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A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America
A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America
by Malise Ruthven
Edition: Paperback

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A serious analysis of 9/11, 15 Mar. 2003
Amidst all the paranoid, hysterical and bigoted writings that have flooded the market in the wake of 9/11 Malise Ruthven's "A Fury for God" is a beacon of restraint. Except for the somewhat overly dramatic first chapter this book is a serious attempt to trace the roots of the seeming incomprehensible fury unleashed against anything American in the late Summer of 2001.
Although, in his preface, he makes no claims to great originality, Ruthven's approach of the subject matter is refreshingly different from most other books, the vast majority of which run aground in superficial treatment and overly easy conclusions regarding the motivations of Muslim extremists. It is a bit of a pity that Ruthven did not resist the temptation to graft his narrative on the dramatic imagery of eyewitness accounts. But he quickly makes good on this by shifting to a philosophical approach. For this the author brings with him a solid grounding in religious studies. Although his specialism is indeed Islam, it becomes obvious that he is also conversant with the broader field of comparative religion, enabling him to draw parallels with Christian and even Hindu traditions.
One of the most important points he makes in the first chapter is the key realization of the incommensurability of fundamentalist and more liberal thought patterns. Where the latter tend to see religions as 'cummulative traditions', a syncretism of various cultural influences, the former search for pristine faith: with clear-cut and neat oppositions. Fundamentalists are hardcore dualists, says Ruthven, reducing the world to the Manichaean dimensions of good and evil. In fact, for fundamentalists, faith IS Manichaean. A very interesting observation in this context is that, in that sense, the religious views of many Americans are equally dualist. As Ruthven points out American diplomacy has a distinctly 'Manichaean' streak because American politics has deep biblical and puritan roots.
A major difference between fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Protestants is however how far they are willing to carry their literalism. In the remainder of the book Malise Ruthven sets out to uncover the genealogy of Islamic fundamentalism.
The writer commences with an extensive historical examination of the Jihad doctrine, beginning with its Quranic origins in the so-called "Sword Verse", he moves on to the importance of the rapid territorial expansion of the Islamic empire during its first generation, and introduces later-day conceptualizations such as the differentiation between individual and collective obligations to defend the faith, and religious warfare as a sociological agent. Ruthven also signals the centrality of the rewards of martyrdom in Jihad doctrine.
Probably the most revealing chapter of the book is "The Aesthetics of Martyrdom". Here Ruthven tries to make sense of the intellectual heritage left by one of the chief ideologists of fundamentalist Islam: Sayyid Qutb. Most source books on Muslim radicalism recognize the seminal importance of this writer, but Ruthven assigns key importance to Qutb's stay in the USA during 1949-1950. This experience changed his worldview so profoundly that he gave up his earlier literary career and became a Muslim activist. Qutb's statement that he was born in 1951 sounds eerily familiar: 'Reborn' Christians refer to their religious experience in similar terms.
Another important point made in this chapter is the new way in which Qutb encourages his followers to read the Quran. Ruthven calls this 'proof-texting', meaning that certain passages ııare taken out of context and treated like talismans for spiritual guidance and "fetishes" of scientific truth. This is further elaborated in the next chapter, where the phenomenon of dedication to a cause until death is investigated. Alongside references to accepted authorities in the fields of Islamic and general religious studies, Ruthven also maps the emergence of a plethora of radical Muslim organizations since the late 1960s. This chapter is also used to set up another key notion: the question of identity. Finally, Ruthven makes some rather surprising connections with '70s urban guerrilla groups (like Germany's Baader-Meinhoff Gruppe) and the philosopher Nietzsche.
In "Cultural Schizophrenia" the writer tries to get into the perpetrators' heads. Not in an effort to come up with some sort of apologetic explanation, but to make sense of how basically rational, relatively well-educated young men can be brought to such horrific acts. This chapter is a search for a common ground in the life experience of the young Saudis of 9/11 and Sayyid Qutb's American sojourn. It also unveils some interesting facts on the pervasiveness of tribal affilitation in Saudi society and the latent dissent among the Wahhabi religious scholars.
The two following chapters cover territory that is also dealt with in other books: Saudi Arabia's 'Islamic imperialism', the creation of - in the end uncontrolable - Jihadist organizations fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the importance of the 1990-1991 Gulf War and its aftermath in breeding resentment against the governments in Riyadh and Washington, a feeling ruthlessly exploited by Bin Laden c.s.
