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Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West [Paperback]

Benazir Bhutto
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Aug 2008
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party, was seen as vital to that country's future. In exile for years, in late 2007 she felt the time had come to actively re-engage and to return to the country she loved. Part of that process was a clear-eyed assessment of where Pakistan was, and of the nature of its relationship with the West, with Islam, and with extremism. In this important new book, completed just days before her assassination, Ms Bhutto demonstrats that extremism is not inherent to Islam, but that various factors, including some policies of the West, have empowered Islamic fundamentalists and are responsible for the current battle for the hearts, minds and bodies of the Umma (the Islamic nation around the world). RECONCILIATION was her compelling and convincing prescription for the country at the heart of the so-called 'clash of civilizations'. It argues that democracy, economic development, moderation and modernity are the greatest threats to international terrorism.She pledged to work with the United States and the West to ensure that Pakistan ceased to be the petri dish of international radicals, and to re-establish its bona fides as a realistic and effective moderate alternative for one billion Muslims around the world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (4 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847393195
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847393197
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 406,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Benazir Bhutto served twice as Pakistan's Prime Minister, from 1988 to 1990 and 1993 to 1996. She is now based in Dubai, from where she makes regular trips around the world giving lectures.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, Global and Personal 16 Sep 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is no easy read but lays bare the roots and causes of much of the friction between the militant Islamic world and the West covering the global situation as well as Pakistan. It does not pull any punches on either side and sites history and Koranic quotation to back its statements. It is still a tragedy that Benazir Bhutto is not able to put her common sense and reconciliation thoughts into practice on the global arena, her life having been cut short by a still unexplained political assassination.

I would strongly recommend that those of us in the west who wish to try to understand read this book and consider - stick with it as it is well worth it.
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I liked this book because it has a detailed account on the current diplomatic relations of the west with the Muslim world. Benazir Bhutto looks different while reading her views on the role of the west especially US and Britain which according to her has never been fair towards developing world and Muslim countries. She criticizes the west for their double standards over democracy in the world. She held responsible western powers of supporting the dictatorships and tyrannies in Muslim world especially Pakistan. Benazir has also challenged the thesis of clash of civilization by Samuel Huntington and termed it a self serving prophecy which does not correspond to the actual causes of the world crises. She has also criticized the political Islam theorists Syed Abul Ala Maududi of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Syed Qutub of Muslim Brotherhood Egypt and held them partially responsible of extremism in Muslim world. Benazir has also given practical solutions to chasm the gap between west and Muslim world especially developing countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. In her view poverty and illiteracy breed extremism in society, if rich countries would have used their resources to alleviate poverty and had not supported dictatorship than the world would be a different place. She has also suggested to use the tool of public diplomacy to have the better relation ship between west and Muslim world. This book is worth reading. It focuses on the burning issues of extremism and terrorism faced by the world in 21st century.
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4.0 out of 5 stars OK 18 Sep 2011
The book sets out, from Bhutto's perspective, the current state of many Islamic countries and their relations to the west. It is well researched and the arguments are clear. In short this book adds to the understanding of the modern world and is a good one to read.
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By Melike
The book started very interesting. I loved the part about different countries in the world, Islamic and non-Islamic, common parts and common mistakes. Then, it diverted totally to Pakistan, of which I don't have enough information. However, the last 2 chapters were challenging for me. Too many names, dates, incidents, small details. To say the truth, I lost myself totally in the last 2 chapters. Yet, it was an amazing book and I really appreciate Bhutto for all the things she did for her country and for the others.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read - With Reservations 17 Mar 2008
By P. Kurze - Published on
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.
37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Woman - A Legacy Lost 13 Feb 2008
By Asad - Published on
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intellectual politician... 1 Mar 2008
By James Klagge - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
...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!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but Unpersuasive 28 Sep 2009
By Suchos - Published on
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.
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST READ 12 Feb 2008
By Book Lover - Published on
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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