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Engaging the Muslim World [Paperback]

Juan Cole
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Book Description

Sept. 14 2010

With clarity and concision, Juan Cole disentangles the key foreign policy issues that America is grappling with today--from our dependence on Middle East petroleum to the promotion of Islamophobia by the American right--and delivers his informed advice on the best way forward. Cole’s unique ability to take the true Muslim perspective into account when looking at East-West relations make his insights well-rounded and prescient as he suggests a course of action on fundamental issues like religion, oil, war and peace. With substantive recommendations for the next administration on how to move forward in key countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, Engaging the Muslim World reveals how we can repair the damage of the disastrous foreign policy of the last eight years and forge ahead on a path of peace and prosperity.

Cole argues:
* Al-Qaeda is not a mass movement like fascism or communism but rather a small political cult like the American far right circles that produced Timothy McVeigh.
* The Muslim world is not a new Soviet Bloc but rather is full of close allies or potential allies.
* There can be no such thing as American energy independence, we will need Islamic oil to survive as a superpower into the next century.
* Iran is not an implacable enemy of the U.S.--it can and should be fruitfully engaged, which is a necessary step for American energy security since Tehran can play the spoiler in the strategic Persian Gulf.
* America's best hope in Iraq is careful, deliberate military disengagement, rather than either through immediate withdrawal or a century-long military presence--in other words, both the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates are wrong.

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Review

"Cole has delivered an important book that members of the administration would be wise to read en route to the Middle East."--The American Prospect 
 
"[A] balanced and effective antidote to oversimplified Western views of Islam. . . . manages to prick western misconceptions without taking extremist movements entirely at their own estimation." --The Economist
 
"[Cole] brings a constructive addition to public discourse." --Publishers Weekly
 
"Intelligent, clear and erudite. This is a timely and incisive retrospective of the Bush administration's calamitous encounter with the Muslim World by one of the most noted scholars of the subject. Cole looks deep into what went wrong to show the way forward to a new engagement of the Muslim World."--Vali Nasr, bestselling author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future

"Juan Cole, distinguished specialist on the Muslim world, delivers his most comprehensive and erudite commentary to date -- covering imperialism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, American oil politics, radical Islam and Middle Eastern terrorism. Engaging the Muslim World is the book every educated American should read."--Chalmers Johnson, bestselling author of Nemesis and The Blowback Trilogy

"Engaging the Muslim World is a MUST read, the right book at the right time for anyone who wants to understand 'What went wrong, why, and where do we go from here.' Juan Cole is uniquely qualified to provide a critical, incisive, provocative analysis and commentary that will be welcomed by experts, policymakers and concerned citizens."--John L. Esposito, Professor of religion & International Affairs, Georgetown University and bestselling author of Who Speaks for Islam? and What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

"Cole provides a comprehensive alternative analysis of the current situation in the Muslim world and reveals how new U.S. policies might succeed in bringing peace where wars now rage. He proves the key role of oil interests in American foreign policy and demonstrates how incorrect or exaggerated ideas now prevalent in the U.S. are about the intrinsic militancy of Islam, and the aggressiveness of Iran. Everyone should read and ponder the facts he presents and the solutions he proposes."--Nikki Keddie, Professor Emerita of History, UCLA and author of Modern Iran and Women in the Middle East

"Juan Cole's depth and breath of knowledge on the Middle East has made him the most prescient analyst of the region's politics. It might infuriate the neocons who are proven wrong again and again, but Cole's insight is invaluable to anyone interested in the truth."-- Markos Moulitsas, DailyKos

"A well-reasoned, useful vision for Western-Muslim relations."--Kirkus

"A leading American expert on the Islamic world, seeks to dispel many of the persistent myths about Islam and the Middle East. Cole convincingly demonstrates why one should not confuse Muslim activism with hidebound fundamentalism. The chapter dealing with Iran is particularly informative and evenhanded, and the analysis of myriad issues in U.S.-Iran relations is a welcome antidote to the barrage of alarmist commentaries on Iran in much of the U.S. press. This readable and intelligent book is a must read for policymakers and the informed public.--Library Journal, starred review
 
“Juan Cole’s ‘Engaging the Muslim World’ maps those fault lines, and one can only wish Bush had mulled over such material before the misadventures of the post-9/11 era began.  Like Lawrence Wright’s remarkable ‘Looming Tower’, published almost three years ago, this field guide to the politics of modern Islam traces the history of the different movements, whose violent offshoots are still morphing into new forms.” --New York Times Book Review

"The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole’s, because he’s smart, well-informed and sensible — in other words, I often agree with his take." -- Nicholas Kristof, New York Times
 
