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The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-president Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators, and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry
The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-president Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators, and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry
by Steven F. Hayward
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The World's Worst Loser, 19 Feb. 2011
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Every leader and every public figure has bad luck. They have their critics and have myths and misconceptions surrounding them. At some later point in history they usually deserve to have their time in the limelight reappraised.

When Steve Hayward sat down to write his bio of Carter, that very process was taking place. But in the case of Jimmy Carter, not only are those myths correct, we're still paying the price for Carter's time in office. Many of these problems, Hayward explains, are simply the result of Carter's complex personality.

Hayward pieces together a convincing portrait of the dark side of Jimmy Carter, starting from his hometown of Plains and early days in politics; taking personal accounts from many of those who worked with Carter, as well as other biographers and journalists.

"Carter was never a regular guy" observed Patrick Anderson. Yet in some profound way, this is a man ill at ease in the presence of others, a man who hasn't learnt the "language of men". His personal White House secretary recalled that Carter rarely greeted her or even wished her a Happy Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas. At the same time, Carter seemed to bring his engineering mentality to politics. Hayward quotes Carter when he admits to making what seemed an unfortunate pledge as governor of Georgia "to read every bill before I voted on it."

Considering Georgia's state house would see as many as 2500 proposed bills per year, less than half would come to a vote. Hayward explains, reading all of these is a poor use of a senators time.

But while, on the surface, Carter's pledge and promise seems to contain an almost child-like honesty and innocence about it, the example of Carter's attempts to overhaul the state legislature, in chapter 4, captures Carter's personae perfectly. While Carter's colleagues were out dining and drinking with lobbyists, Carter would head to his hotel room and read all those proposed laws.

In the end, he managed to consolidate 278 state agencies into just twenty two, with Carter claiming he'd saved the state $55 million; a revolution in state government, according to the governor. In reality however, the total number of state employees went up by 24% and state spending increased by 55% over the 4 years Carter was in office. Further, a later study showed the real savings for Carter's efforts amounted to only $5 million. When divided over the 4 years of Carter's term, it amounts to just over $1.2 million savings per year. Peanuts, for a state budget.

Carter said of all the bills he read, "I became an expert in many unimportant subjects."

Although Hayward attempts to balance all this somewhat, and show the positive side of Carter as well, his description of Carter's adopting the charitable Habitat for Humanity and turning it from a small, fledgling non-profit housing enterprise into a worldwide presence' only served to reinforce the portrayal of Carter as obsessed with being helpful. Carter didn't just turn up for an hour; hammer in hand for a photoshoot. He stayed all day sawing and working. Then came back the next day, and the next.

Instead of giving the impression of a well intentioned man, this underlined the image of Carter Hayward was painting elsewhere; a man whose simple-minded understanding was that in order to `be the best' (one of Carter's favourite superlatives) he needed to do more than anyone else, yet did not have the intellectual capability of positively discriminating between good and poor uses of his time.

This bio, although coming out before Carter confirmed his demise into infamy (and prize possession of the Arab Lobby) with the publication of the widely decried 'Palestine: Peace not Apartheid', contains other interesting information too, including Carter's role in bringing about the Iranian revolution (but not more recent events such as Iran's nuclear aspirations). There is much else with Carter's nightmare foreign policy including gaffs in Panama, the Camp David Accords, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and various episodes including his approach to Communism.

A great introduction to all these important events in modern history, too.

In light of the recent, positive, reappraisals of Carter, as well as his acceptance of the Nobel Prize in 2003 (which was meant as criticism of George W Bush policy), this book contributes important information and gives a different perspective for a new generation that may not have been around during Carter's presidency (one of Hayward's acknowledged goals in writing this book). With parallels being drawn between the Iranian revolution and what is happening in Egypt now, it also reminded me in several places of Barack Obama. One such example is where Hayward describes Carter as criticising US allies, then post-presidency embracing regimes and dictators overtly hostile to the US (but admittedly, Obama seems to have done both DURING his presidency).

On page 107 Hayward quotes Henry Kissinger, who seemed to encapsulate this uncanny similarity perfectly with the statement "The Carter administration has managed the extraordinary feat of having, at one and the same time, the worst relations with our allies, the worst relations with our adversaries, and the most serious upheavals in the developing world since the end of the Second World War."

