best appreciated after absorbing this one. The other two books are "IMPERIAL HUBRIS" and "OSAMA'S REVENGE."

The main weakness of this book is the author's lack of strong criticism of Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and of other states that are corrupt, repressive, and therefore a huge part of the problem. Having said that, here are some of the key points:

- "West" pioneered genocide, expulsions, and religious wars, with Spanish genocide of Indians in Americas, and Spanish expulsion of first the Jews and then the Muslims as critical starting points in understanding Muslim rage today

- America adopted terrorism as a preferred means of fighting proxy wars in both Central America and Africa, when Reagan began "rollback" with the same neo-conservative advisors that guide Bush II today.

- West has four dogmas as summed up by Edward Said (who is admired by the author): 1) that Orient is aberrant, undeveloped and inferior; 2) that Orient is inflexibly tied to old religions texts, unable to adapt; 3) that Orient is inflexibly uniform and unable to do nuances; and 4) Orient is either to be feared (Green or Yellow or Brown Peril) or controlled.

- Fundamentalism actually started in the US among the Christians seeking to insert religion into the state's business and ultimately demanding faith and loyalty as the litmus tests for acceptance.

- Earlier generations of Islamic reformists disavowed violence, but ended up adopting violence after being in state prisons (e.g. Egypt).

- Earlier incarnations of a Muslim revival were in the open literature in the 1920's and then in the 1960's, and lastly in the 1980's to date--our national "intelligence" agencies appear to have missed the importance of all three

- Viet-Nam, Africa, and Central America all fostered extremely unhealthy connections between CIA covert operations and the drug trade, with CIA routinely condoning and often actively enabling massive drug operations and related money laundering, as the "price" of moving forward on covert operations.

- The obsession with winning the Cold War at all costs essentially destroyed U.S. foreign policy and set U.S. up as the enemy of the Third World [see Derek Leebaert's "The Fifty-Year Wound"].

- Morality in the US has been perverted, as the extreme right, joining with extreme Zionists, has "captured" the U.S. government in both Congressional and Executive terms. Orwellian "spin" together with the labeling of all dissent, made possible by media corporations "going along", has destroyed any possibility of informed, objective, or actually moral dialog.

- The Central American campaign pioneered the privatization of terrorism and proxy war by the US, with secrecy and deception of the US public being the principal role of the US government.

- The US Government is explicitly accountable for introducing bio-chemical weapons into the Iraqi arsenal, and thus accountable for the genocide and war crimes attendant to their use.

- US (AID) sponsored textbooks, such as those created by the University of Nebraska, routinely used terrorism against Russians as examples in the mathematic and other textbooks being distributed in Afghanistan.

- CIA's main contribution to the destabilization of the world has been in its Afghan-related privatization of information about how to produce and spread violence, and its training of tens of thousands of jihad warriors from all over the world who have now returned home and are teaching and leading others.

- Under US leadership, Afghanistan has gone from providing 5% of the global opium production in 1980, to 71% in 1990, and even more today--much of which comes to the US.

- America not only accepts massive drug activities as part of the "cost of doing business", but also ignores human rights in its rush to cozy up to corrupt dictators.

- From an Iraqi point of view, the 1.5 million or so children that died in Iraq due to the sanctions, must be seen as a major war crime and a form of terrorism, together with the air war with its indiscriminate murder of thousands if not tens of thousands civilians including women and children. The US has killed more civilians in Iraq than it did in Japan with two atomic bombs. Napalm and depleted uranium are disabling US troops as well as Iraqi civilians long after their use in the field.

- Economic sanctions, when they have the impact they did in Iraq, must be considered weapons of mass destruction, their application terrorism, and their results war crimes.

- The US Government's general disdain for the rule of law, but the incumbent Administration's particular focus on ignoring treaties and refusing accountability (e.g. for war crimes) sets a new low standard for immoral behavior by nation-states.

- The UN Secretary-General was forced by the US to ignore the Rwandan genocide because of a US desire to keep everyone focused on Sarajevo, and continues to us its veto power to prevent UN from being effective against racist Zionism, which is routinely committing crimes against humanity with its Palestinian campaign.

The author concludes, without sounding inflammatory, that America was built on two monumental crimes: the genocide of the Native Americans, and the enslavement of African Americans. His point: the US is in denial over this reality, while the rest of the world is completely aware of it. He agrees with Jonathan Schell, concluding as Schell does in "Unconquerable World," that the challenge of our times is in "how to subdue and hold accountable the awesome power that the United States built up during the Cold War." The last sentence is quite powerful: "America cannot occupy the world. It has to learn to live in it."
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for stimulating intelligent debate but a little too biased for my taste 14 Jun 2006
By Francois-Xavier Jette - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
First I must say this book is very well written and easy to read.

The stated purpose of the author is to stimulate a deeper and more intelligent debate on how to tackle the problem of terrorism. To solve a problem, one needs to first understand it. The author explains why common presumptions often based on ignorance and racism should be dismissed since they are too simplistic and too inaccurate to provide a real understanding of the complex problem of radical political extremism. His thorough discussion of the various political and religious movements in the middle east (and in the US) helped me understand the various philosophies and alliances that have influenced politics in the middle east in the last few decades.

In the second half of the book, Mamdani spends much time on the emergence of the jihadist movement in Afghanistan. He shows how an ideology that had gathered only marginal support since the 60's became so influencial as a result of the Russian invasion, and the involvement of Pakistan and the US. This section was very well written and very informative.

Up to this point, I found the content of the book to be extremely enlightening and it indeed fulfilled its goal of stimulating a more intelligent debate on terrorism.

When it came to discussing the post-9/11 period (namely, the US invasion of Iraq and Israel's policy in the occupied territories), I found more bias and partisan views than I found scholarly analysis. This disappointed me, it gave me the impression that the author finished the book in a hurry and just spoke with his heart instead of his mind... Instead of promoting rational debate, this section was more similar to the ridiculous partisan and self-interested debates we hear from our politicians!
30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book 30 April 2004
By Michael S. Scheibinger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a fine book, a real eye-opener. For people who don't have a lot of background in Islamist politics, the first half is a hard read because the issues are extremely complicated. However, this is good place to start if you want to try to begin sorting the threads of religious and political Islam. For US citizens with even a modicum of political background, the rest is a piece of cake, and fascinating. Especially interesting is reading about how the Clinton administration was shackled and thwarted as it tried to accomplished some of its more humanitarian objectives. While I believe that Mamdani is not an apologist for 'suicide' bombings, some people are going to have difficulty with his explanation of this phenomenon, which he frames in light of Israeli aggression and compares to similar oppression and violent reactions in South Africa. In any case, it forced me to think of what drives this behavior, and how far humanity must be pushed to the wall in order to exhibit it. The final chapter is heart-wrenchingly poignant, and calls for a world-wide peace movement in the face of what the author believes to be one of the most volatile political scenarios in recorded history: the 'good vs. evil' standoff between the political Christian Right and militant political Islam, a standoff with no hope of negotiation or reconciliation - a fight to the finish resulting in total annihilation of the other.
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