"The Obama administration, as it seeks to correct a decade of self-fulfilling phobias, will find no better guide than this nuanced, clear-headed, visionary book.“ --The Huffington Post
 
"I cannot improve on Juan Cole’s thorough and excellent debunking of the results [of the Iranian Presidential Election]."-- Laura Secor, The New Yorker
 
"Provocative and sweeping . . . Of the three books, Cole's is the most critically rigorous and empirically informed. Agree or disagree, one cannot ignore cole's historically and sociologically driven analysis and moral courage." -- Fawaz Gerges, National Interest
 
"Cole has written a gripping, accessible and elegant book.  One of its great strengths is its weaving together a wealth of data into compelling historical vignettes and anecdotes.  The author is an excellent storyteller and this book is a pleasurable and entertaining read." --Ziad Fahmy, H-Levant

About the Author

Juan Cole, internationally respected historian, celebrated blogger, and Middle East expert, teaches history at the University of Michigan and is the former president of MESA. His blog, Informed Comment, receives 250,000 unique hits every day. He has written numerous books, including Sacred Space and Holy War and Napoleon's Egypt. He lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Maurice A. Rhodes TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Juan Cole's background and erudition make this a "must read" so that a balanced view of to-day's problems in the Middle East can be reached. My first reaction was that he was unnecessarily pro-Islam and anti-Israeli, but these impressions were dispelled as he went into great detail about the past years and the current situation. One place where I disagreed with Cole was the question of who was at greater fault in respect of the flight of Arab Palestinians once the borders of Irael had been marked by blood. Prior to 1947, it was apparent to anyone who cared to pay attention that the Arabs generally boasted about pushing the new Israel and the Jews into the sea, if not, as Cole states was a mistranslation, "off the map.". Arab rhetoric was such that the Jews had every reason to fear for their lives and their very existence. I am of an age who was around as an adult at those times and I believe that while Arabs were excluded from certain critical areas, and that there were regretful incidents, generally the Palestinians fled because they believed that the Israelis would mete out the same fate as the Arabs had prescribed for the Jews. I don't believe a case of genocide at that time can be made either way.

However, the West Bank since 1967 is a different story - one of seizure when the state should have kept it clear of Israelis until its return to the Palestinians. Any sort of accord is impossible as long as the West Bank is occupied by Israeli settlements.

In the larger story, one is prevented from forming a monolithic view of Islam, as is happening in the US - the same tendency of branding that took place when "communism" was the buzz word for any sort of social democracy that did not agree the McCarthy-like fixation that developed in the US.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
83 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding discussion March 30 2009
By Chris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
According to Dr. Cole's book, US interest in Middle East oil has been motivated by a desire to ensure a stable supply of it to Western Europe and Japan. On the other hand, it is widely believed in the Middle East that American and British oil companies have made huge profits out of Middle Eastern oil while the people of the region, at best, obtain small benefit from it. . When puppet dictators that ensure the flow of oil and petrodollars to western corporations are overthrown, the Americans get very worried. Cole discusses the US overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 and the Kennedy administration's "blowtorch Bob" Komer's worries about the threat to American oil companies posed by the Kassem regime in Iraq. Cole notes that Komer was very happy when the Ba'ath party launched its successful coup against Kassem in 1963; the Ba'ath minister of interior later said that the coup was backed by the CIA.

The best part of the book is Cole's attack on American military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Take his analysis of US Iraq policy. What mainstream debate about the "surge" has ignored but which Cole discusses in this book, is that large scale ethnic cleansing is largely responsible for the alleged "success" of the surge. For example, Shiite death squads allied with the Iraqi government cleansed Sunnis out of Baghdad during the surge. Cole writes that Baghdad, in 2003 was 50 percent Sunni; at the end of the surge in 2008, it was 75 percent Shiite. Obviously the elimination of rival ethnic groups from Iraqi neighborhoods has reduced the justification for violence by ethnic militias. The surge dramatically increased the number of internally displaced refugees in Iraq, most of whom live in squalor: the total went from about 1.8 million in January 2007 to 2.7 million in the summer of 2008. Meanwhile about 200,000 Iraqi refugees live in misery in Jordan and another million live in Syria. Cole describes how he discovered, from his own visit to refugee camps and other sources in the region, that many Sunni refugees are afraid to go back to Iraq because they have been threatened with violent retribution from Shiite militias if they try to return to their old homes. Cole's analysis makes clear that the "surge" has not offered any long-term solutions to Iraq's most serious problems.