Further reading:
-Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America
-Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left
-The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America

Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End
Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End
by Daniel Gordis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £2.80

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nation That Dwells Alone, 20 Dec. 2010
In 2001, while the 2nd intifada raged, a UN conference against racism was held in Durban, South Africa. What was predictable about the conference didn't make it any less shocking; the meeting very quickly turned into an anti-Zionism hate-fest, with the world's worst human rights violators condemning Israel, and Zionism, as being racist.

The conference descended into farce. The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, walked out. The conference continued unabated (so a bit like the UN Security Council then). The draft resolution that followed contained sentiments of Holocaust denial (that too much had been made of the Holocaust) and that Israel is an Apartheid state.

A while later there was the international furore surrounding the massacre in Jenin. Before a UN enquiry even took place - which exonerated the IDF from having committed a massacre in its anti-terror operation - Kofi Annan responded to Israeli protests by saying "I don't think the whole world can be wrong." Neither the European press nor Kofi Annan apologised...

Then, after the Intifada subsided; after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and the election of Hamas, which started a rain of 12,000 rockets on Israel, two American academics, Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer, published 'The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy'. Although it was lambasted by a significant body of critics and academics alike, it still seemed to encapsulate the direction public debate about Israel was headed...

If the UN of today were to take the same fateful vote they did back in 1947, it's highly unlikely that the Jewish state of Israel would have been born. That same UN has now become a relentless critic of Israel.

In this compelling and highly readable book, Daniel Gordis makes the case that it is not Iran's looming nuclear weapons that pose the greatest long term challenge to the Jewish state's survival, and neither is it terrorism. The real challenge to the Jewish people is not only restoring that sense of pride long since lost after the 1967 War, but in rediscovering the value of Israel to the Jewish world.

But how do we instil a sense of worth to the world if we don't understand what benefit Israel has for ourselves? (This after a recent survey which showed a significant proportion of American Jews would not view their lives as greatly affected if Israel were to disappear.) Gordis acknowledges that we are a people so persecuted we would like to be a part of public opinion for once, not against it all the time; But writes that the Jewish people's inability to convey why the Jews need a state, has weakened Israel immeasurably, with some even joining the critics. `Perhaps' Gordis writes `what is needed is a decision not to be like all other states. Perhaps it is time to recognise, accept and even celebrate the fact that in order to survive with purpose, Israel needs to be different. Perhaps, by deciding to be different, Israelis could overcome the malaise that threatens to consume them.' (p.124)

Rather than hide away from problems, Daniel says, he would rather as a nation and people, endure the pain of talking, rather than leaving problems until they become critical.

Although this is part wake-up call, it is still very much a book of inspiration. Daniel seamlessly weaves his way through some of the more contentious arguments made against Israel, but this isn't really a history book, and it isn't one of those books making a case by case rebuttal of the latest fairy-tale accusation against Israel (although there is some of that, done brilliantly). This is more like a blog by a very informed writer, meditating on various themes out of which we can gain a sense of worth and purpose.

Although I've visited Israel many times before, the recent journey in which this book accompanied me will always be remembered. This book became my travel companion, bringing to life my surroundings. Not as a tour guide explaining any particular location, but the thoughts the land would tell me, if it could speak. And Gordis knows what the land is thinking. His chapter entitled `The Next 6 Million' compelled me to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. In `The First War, All Over Again' he shows why, even though terrorism has never constituted a threat to Israel's very existence, the poor performance in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah (not to mention the incitement) have put questions about Israel's vulnerability back on the table. Each war is the unfinished war for independence, all over again. With many other issues discussed ranging from what Israelis should do with the (at the time) recent influx of Sudanese refugees, to Israelis now having woken up to the fact that Palestinians are not so concerned about the creation of a Palestinian state, but the destruction of the Jewish one, Daniel helps put it all in perspective. He provides the bigger picture, the smaller details we've missed, he manages to make us aware, educate, enlighten and warn, all at the same time. I know this is a book I'll come back to when I want inspiration, or comfort.