In the concluding chapter "A Clash of Civilizations?", Ruthven critically examines the doctrines propounded by two "spin doctors" of the Clash-of-Civilizations thesis: Samuel Huntington and Benjamin Barber. Malise Ruthven acknowledges the plausibility of Huntington's civilization concept, but finds his ideas on religion wanting. According to Ruthven, Huntington is shortselling religion because he limits it to formal doctrines and ritual practices, better were it to take them as communication systems or symbolic languages expressing a vast array of human impulses. This might be especially relevant for Islam, which can be characterized as institutionally poor but rich in discursive tradition. Although Barber provides a powerful antidote to the Huntington doctrine, his explanation has another flaw: the denial of modern Islamism's claim of universality, lumping it together with mysticism and nationalism.
Some of Ruthven's references provide already a hint of the direction in which the author is looking for a way out of the cul-de-sac into which Muslim fundamentalism is leading the Islamic world. In the closing paragraphs the author points at the need of unwavering commitment to restructuring Muslim society on democratic principles, which are not inherently incompatible with Islam.


The Crossing Place: Journey Among the Armenians
The Crossing Place: Journey Among the Armenians
by Philip Marsden
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Quest for Ararat, 26 Sept. 2002
Philip Marsden clearly harbors a special interest in eastern Christian traditions, for they run like a red thread through his three travel books. In "A Far Country: Travels in Ethiopia" he visits this sole surviving Christian nation in the Horn of Africa, surrounded by Islamic countries. "The Spirit Wrestlers" explores a plethora of religious movement springing up in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus in the wake of the Societ Union's downfall..
In "The Crossing Place" Marsden sets out to investigate the tragic fate of the Armenians, an ancient Christian people from the Caucasus. This mountainous region tugged in between the Black and Caspian Seas lies on the crossroads of the old Persian, Turkish and Russian realms. It is also the place were six of the world's twelve tectonic plates meet, making it one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world. Because of this geographical position Armenia's fate is permeated with disaster, both natural and man-made. These experiences have made dislocation a continuous theme in Armenian history and provide the book with a double travel motif: not only the author is constantly on the move, but so is his subject.
Marsden became interested in the Armenians through a chance encounter in eastern Turkey. There he stumbled on some fragmentary remains of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Intrigued by what he had found he decided to work his way back to the Armenian heartland.
The first part of the book is situated in the Near East, where Armenia had almost ceased to exist, "pushed down one of history's side-alleys and murdered". Or so it seemed, had they not been such a resilient people. Marsden picks up the trail in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem. He learns that the Armenians first appeared on the Anatolian plains in the sixth century BC. Eight hundred years later their king became the first ruler to accept Christianity. A first glimpse of the 'essential Armenia" is caught during a visit to a famous center for Armenian Studies, the San Lazzaro monastery in Venice (where Armenians had been resident well before the city's rise to commercial and political prominence in the 12th century). According to one of its scholars the unique Armenian script developed by Mesrop Mashtot embodies an idea that can not be explained but only expressed in one word "Ararat", the mountain that is the heart of Armenia.
Marsden continues his quest in Lebanon -- by way of Cyprus -- and poses himself the question how such a mobile nation, consisting of merchants, pilgrims and adventurers, had been able to maintain its distinctiveness. Nowhere better to get a sense of that than in Beirut, which has just emerged from a brutal civil war. Here the Armenians had staunchly stuck to their neutrality but also maintained a basis for their commando-type liberation movements, operating with surgical precision in sixteen countries. Only by tapping into the efficient Armenian network of connections is Marsden able to move swiftly and inconspicuously through Lebanon and Syria. Taking the Baron hotel in Aleppo -- founded and still managed by an Armenian -- as a base camp for explorations into the last surviving Armenian villages of northern Syria, Marsden gives us a chilling account of the ruthlessness with which the Turks perpetrated their ethnic cleansing during the First World War.
From Syria the author moves into Turkey. Using the ancient city of Antioch, which for seven hundred years had been largely populated by Armenians, the ruins of Ani, capital of a long-lost Armenian state, and finally Istanbul as a backdrop, Marsden gives an excellent overview of another Armenian characteristic: their genius for building. No single ethnic group in the Middle East has made so many contributions to architecture as the Armenians. They were employed by Turkish, Persian and Indian rulers alike. Marsden conjectures that they may have been instrumental to the development of Europe's Gothic style with its pointed arch.
The second part of the book takes us to the Balkans. Since the days of the Byzantine empire, subsequent rulers of Asia Minor have used this region to exile unwanted elements. This permits Marsden to launch into one of his favorite topics: arcane religious sects. The reader is provided with a most interesting account of how the doctrine of dualism, which can be traced back to the earlier Persian religions of Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism, forms the origin of many Christian heresies. Marsden has clearly studied this issue thoroughly and makes an Armenian role in the spread of heretical beliefs to western Europe quite plausible.
Traveling through Bulgaria and Romania, Marsden "[..] became aware that the Armenians had been a much greater presence in the Balkans than [..] first imagined." More gaps in the knowledge of this, at first so enigmatic, people are filled. He penetrates deeper into their language and learns about the extent of their trading relations. In the Middle Ages they had already reached Moorish Spain, Poland and the court of the Mongol Khan. By the 18th century Armenians were connected with the Ottoman, Safavid and Moghul courts, had established an influence with Burmese and Ethiopian monarchs, and traded in Amsterdam, Calcutta, Java and Tibet.
Via the Crimea Marsden finally makes it to Armenia proper where the third part of the book is set. Recently wrested away from seventy years of Soviet domination the situation there is still very precarious. During visits to four famous monasteries in the country's northeast, the writer contemplates the so-called "Silver Age", Armenia's last period of brilliance during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. Buried deep beneath this short period of fervent monastic activity lies Armenia's pre-Christian heritage. This atavistic past is just as much part of the Armenian identity as its unique Christian beliefs.
The book closes with an account of Armenia's more recent tribulations: a devastating earthquake and the war with neighboring Azerbaijan over the region of Karabagh. Witnessing its effects first-hand, Marsden "[..] sensed that here, where the threat was greatest, the Armenian spirit was at its strongest. It was the same spirit that had driven the Armenians through the vast improbability of their history".
"The Crossing Place" establishes Philip Marsden as a worthy successor of Colin Thubron, one of Britain's best travel writers. Not only do the two share an interest in less obvious travel destinations on the Eurasian landmass, visiting people at the fringes of so-called great cultures, but their writings have also a certain style in common; a captivating prose that unfolds the power of the English language and holds the reader's attention until the end.


The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity
The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity
by Tariq Ali
Edition: Hardcover

57 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dissecting the World, 20 Sept. 2002
For those who want to understand how such seemingly disparate issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kashmir question, and the situation in Afghanistan fit together in the Post-Cold War world this latest book by Tariq Ali is almost mandatory reading.
This is surely a very personal account of world affairs, and in many instances the author is driven just as much by his own convictions as by a desire to explain. For this is not an unbiased analysis. But to be fair to the author, the iconoclastic Tariq Ali makes no attempt to hide this and would be the first to admit that he has his own political agenda.
Readers who do not share Ali's political ideology, and this reviewer is one of them, should nevertheless not be put off by this. For the very value of THE CLASH OF FUNDAMENTALISMS is that it captures a mood, a mood prevalent among scores of people in what we like to call the Third World. And as the anthropologist Clifford Geertz has explained in an entirely different context, moods are just as potent as driving forces for human behavior as the more focussed motivations.
Another quality that the author can not be denied is courage. The opening sentence of the first chapter is namely: I never really believed in God. Not many people of Muslim extraction would have dared to make such a confession, at least not since the Salman Rushdie Affair.
Tariq Ali is indeed not your average representative of the Third World citizen. Born in a family of feudal landowners in the Punjab province of British India, which was divided after the partition between Pakistan and India, his relatives played a role in politics before and after independence: a grandfather was chief minister, and others held senior positions in the armed forces or served in parliament. Ali's parents, however, became staunch Marxists, while he himself is a self-confessed Trotskyist. Since his student-days he has been at the forefront of many political activities at the extreme left of the political spectrum.

His family background and his own political activism have made Tariq Ali a uniquely well-connected man, and this book has benefited from that. Throughout the years the author has had access to the military and political establishment in Pakistan, worked for the Russell Tribunal, traveled in worn-torn Northern Vietnam and visited Palestinian refugee camps. He shows himself not only very well read in Islamic history, but is also conversant with the writings of political radicals of both left and right. He augments his account with examples from literature: critical writers such as Abd al-Rahman Munif and Nizar Kabbani are or were personal acquaintances.
All this makes his book an important read for everybody who wants to at least attempt to view the world through the eyes of 'the Wretched of the Earth'.