Son Of Hamas
Son Of Hamas
by Mosab Hassan Yousef
Edition: Paperback

37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Son of Hamas' Hijacked Narrative, 26 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Son Of Hamas (Paperback)
On seeing this book advertised, I immediately snapped it up and started to read it. I had heard and seen Mosab Hassan Yousef interviewed elsewhere and was expecting something along the same lines.

As other reviewers here have noted, readers will be puzzled to read there's very little about Yousef's incredible journey from the depths of a fanatical ideology to his transformation as a peace-loving Christian, and this should be a substantial portion of the book. In short, if you're expecting something along the lines of a Walid Shoebat story, forget it.

First off, on starting to read I confess I wasn't able to put the book down. The story telling is superb as is the English. But as I progressed through the book, I began to find one factual inaccuracy after another. Time lines incorrect and quite shockingly (for a book which sells itself as some sort of bridge between the Israelis and Palestinians) just about every invented blood libel you could think of against Israel.

The closest this book comes to 'building bridges' is to claim that Yousef had heard that the murder of Mohammad al-Dura in 2000 by Israeli snipers, was rumoured to be controversial. In fact the infamous video footage, which helped propel the second intifada into overdrive, was shown to have been fake in a French court of law. Yet this little detail seems to have escaped the author's attention. There are a whole host of other issues but it is the conviniently overlooked aspects which really stand out for me. The worst offence comes from a seemingly casual reference to Jewish organ harvesting of Palestinian children.

This story was also cleared in the aftermath of a Swedish tabloid that decided to print the blood libel (with the disclaimer by the journalist in question of 'whether it's true or not, I don't know'). Following the controversy, other journalists tracked down the Palestinian family at the centre of the story and confessed that they had not told the journalist any such thing, but 'did not rule out the possibility that it does happen'. Again, nothing of this in this book.

So what we get in Son of Hamas is decades old PLO propaganda, the same PLO Yousef accuses of crimes against the Palestinian people elsewhere in this book.

On reading a review of this book in the press, it seems clear that between Yousef's ghost writer (Ron Brackin) and the publisher, the son of Hamas didn't stand a chance. What is contained herein, is nothing along the lines found in his courageous interviews on YouTube, little of his compelling story of going against his family and his community for what he saw as the right thing to do and nothing about how both sides might begin to address the decades long impasse to reconcile and move forwards. I was left guessing how much of what Yousef had said (and intended to be included in his story) ended up in this book...

A terrible disappointment and a wasted opportunity.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2013 6:27 PM BST

Bearing False Witness: Jimmy Carter's Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (Camera Monograph Series)
Bearing False Witness: Jimmy Carter's Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (Camera Monograph Series)
by CAMERA Anthology
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disproving Hate, 19 Jun. 2010
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In light of former president Jimmy Carter declining all invitations to debate his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, CAMERA (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) has produced a small 100 page book addressing the many inaccuracies found in his work.

The book starts out with simple rebuffs correcting the accusations levelled at Israel by Carter. Yet with the very first essay in this book alone, the legal base from which Carter weaves his web are shown to be deeply flawed. In fact they're just plain wrong. 'Bearing False Witness' then becomes an extremely powerful compilation of several legal documents and testimonies countering these various libels, whilst still being an accessible read.

This includes the much (miss)quoted UN Resolution 242, the pre-1967 'borders' issue, the 1949 Armistice lines, errors concerning The Camp David Accords, Israel's security barrier (or Apartheid wall, as Carter prefers), other UN Resolutions and issues relating to Lebanon and so on.

Among those disproving Carter's polemic is Dennis Ross, a former Middle East Envoy and senior advisor to the State Dept under the administrations of HW Bush, Clinton, Obama and Carter. Ross explains the errors found in the two maps Carter used from the various peace process negotiations. Astonishingly these erroneous maps and Carter's insistence that his portrayal of the proposals reached were correct, even when Ross points out that Carter was not even present in those meetings!

Reprinted here after the publication of Carter's diatribe are scathing letters of resignation by Professors Kenneth Stein plus a joint letter from 14 of the Carter Center Advisory Board. Further essays by Kenneth Stein give a first hand account of the former president during the 1980s, giving early hints at his current political outlook. Two essays on Carter's refusal to debate his book; one a joint essay by 11 Emory Professors, the other by Professor of Law at Harvard, Alan Dershowitz.

Carter's motivations are examined with a further two essays on his faith by Michael B. Oren and Dexter Van Zile; then, in two explosive essays Rachel Ehrenfeld and Alan Dershowitz document Carter's ties to oil-rich Arab financiers, going all the way back to his presidency and the bailout of his peanut farm. This 100 page book concludes with the final word going to Rachel Ehrenfeld with criticism of the publisher's standards considering Carter's book is in the non-fiction category.

I found 'Bearing False Witness' to be a powerful case for the defence. As for those wishing to go beyond the superficial headlines, there is much food for thought and much to challenge the preconceived ideas so commonplace on these issues. If you haven't read Carter's book, read it, along with this one and make up your own minds.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2011 3:15 PM BST

Farewell Israel: Bush, Iran and the Revolt of Islam [2007] [DVD]
Farewell Israel: Bush, Iran and the Revolt of Islam [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joel Gilbert
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.47

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Stuff the Jihadists Don't Want You To Know..., 16 Jun. 2010
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Forget what you've read in the headlines, forget everything you've heard about the Middle East. This brilliant DVD by Joel Gilbert will educate you and take your understanding to new heights, not only of the Middle East conflict, but of its history as well as Islam. The shifts of power and rise in tensions occurring in the Middle East right now are all prophesied here. Don't let the `Bush' in the title make you think this film is out of date...

Farewell Israel manages to be many things to many people. It is easy enough in concept and layout to qualify as an introduction (although having watched TV or read a newspaper about twice in the last decade would probably help); also the quoted materials are quite varied, even an avid Middle Eastern history and politics fan like myself found much food for thought. The writers referenced range from Bernard Lewis to Robert Fisk; but also firsthand materials such as the Koran and Islamist writers such as Sayyed Kutb.

The film is 2 hours 40 mins. But fear not, the dvd is divided up into `rooms': 10 chapters on different themes which may be watched separately and do not need to be viewed concurrently. But I have to confess on my first sitting, I was hooked and watched it straight through from beginning to end.

It starts out by explaining Islam's view of the world, highlighting Western misconceptions about Islam. Islam and the West's outlook on the world are so different, even the same words have different meanings. The film then goes on to explain the words `freedom' and `peace'...

The other chapters explain the pillars of Islam; a brief bio of Mohammad, along with Mohammad's problem with the Jews; Islamic conquests and dominance over non-believers; the Islamic Empires, the golden age and Crusades; the decline of the Islamic empire with the invasion of the West; the re-emergence of Israel and the renewed jihad against the Jews - with a frightening connection between the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust; the diplomatic strategy against Israel (with the analysis of Anwar Saddat's speech 'peace based on justice' at the Israeli parliament and its hidden meaning); the Islamic revolt: the Oslo peace accords, Jewish denial and 9/11; lastly, Iran's danger to the West.

Although Gilbert presents this subject with a good balance of scholarship and entertainment, when it comes to Israel there is a serious wakeup call which needs to be heeded, this could be construed as being anti-Israel. It is not, but Gilbert does not pull any punches.

The bonus features include downloadable mp3 of the film scores, a slideshow of some Islamic 'art' accompanied with music (although these are simply frescoes depicting battles and scenes, but there is no explanation of what these are) and a film trailer.

A good education and a strong grounding for everyone from beginners all the way up to Western and Israeli leaders (although you'll probably feel our leaders are in the first category after watching this)...

Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
by Academics Against Israel and the Jews Edition: first
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where will it all lead?, 14 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Manfred Gerstenfeld (Paperback)
Over the last few years, Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, has been following developments in the attempts to boycott Israel with visiting academics to the center providing much feedback and perspective on this newly targeted area in the war against Israel. Compiled here are a set of 18 essays tackling the increasingly threatening on-campus environment for pro-Israel and Jewish students from around the world.

With a foreword by former Soviet political prisoner and human rights activist Natan Sharansky, the book sets out to inform and educate not only what is happening on campuses, but what students can do to begin countering these highly organised campaigns. Sharansky starts out by highlighting that the genocide of the Jews during WWII was only possible when German propaganda had succeeded in reducing the Jews to inferior beings...