In the first part Tariq Ali gives a genealogy of the heritage of Islamic civilization. Taking us from his personal introduction to Islamic learning, via the days of the Prophet Muhammad and early conquests to the crusades and the Ottoman Empire. This is followed by two more thematic chapters on the wide diversity of Islamic doctrines - meant to dispel the incorrect image of Islam as a monolithic bloc - and a very interesting discourse on gender issues in Islam.
In the second part of the book the author introduces us into the modern Middle East. Here Ali explains the way a puritanical strand of Islam ends up making common cause with the imperialistic designs of the West, and how the founding of Israel turned the Middle East into a political quagmire, both because of irreconcilable differences and outside manipulations. It is the author's accomplishment to give a readable account of how Zionism, the experiments with socialism in Arab countries such as Egypt and Syria, the trauma caused by the 1967 war, the rise and fall of Anwar Sadat and the Shah, have all been instrumental in creating a mood, which in 1987 exploded into the Intifadah. The result was that during the last decades of the twentieth century virtually the whole Middle East was submerged in an 'Ocean of Terror'.
In the next part, Ali shifts his attention back to his region of origin: South Asia. Because I am not as familiar with this part of the world as with the Middle East, I found this the most informative part of the book. The author explains how the tensions between India and Pakistan can be traced back to the undesired partition of former British India. During the run-up to independence the leaders of the Congress Party and Muslim League did not envisage the horror and atrocities to which they would expose the people they were suppose to represent. Later on it lead to a bloody war in Bangladesh, while Tariq Ali qualifies the Kashmir issue as the unfinished business of partition. Continued interference by the post-Word War II superpowers did nothing to improve the situation. Pakistani and Indian politics became already hopelessly corrupt, even before the situation got completely out of hand in Afghanistan.
While in the previous parts the author has tried to give an explanation for the rage that is holding large parts of the Islamic world in its grip, his final section starts with a chapter entitled 'A Short-Course History of US Imperialism'. In many instances Ali hits the nail on the head - the doctrine of Neo-Liberalism is just as fundamentalist in character as Islamic radicalism. His comparison between the theses presented by two high priests of post-Cold War doctrine, Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington, I found particularly insightful. But at the same time the author's personal political predilections come to the fore as he can not resist filling us in on the involvement of these two 'state intellectuals' in some of America's unsavory political actions. Kissinger, Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright are taken to task for this as well. A few quotations from Leon Trotsky, by contrast, serve to present him as a visionary, and there is unfortunately also little or no real analysis of what made Marxism-Leninism fail in the end.
But in short, THE CLASH OF FUNDAMENTALISMS is a very valuable book for those who want to look beyond the scare mongering of myopic politicians and sensationalist media. In addition to that, Tariq Ali is an entertaining writer as well.


Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique (Middle East Monograph Series)
Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique (Middle East Monograph Series)
by Mohammed Abed al-Jabri
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unabashed Averroist, 20 Sept. 2002
The Moroccan philosopher Mohammed Abed al-Jabri is one of the most prominent modern thinkers in the Arab and Islamic world. The collection of essays published under the title ARAB-ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY. A COMTEMPORARY CRITIQUE is the first of al-Jabri's works to appear in English and it provides an excellent introduction to al-Jabri's ideas.
Al-Jabri's project is an endeavor to establish a link between modernity and tradition. He wants it to be clear that modernity does not imply a break with the tradition, but rather an upgrading of the way modern Arabs/Muslims can relate to that tradition. Modernity is also something that has to be developed from within Arab culture instead of just copying European modernist methods. For according to al-Jabri the main insight to be gained is the awareness of the relativity and historicity of each and every tradition. Tradition does not represent an absolute reality transcending history.
The essays are organized into two parts. In the first section the author opts for a systematic approach of the subject matter, while the second set of essays provides the historical setting in which the tradition took shape, and identifies the germination of rationalist approaches developing within that tradition.
In the first chapter on the shortcomings of traditional discourse, al-Jabri presents three alternative readings of tradition. The fundamentalist reading presents the past as a means to establish and confirm identity. Taking the form of a retreat into a defensive stand, it projects a 'radiant future' based upon an 'ideological fabrication of the past'. Then there is a liberal reading of the tradition. Clearly derived from European thinking it has espoused an 'orientalist discourse' and reads one tradition through another. Such modern Arab liberal thinking contains a real danger of identity alienation. The third reading, the Marxist one, is qualified by al-Jabri as a ready-made dialectical method that must be considered as scientifically unsound because it posits an outcome before engaging into the analysis.