The essays cover case studies on a variety of incidents ranging from events such as `Israel Apartheid Week' to generally ambivalent attitudes by faculty towards student intimidation. The first essay by Dr. Gerstenfeld himself covers a lot of ground and goes into the differing types of boycott, stereotypes, declared and concealed boycotts, recycling anti-Semitic motifs and more, setting the tone for the other essays which follow.

The articles are by scholars such as Martin Kramer, on the current situation of Columbia University and the implications for the wider ME studies world; another essay on Columbia's faculty exposes their whitewashing of a report on the refusal to address Jewish student harassment, and what was done to expose them; two grass roots, pro-Israel groups StandWithUs and SPME (Scholars for Peace in the Middle East) are given as success stories; along with a variety of other examples from universities in Britain and Austria, all the way to Australia.

On the one side, this can be read as a stand alone book on this little-covered subject. On the other, this isn't an all-in-one book on how to combat this phenomenon. However, there are many areas of research students are recommended to undertake for those wanting to fight back. These include ideas on exposing who funds pro-Palestinian groups and ranking universities according to their levels of incitement to violence and racism, not just academic merit.

Given that many in the pro-boycott lobby cite "Israeli attitudes" as their source of anger, one wonders how they would explain a Hamas candidate from Bir Zeit University asking a Fatah candidate "Hamas activists killed 135 Zionists, how many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?" Or another example is Dr. Ahmed Abu Halabiyah, rector of advanced studies at the Islamic University Gaza saying "The Jews are Jews ...They are all liars. They must be butchered and must be killed ...It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews." Israeli universities, by contrast, score very low when it comes to incitement to violence.

In other examples of the types of counter-arguments used, in answering the anti-Israel messages are citing which ones are good, bad or apologetic. There are sample letters written by boycotting academics along with counter-letters answering the major flaws in perception, as well as the hypocrisy adopted when people cite anti-Israel campaign slogans as part of their stance.

As many pro-Israel students on university campuses quickly realise, campaigns against Israel are not spontaneous incidents, they do not correlate with events in the Mid East, but part of an ongoing strategy to confront the Jewish presence on any campus. These campaigns are funded by the very donors who contribute millions to universities to see Islam taught in a `favourable' light, and in some cases the very same donors who actually contribute to terrorism. As the students of today become the journalists and politicians of tomorrow, the Muslim narrative becomes firmly entrenched in the public understanding and Israel and the Jews are relegated to that of a pariah state, thus the vicious circle of `understanding' that Muslim harassment of Jews and their supporters is legitimate, continues. Where will it end?

Don't suffer in silence. You're not alone.

It's time to answer back.

Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam
Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam
by Gilles Kepel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.54

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword, 12 Jun. 2010
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In this interesting and detailed work, the renowned French expert on radical Islam, Gilles Kepel, attempts to document the brief history of "political Islam"; those within the Islamic faith who believe all states should be governed according to Shari'ah (Islamic law), with a view to the restoration of the Caliphate (Islamic pope). In other words, those who have come to be known as extremists, radicals or terrorists. The first half of the book deals with Islamism's rise and history, the second half deals with its demise.

The ideological movement began to grow when one of its key exponents, Sayyed Qutb, was hanged in Egypt on August 29th 1966. Although the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood's most important thinker was soon forgotten, by the end of the next decade his writings had become a potent force in Egypt and elsewhere. This rise came along with one of the key events in modern Middle Eastern history: the Saudi oil-embargo of the West following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

With the price of oil rising rapidly giving the Saudis colossal revenues, the puritanical Wahabbi state set about spreading its influence, building thousands of mosques and distributing thousands of free copies of the Koran. From the rice fields of Indonesia, to the plains of Africa to the high rise housing projects of European cities, the same Korans and the same cassettes were available from one end of the Islamic world to the other.

Along with the Saudi rise were the teachings of several other ideologues in key geographical locations: Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Mawlani Mawdudi in Pakistan and the popular figure in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim.

Kepel deftly shows how the ideologues' disciples went about changing societies, implying interesting insights about the Muslim mindset along the way. The strongest parts of this book are the descriptions of the inner-workings of the Muslim states, as the leaders devised a precarious game establishing councils of clerics (ulema), in a bid for credibility, but also to keep a close eye on them seeing as the first threat to any regime would come from the religious councils (keep your friends close and your enemies closer?). Also of central importance to the Islamists are the universities; always targeted for the purposes of controlling consensus and eventually public opinion (something we in the West would do well to pay closer attention to).