The second chapter is the most lucid portion of the book, and it provides a convenient summary of al-Jabri's thinking as detailed in his main work 'Critique of Arab Reason'. Referring to the three alternative readings of Arab tradition, al-Jabri points out that they suffer from two major weaknesses: a weakness of method - caused by a lack of objectivity - and a weakness of vision - due to a lack of historical awareness.
The lack of objectivity is a result of the flawed epistemology of Arab-Islamic thought, caused by the wrong application of the analogy method. In the Islamic context this became the scientific method par excellence, but it was applied wrongly by jurists, theologians and grammarians alike. In a similar vein can the lack of historical perspective be contributed to a limited view of the past, which is taken as transcendental and sacral, and must therefore be considered as a-historical.
Next al-Jabri poses the question how to escape from this deadlock. From the outset the author makes it clear that this epistemological break does not constitute a break on the level of knowledge itself, but takes place on the level of the mental act. Thinkers should not be 'taken by tradition' but rather 'embrace tradition'. This necessitates a 'disjunction between object and subject' as al-Jabri calls it. Without it objectivity is impossible.
First of all the subject should be disjoined from the object in order to get rid of a biased understanding of tradition based on that tradition itself. This can be achieved by a meticulous dissection of texts. The next step is to disjoin object from subject. For this operation al-Jabri suggests a process that is made up of three steps: a structuralist approach, which searches for the constants in a text tradition; a historical approach that links the author's thinking to his historical context; and a ideological approach, which envisages a synthesis between the structuralist and historical readings of the text.
Then follows what must be considered the most difficult part of al-Jabri methodology: reconnecting subject and object into a meaningful relationship. Here Mohammed al-Jabri's project of rationalist critique appears to suffer a relapse, for the author suggests nothing less than that this rejoining can only be achieved through intuition. Although he adds immediately that he is not talking about a mystical, personalist or phenomenological intuition, this reviewer is of the opinion that the search for the 'unsaid' or the 'hidden strategy' of a discourse constitutes a breach in the original train of thought. Al-Jabri's claim that all philosophers kept some ideas to themselves sounds unconvincing and appears to be at odds with the writer's outright hostility towards to Gnostic elements in the thinking of, for example, Ibn Sina [Avicenna].
After having dealt with the methodological flaws of Arab-Islamic philosophy, al-Jabri shifts his attention to the issue of vision. Whether we like it or not, vision makes up the framework of method. All systems of thought gravitate around a specific 'problematics', in the case of Arab-Islamic philosophy the reconciliation between reason and transmission. This problematics was approached through a specific Islamic reading of Greek philosophy. But the modern students of this Islamic philosophy have failed to make a distinction between the cognitive and ideological perspectives of this reading. This failure has resulting in the qualification of Islamic philosophy as being immobile and 'avoid of progress and of dynamics'.
This qualification is taken up by al-Jabri at the beginning of his historical essays. Their main purpose is to dispel this myth of immobility. For although the cognitive material has remained intransigent, the ideological use of it was dynamic. Al-Jabri characterizes Islamic philosophy as a militant ideological discourse around the problematics of reason and transmission, constantly facing challenges by the reactionary and conservative elements of society. In the second essay al-Jabri identifies these enemies as the Gnostics on the one hand, and the rigorist legal scholars on the other.
In the third historical essay entitled 'The Andalusian Resurgence' al-Jabri prepares the ground for his own version of the future of Arab-Islamic thought. Sketching the specific pluralist setting of the Islamic extreme northwest its thinkers were uniquely well positioned and prepared to tackle philosophical questions. Far removed from the ideological and political controversies raging in the central and eastern parts of the Islamic world, the thinkers of Muslim Spain and Northwest Africa could almost at their leisure internalize founding scientific disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, and logic before engaging into metaphysics. The two major exponents of this philosophical tradition, according to al-Jabri, were Ibn Hazm (994-1063) and Ibn Rushd [Averroes] (1126-1198).
Rejecting the flawed analogy methods of the tradition and Gnostic mysticism alike, Ibn Hazm was a great promoter of the demonstrative method. Ibn Rushd further continued this axiomatic approach in his simultaneous rejection of the Gnostic residues in Avicennian thought and al-Ghazali's offensive against the philosophers. Although in the west he is generally known as a commentator of Aristotle, al-Jabri insists that Ibn Rushd did not intend to defend Aristotle against all cost, but merely sought to understand him.
According to al-Jabri, it is because of the critique of all epistemological principles that he considers Ibn Rushd as the greatest inspirer for all future Arab-Islamic thought. Translated into modern terms: the Averroist legacy of realism, axiomatic method, and critical approach can help Muslims to construct their own reality. Instead of reading a future in the past, such an expression of a native experience would bring Muslims in touch with their historical consciousness.