Extracting and looking at Political Islamism in isolation (of the theological aspects) allows Kepel to get on with charting the relationships between the radicals, the populous and leaderships. This is, in essence, a kind of sociological macro and micro-economic look at radical Islam; no small feat, but Kepel pulls this off coolly and convincingly. For this alone the book merits serious study.

But there are downsides and they are numerous. These downsides are Kepel's spin on many areas and his overall conclusions. Quite amazingly, they would appear to be because they are outside Kepel's immediate sphere of study. I wasn't able to think of a better reason to explain this contrast.

The central thesis of Political Islam's demise, after an initial surge, looks more and more implausible with each emerging story of al Qaeda's expansion; whether to Yemen, or through Central Africa, Pakistan to Central Asia and Western China. The recent coup in Kyrgyzstan leading to fertile ground for the likes of al Qaeda to flourish (if they hadn't actually created the unrest in the first place); then there's his descriptions of Turkey, or with the ailing health of Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak, it's time to re-read our books about the '56 Suez war to know how valuable a target that country will be.

And Iran is another chapter altogether...

There are lesser errors as well. Kepel describes Hezbollah, the Iranian terrorist proxy in Lebanon, as 'almost a charity now'. The 2006 Israel/Hezbollah war put such baseless assessments to rest. Former Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharaf is labelled 'progressive', which Ahmed Rashid convincingly contests and a whole lot more.

But the single biggest howler must be awarded to Kepel's patronage and idolising of Tariq Ramadan, a young Muslim 'intellectual' who has long been exposed for saying one thing in French (or English) and quite another in Arabic. Banned from the US for having ties to terror organisations, he is also the grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna. From all accounts, it seems Ramadan's ultimate aims are no different to his ideological and biological predecessor.

Kepel believes Ramadan's carefully crafted writings and hails him as the leader of this 'emerging post-Islamist movement'.

Despite the wildly varying quality of Kepel's writing, the strengths of his research merit a read and do contribute, if you can get passed the insultingly baseless analysis.

As other reviewers have noted this is not an introduction. This is a book more suited to those with a basic knowledge of Islam, and a good grounding in the history of the regions and terrorist groups.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 30, 2011 7:29 PM BST

Rise of Nuclear Iran:  How Tehran Continues to Defy the West
Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Continues to Defy the West
by Dore Gold
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars He Who Does Not Learn From History, is Destined to repeat it, 23 April 2010
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On reading the contents of this book, the subtitle (how Iran defies the West) makes more sense; Dr. Dore Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and diplomatic envoy to the Persian Gulf States, takes us into the corridors of power showing the failure of diplomatic efforts to engage with the Shiite regime. He starts by showing us Tehran's art of diplomatic deception, going on to ask can Iran be deterred [from its nuclear ambitions]? Posing the question: if Iran's nuclear aspirations are for energy, then why were these aspirations hidden until 2002, and where is a single plant for converting nuclear energy to electricity?

The book is carried along in chronological order, with brief interludes along the way, starting with the run-up to the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Gold shows just how badly the Carter Administration misread the Ayatollah, and the 444 day hostage crisis that ensued. Having recently read a book about the failure of Western academics in studying the Middle East, this section really highlighted the hair-raising ignorance of the various academics called to testify before the Carter Administration.

There is a complete history of diplomats of various stripes attempting to unsuccessfully engage with Iran and the subsequent appeasement, and failure, of each and every administration becomes painful reading after the first few examples. Even the Clinton administration, with Warren Christopher who handled original negotiations for the US Embassy hostages, was thwarted when Europe refused to comply with sanctions, on the grounds of oil and gas deals it had with Iran. As Gold then reveals, Hasan Rowhani bragged at having driven a wedge between the US and EU during his negotiations with them.