Makers of Contemporary Islam
Makers of Contemporary Islam
by John Esposito
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shaping present-day Islamic discourse, 20 Sept. 2002
At present, John Esposito and John Voll are probably the most prominent writers on things Islamic in the United States. Both pair a sound academic grounding in religious studies with the ability to provide readable and balanced accounts on current affairs and important intellectual trends in the Islamic world. In 'Makers of Contemporary Islam' they present a number of Islamic thinker-activists - some of whom are quite controversial - in an empathic manner.
In composing this book the authors have tried to strike a balance between 'pure' intellectuals and political activists. In addition to that they have endeavored to ensure a fair geographical spread as well, by including representatives from North Africa, the Arab Middle East, Iran, the Indian Subcontinent, and Southeast Asia.
In their introductory chapter Esposito and Voll give an account of the role of the intellectual in society. This issue is addressed from both a historical and cross-cultural perspective. The writers have also included a typology of the intellectual in Islamic society: distinguishing between traditional religious scholars (the so-called Ulama), secular thinkers, and modern Muslim activist intellectuals. While the relative influence of the first group has been on the decline ever since the arrival of modernity in the Islamic world, the second group was discredited and soon overtaken by the Islamists following the defeat of the Arabs by Israel in 1967.
The authors have emphasized the subtleties in the thought of the Islamists treated in this volume. It is made clear that all these thinkers take a critical stand towards their own cultural heritage and share an interest in dialogue and intellectual exchange with other cultures. This way a much-needed counterweight is provided for the commonly held image of Islamists as narrow-minded radical fanatics and extremists bound on a violent-ridden collision course with the West.
The Arab Middle East is represented by a Palestinian scholar of religion, Ismail al-Faruqi, and the Egyptian philosopher Hasan Hanafi. These two thinkers share a rigorous academic training in both Islamic studies and western philosophy. Al-Faruqi, who has spent his academic career mainly in North America, was very apt at representing Islamic thought in western philosophic jargon, which may greatly contribute to its accessibility for western thinkers. In addition to that he has written penetrating books on important Islamic concepts such as the tawhid - de absolute unity of God. Al-Faruqi has also been engaged in comparative religious studies. Hanafi is a very prolific writer who has spent time in France and the United States. His most important contributions are his treatment of the concept of 'heritage' and the introduction of the phenomenon of 'the Islamic Left': a strand of Islamism that endeavors to translate critical thought into action.
The account on Hasan al-Turabi, a leading Sudanese Islamist, is focussed more on subject's political career than his philosophy as such. Probably this is due to the fact that the authors have based themselves predominantly on earlier research conducted for the State Department. Yet again, their account is more nuanced than the usual - overly facile - qualification of Sudanese Islamism as state-sponsored terrorism. Yet they never become apologetic and clearly point out that Turabi has indeed not shied away from associating with the country's repressive regimes in order to pursue his own agenda. Esposito and Voll point out that the real influence of Turabi has by and large been limited to the local Sudanese political experience. In the intellectual field however his writings have been - and continue to be - very influential throughout the Islamic world.
The Tunisian Rachid Ghannoushi fits in a similar mold. Probably intellectually the least powerful, he has been instrumental in articulating the importance of dialogue between 'culture zones', in order to find ways to borrow from each other's achievements and yet retain cultural authenticity.
Moving further east we encounter the Pakistani economist Khurshid Ahmad, who has been involved in both the development of an Islamic theory of economics and the actual application thereof during his years as a cabinet member and government adviser. Khurshid Ahmad is also a key-figure in Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami, whose founder Mawlana al-Mawdudi has been extremely influential for the formation of Ahmad's thought and the furthering of his political career.
A very interesting figure is the Iranian Abdolkarim Soroush (pen name of Hossein Dabbagh). A pharmacologist-turned-philosopher of science, he has been able to remain at the core of Iran's Revolutionary establishment and yet maintain a controversial stand regarding the impact of Islam on science and politics. In this respect he takes an interesting position through his distinction between religion and 'knowledge of religion', which is very much informed by his expertise in textual studies and profound understanding of poetics. Maybe most surprising is Soroush negative attitude towards Iran's 'Mullahcracy'.