In terms of the analysis of the situation and what Iran might do, if it acquires nuclear weapons Gold predicts a nuclear missile strike is not likely to be the greatest immediate threat to the West. Instead, Iran is more likely to choose `asymmetrical warfare' with a nuclear capability as a deterrent. The extent of Iran's involvement in asymmetrical warfare becomes more and more apparent as Gold takes you through a variety of countries and types of covert operation Iran is involved with: From training snipers in Mexican drug gangs, to raising funds through its involvement with Columbian drug cartels (which not only helps destabilise Columbia, but the region), to funding Yemeni rebels (the book came out just before Yemen burst onto the headlines), to attempting to instigate a coup d'état in Bahrain etc. etc. this book isn't just about the threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia...

Also a great deal of space is dedicated to various branches of Hezbolla and its operations, which a senior Iranian official called 'an extension of Iranian intelligence services'. Hezbolla named itself Islamic Jihad until as late as 1985 and did not declare responsibility for a wide variety of bombings, kidnappings and violence against US, French and Israeli interests in the Middle East, in order to confuse intelligence about who exactly was behind the campaign.

Iran's involvement in the development of al-Qaeda in Sudan is included, which I thought complemented more information found in Ronen Bergman's critically acclaimed work, perfectly. Although it is true al-Qaeda was born out of the conflict with Russia in Afghanistan, this is only the beginning of the story.

A couple of downsides to this book are that Gold is rather too kind to diplomats with their obvious incompetence and arrogance as each one believing they held the key to solving the problem, which has led to this situation.

Since the publication of this book, so much has changed particularly with Obama and his bizarre approach of sacrificing Israel in an attempt to appease Iran. Clearly Obama has fallen for Iranian rhetoric believing Israel to be a genuine grievance for Tehran. This is similar to Secretary of State Madeline Albright's grotesque blunder, during the Clinton administration, of actually apologising to Tehran for the CIA's involvement in the 1953 coup d'etat in Iran. Had Madeline had this book available back then, she would have read that the young Ayatollah Khomeini actually approved of the coup at the time...

The Obama administration's belief in Iranian rhetoric has led to an eerie repetition of history when Neville Chamberlain sacrificed Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Adolph Hitler in the run-up to WWII while the Nazi regime was arming itself to the hilt. Also another negative for this book is that while it is full of facts, some of which really make your jaw drop, the writing is a little dry. It almost feels this book was written in a hurry (in between diplomatic meetings perhaps?) and as a result this makes the reading quite cumbersome. An editor would've been good.

Overall though, I'm certain that with `the Rise of Nuclear Iran', diplomats and the public would benefit equally from seeing the efforts of the last 30 years summarised so convincingly and put into perspective. This book really opened my eyes to Iran's global aspirations and what exactly a nuclear Iran would entail for the world.

Will we wake up in time?

Obama's Betrayal of Israel (Encounter Broadsides)
Obama's Betrayal of Israel (Encounter Broadsides)
by Michael Arthur Ledeen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, Concise and Powerful, 9 April 2010
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I bought this little pamphlet for under a Pound, when I received it I read it in an hour. When I was done, I read it again.

In 40 pages, Michael Ledeen explains not only the Obama administration's flaws in his Middle Eastern policy, but the roots of the Palestinians approach to Israel (the success of the "Two-state solution" fetish, and its real purpose); and the similarity to the strategy in the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan.

While I wouldn't say this is an introduction to any of these issues, one would hope the State Dept or someone in high office would read this and learn why the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, are bound to fail if they continue on their current paths.

I assume the price of this dropped in light of Obama's initial surge in popularity. But with his sudden change in approach to Iran, not to mention Israel and the Jerusalem fiasco, this will remain a hidden little gem of wisdom.

Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America (Policy Paper)
Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America (Policy Paper)
by Martin S. Kramer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.75

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ivory Towers On Sand; The Battleground of Ideas, 29 Mar. 2010
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Given the healthy enrolment numbers for university courses on Middle Eastern subjects and the wealth of publications available on the region, the claim that Middle Eastern studies are in trouble might seem without foundation. But on closer examination, a very different picture emerges. This is a field of study so crucial to our understanding, yet it even failed to predict the major events that would transform the Middle East from an exotic far away land, into a hotbed of global terrorism, and place the West firmly in its crosshairs.

Published just after the attacks of 9/11 2001, this short academic paper asks how have we in the West become so blind. What is revealed is the history of wilful myopia in a centrally important area to the world...