Two of Southeast Asia's most influential islamically oriented politicians are also included in this book. Not only do they share a common cultural-geographic origin and rather similar outlook, but both have also fallen from political grace. Anwar Ibrahim, a former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and anointed successor of Mahathir, is serving a long-term prison sentence for alleged corruption and sexual misconduct. Abdurrahman Wahid, long-time leader of the Nahdatul Ulama (NU), was impeached as president of Indonesia and forced to resign.
The only female in this book is Maryam Jameelah; an American woman of Jewish extraction, who decided to embrace Islam and has since then made a name as a writer on traditional Islamic values. I wonder if the authors could not have identified another female intellectual, who is more representative for women Islamists.
In conclusion, 'Makers of Contemporary Islam' is an informed and balanced contribution to the growing body of books on the role of Islam in defining relations between cultures and in international politics.


The Crossing Place: Journey Among the Armenians
The Crossing Place: Journey Among the Armenians
by Philip Marsden
Edition: Paperback

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Quest for Ararat, 20 Sept. 2002
Philip Marsden clearly harbors a special interest in eastern Christian traditions, for they run like a red thread through his three travel books. In "A Far Country: Travels in Ethiopia" he visits this sole surviving Christian nation in the Horn of Africa, surrounded by Islamic countries. "The Spirit Wrestlers" explores a plethora of religious movements, which sprang up in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus in the wake of the downfall of the Soviet Union.
In "The Crossing Place" Marsden sets out to investigate the tragic fate of the Armenians, an ancient Christian people from the Caucasus. This mountainous region tugged in between the Black and Caspian Seas lies on the crossroads of the old Persian, Turkish and Russian realms. It is also the place were six of the world's twelve tectonic plates meet, making it one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world. Because of this geographical position Armenia's fate is permeated with disaster, both natural and man-made. These experiences have made dislocation a continuous theme in Armenian history and provide the book with a double travel motif: not only the author is constantly on the move, but so is his subject.
Marsden became interested in the Armenians through a chance encounter in eastern Turkey. Here he stumbled on some fragmentary remains of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Intrigued by what he had found he decided to work his way back to the Armenian heartland.
The first part of the book is situated in the Near East, where Armenia had almost ceased to exist, "pushed down one of history's side-alleys and murdered". Or so it seemed, had they not been such a resilient people. Marsden picks up the trail in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem. He learns that the Armenians first appeared on the Anatolian plains in the sixth century BC. Eight hundred years later their king became the first ruler to accept Christianity. A first glimpse of the 'essential Armenia" is caught during a visit to a famous center for Armenian Studies, the San Lazzaro monastery in Venice (where Armenians had been resident well before the city's rise to commercial and political prominence in the 12th century). According to one of its scholars the unique Armenian script developed by Mesrop Mashtot embodies an idea that can not be explained but only expressed in one word "Ararat", the mountain that is the heart of Armenia.
Marsden continues his quest in Lebanon -- by way of Cyprus -- and poses himself the question how such a mobile nation, consisting of merchants, pilgrims and adventurers, had been able to maintain its distinctiveness. Nowhere better to get a sense of that than in Beirut, which has just emerged from a brutal civil war. Here the Armenians had staunchly stuck to their neutrality but also maintained a basis for their commando-type liberation movements, operating with surgical precision in sixteen countries. Only by tapping into the efficient Armenian network of connections is Marsden able to move swiftly and inconspicuously through Lebanon and Syria. Taking the Baron hotel in Aleppo -- founded and still managed by an Armenian -- as a base camp for explorations into the last surviving Armenian villages of northern Syria, Marsden gives us a chilling account of the ruthlessness with which the Turks perpetrated their ethnic cleansing during the First World War.
From Syria the author moves into Turkey. Using the ancient city of Antioch, which for seven hundred years had been largely populated by Armenians, the ruins of Ani, capital of a long-lost Armenian state, and finally Istanbul as a backdrop, Marsden gives an excellent overview of another Armenian characteristic: their genius for building. No single ethnic group in the Middle East has made so many contributions to architecture as the Armenians. They were employed by Turkish, Persian and Indian rulers alike. Marsden conjectures that they may have been instrumental to the development of Europe's Gothic style with its pointed arch.
The second part of the book takes us to the Balkans. Since the days of the Byzantine empire, subsequent rulers of Asia Minor have used this region to exile unwanted elements. This permits Marsden to launch into one of his favorite topics: arcane religious sects. The reader is provided with a most interesting account of how the doctrine of dualism, which can be traced back to the earlier Persian religions of Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism, forms the origin of many Christian heresies. Marsden has clearly studied this issue thoroughly and makes an Armenian role in the spread of heretical beliefs to western Europe quite plausible.
Traveling through Bulgaria and Romania, Marsden "[..] became aware that the Armenians had been a much greater presence in the Balkans than [..] first imagined." More gaps in the knowledge of this, at first so enigmatic, people are filled. He penetrates deeper into their language and learns about the extent of their trading relations. In the Middle Ages they had already reached Moorish Spain, Poland and the court of the Mongol Khan. By the 18th century Armenians were connected with the Ottoman, Safavid and Moghul courts, had established an influence with Burmese and Ethiopian monarchs, and traded in Amsterdam, Calcutta, Java and Tibet.
Via the Crimea Marsden finally makes it to Armenia proper where the third part of the book is set. Recently wrested away from seventy years of Soviet domination the situation there is still very precarious. During visits to four famous monasteries in the country's northeast, the writer contemplates the so-called "Silver Age", Armenia's last period of brilliance during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. Buried deep beneath this short period of fervent monastic activity lies Armenia's pre-Christian heritage. This atavistic past is just as much part of the Armenian identity as its unique Christian beliefs.
The book closes with an account of Armenia's more recent tribulations: a devastating earthquake and the war with neighboring Azerbaijan over the region of Karabagh. Witnessing its effects first-hand, Marsden "[..] sensed that here, where the threat was greatest, the Armenian spirit was at its strongest. It was the same spirit that had driven the Armenians through the vast improbability of their history".
"The Crossing Place" establishes Philip Marsden as a worthy successor of Colin Thubron, one of Britain's best travel writers. Not only do the two share an interest in less obvious travel destinations on the Eurasian landmass, visiting people at the fringes of so-called great cultures, but their writings have also a certain style in common; a captivating prose that unfolds the power of the English language and holds the reader's attention until the end.


Kalimantaan
Kalimantaan
by C.S. Godshalk
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars emulating Conrad, 27 Sept. 2000
This review is from: Kalimantaan (Paperback)
Upon release of her debut novel Kalimantaan in 1998, award-winning short story writer C.S. Godshalk was dubbed 'the memsahib's Conrad' by the Sunday Times.
The novel, indeed reminiscent of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, is based on the life of James Brooke. During the golden age of British imperialism, this 19th century adventurer carved out a small piece of the East Indies for himself. First founding the settlement of Kuching on the island of Borneo he was later recognized as the 'White Rajah' of Sarawak.
In Kalimantaan (which incidentally means 'Island of raw sago' in the Dayak language) the story is mainly told from the perspective of Amelia, wife of Gideon Barr (the fiction version of James Brooke). After ten years in the wilderness Barr has returned to England to find a bride. The young woman of his choice, Amelia Mumm, accompanies her husband back to Borneo. What follows is the tale of a Victorian woman's experiences in an alien and often frightening environment.
Godshalk is a great stylist, with an astounding command of language. Blending fiction with historical and anthropological facts, she recreates the brooding atmosphere of the island's interior, where these Victorian pioneers were more or less engulfed by the Malay and Dayak culture: mysterious and impenetrable like the forest itself. There is for example a chilling description of a headhunting campaign.
However, although the book depicts a very vivid picture of the situation in Barr's little empire, the plot remains somewhat thin. In this respect it is not always clear how the vast array of characters introduced into the story are supposed to contribute to it. As a result of this multitude of personae the development of their characters leaves something wanting too.
Unfortunately, this is also true for Gideon Barr. It seems as if the author has taken to heart the warning which she lets one of the minor characters in the book give to Barr's cousin and rival, Richard Hogg. In a letter their uncle Jared Heath writes that in the East 'complex souls do not do well' and he himself had 'clung to his two-dimensionality like a raft'.
The most intriguing figure in the book is Richard Hogg, who rules over one of the remoter district's of Barr's realm. He is revered by his tribesmen, who refer to him as 'Tuan Mudah' or heir-apparent, and whom he calls in turn 'my Dyaks'. He is a brooding man, with a dark mindset and as such a 'true denizen of the place'.
The incomplete glossary of Malay and Dayak terms I find somewhat irritating. To add to the flavour the text is spiced up with numerous words from the native languages. However, while some words that might be expected to be more or less commonly known such as adat, imam and kongsi are in the glossary, one looks in vain for angat, langkan, parang and sabut.
Despite these flaws, Kalimantaan is a delightful book. While it may be a bit premature to put the author in the same category of great storytellers such as Kipling, Conrad or Marquez, I look forward to her next one.


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