In 1974, a quarter of a century after the establishment of the Committee of Near Eastern Studies, the dream of America leading the world in Middle Eastern studies seemed to have come true. Americans could read the latest books from Cairo, learn Arabic or Persian or study under distinguished foreign scholars without even having to cross a state line. America had become the Mecca of Middle Eastern studies.

"Had Middle Eastern studies been allowed to develop further" Kramer states "the possibility of predicting events and diagnosing problems in the region, seemed not only logical and desirable, but one of the sole benefits this area of study could provide. Instead, Middle Eastern studies came under an ideological assault. It would come to discard the idea of objectivity, disguise its politicisation and replace proficiency with polemic." `Ivory Towers On Sand' describes how this demise came about and the banner under which this movement would be led: Edward Said's publication in 1978 entitled `Orientalism'.

Said's basic premise was that the academics of the time held views of Arabs which were simply wrong. Kramer writes "Orientalism sought to link the racism of colonial Europe with that of American academe and attempted to prove what Said described as having the intellectual and moral equivalent of anti-Semitism." Every European was "...racist, imperialist and ethnocentric." Said simply ignored vast swathes of evidence which would have proved the academe of the time as having a nuanced and intricate knowledge of the Middle East. Kramer quotes the scholars who bucked the trend and critiqued Orientalism. Time and time again we see the victims of Said's assault accepted baseless accusations, and capitulated unreservedly to moral manipulation because of peer pressure and personal gain.

However, Orientalism did not take hold merely on its own merits. A gap between Washington and academe began to open during the years of radical politicisation of the campus in the mid-1960s. By the time Nixon entered office in 1969, he immediately sought to eliminate support for all area study centres, including those devoted to the Middle East. During the Vietnam War and the Arab/Israeli Conflict of 1967 - with its Palestinian awakening - a new generation of `insurgents' in a bid for power denounced the established academics for collaborating with the government. As the students of the 60s became the junior faculty of the 70s, academe moved leftward.

Kramer names the key players in the `post-Orientalist' movement, most notably is Edward Said's disciple, John Esposito, who continued to carry the torch of obscuring Islam, while Islam was hurtling towards a head on collision with the West; Esposito, most notably stating in 1998 (the year Osama bin-Ladin declared jihad on America) that "Focusing on Bin-Ladin risks catapulting one of many sources of terrorism to center-stage, distorting both the diverse and international sources of terrorism as well as the significance of a single individual."

`Ivory Towers on Sand' is a damning indictment of the discipline of Middle Eastern studies. Kramer highlights the psychology of some of its practitioners, and ultimately, with the Middle East now centre-stage in Western news, the danger academe poses when called to inform the government trying to tackle the hostile continent in question becomes apparent.

Given the time of writing (2001) one wonders what Kramer would've made of the last decade: the rise of the `celebrity scholar', such as Norman Finklestein or the 'New Historians' who rewrite history to fit their own political and career agendas. The Columbia University funding scandal (involving large donations from Saudi billionaire sheiks, in order for Islam to be taught in a `more favourable light'); the similarly large donations that started flooding in to most major universities in the West by the same people for the same purposes. Columbia University's decision - interestingly, where John Esposito is a faculty member - to give a platform to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the anti-Semitic, homophobic president of Iran who could be prosecuted for incitement to genocide.

So too, this paper was released long before the publication by two US academics of 'The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy', which Alan Dershowitz, Professor of Law at Harvard University labelled as being a variation on `The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion'. And most recently, the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who studied in London's SOAS University.

'Ivory Towers' is a rich resource and prompts as many questions as it answers. There are many other topics which Kramer touches upon that I would've loved to see explored further, such as the relationship between the State Dept and academe, with a testimony to Defence Dept by John Voll about Sudan in the 1990s(which has to be read to be believed); Or testimony given to the Carter administration before the Iranian Revolution (one of a few major events in the Middle East Kramer shows academe as failing to predict).

`Ivory Towers On Sand' is clearly in need of an update, but is an excellent illustration of the academic changes that took place in the last half of the 20th century, with the successful attempt to divert attention away from radical Islam's growing threat to the West in the run-up to 9/11. It illustrates perfectly, the background in misunderstanding the Islamic world today.

Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's 'Orientalism'
The Anti Chomsky Reader
United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror

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