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

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

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

I may disagree with Cole on a few things but I can't dismiss the great pertinacity of this book in these times when discussion about Islam is primarily directed in this country by ignorant demagogues. Cole has actually lived in the Middle East and is learned in its languages unlike so many "experts" on the region. He presents his ideas in this book with impressive clarity.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book Obama should read before more troop commitments ... and yet Oct. 27 2009
By S. J. Snyder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Cole provides a good overview of the Middle East, and does a good job teasing out the difference between Islamic influences, oil influences, poverty influences, and more. He also does a good job of distinguishing hot just between Sunni and Shi'a Islam, but some of the major trends within each, in the different countries of his focus.

Most valuable is his take on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If President Obama DID read this book, he'd not send one more boot on the ground to Afghanistan, would give Pakistan primarily non-military foreign aid, and would rethink other things.

And yet...

First, although Cole touches on poverty here and there, he writes this whole book without touching on the explosive birthrate in the Middle East, surpassed only by some sub-Saharan African countries. If I were the American Prez, "engaging the Muslim world" would start with a frank talk about birth control, which, of course, comes in fair part from empowering women.

That, in turn, is something else Cole glosses over. He talks a bit about patriarchy, but there's no depth.

Second, he's either naive, or whitewashing, with two countries, to various degrees. (And, no, I don't count Iran as one of the two, really.)

They are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Page 83, for example, he accepts at face value Prince Turki's claim that bin Laden chose Saudis for most of his hijackers so as to sour Riyadh-Washington relations. Next page, he flat-out claims that Wahhabism is not a sect, denomination, or whatever within Sunni Islam. Of course, he does that to preserve his "big tent" understanding of Sunni, only saying that the big tent doesn't go that far to the "right." Nonsense. Just as not all Sunnis are fundamentalists, neither are all Christians Pat Robertson, etc. But, SOME Sunnis are fundamentalists, just like some Christians.

Next, Pakistan and its formation. Cole claims Muhammad Ali Jinnah was worried about the tyranny of the Hindu majority in a united post-British India, citing comments by Gandhi as proof. He ignores that Nehru, et al, ignored Gandhi's call for a peasant India, all at the spinning wheel, and that Gandhi himself was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist. He also ignores the complexity of Jinnah's gradual embrace of a separate Pakistan that included selfish political reasons. Cole also doesn't mention that Pakistan originally included, of course, East Pakistan, today's Bangladesh and that, especially there, the issues were much more complex than Hindu-Muslim ones. (Ironic, coming from someone who wants to stress the complexity of "engaging the Muslim world.")

So, Cole can be a good starting point. Just make sure to have several grains of salt handy,
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whitewashing Instead of Facing Facts on the Ground Nov. 3 2010
By V. Lakshminarayanan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Juan Cole articulates the mistakes of the younger Bush administration in dealing with the Islamic world effectively in this book. He also presented logically the chokehold that pro-Israel lobbyists hold over the political process in Washington. However, his recommendations are no more than wishful thinking in the current political atmosphere since none of them are likely to be implemented. He has no words on how to overcome the power of the pro-Israel lobby or the political realities in Washington.

The author is way off the mark on his narrative of violence and belligerence by the radical Islam. He is basically glossing over the problems within the Islamic society about their mistaken feeling of being victimized, their practice of committing violence even on ideological and rhetorical issues, their blind support to fellow Muslims even when they were on the wrong and simplifying the terrorism by Muslims as isolated acts of a few misguided. No other society in the contemporary world seem to commit the level of societal violence that Muslims have done whether in Chechnya, Europe, India or Middle East. Muslim intellectuals hardly ever seem to do any introspection over such violence and routinely defend their faith as if they are protecting a brand name. Until such introspection takes place within the Islamic society and they develop a new discourse to live peacefully in the modern pluralistic societies without demanding special privileges, any amount of reaching out to Muslims by others will be seen by all as appeasement. India experienced this first in the modern history by suffering dismemberment of their country.

I was very disappointed that the author accused Mahatma Gandhi of promoting a Hindu theocracy in India while negotiating independence from British (page 161, soft cover edition). I do not think that Dr. Cole is so naive that he would make such a gross mistake out of ignorance and I believe that he twisted his message to oversell his case about Islam. In the process he committed an unpardonable libel on Gandhi which he should retract and apologize for.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A temperate, factual and much needed perspective... Feb. 2 2011
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Juan Cole "drew me in" in the introduction when he said: "But I developed a deep personal dislike of Middle Eastern fundamentalisms (meaning scriptural literalists, who are not necessarily violent), and was more than once inconvenienced or even menaced by them. That I should now be urging understanding of and engagement with a wide range of Middle Eastern political forces, including fundamentalists, signals not an agreement with them but a pragmatic conviction that as citizens of a single globe, we have to settle our conflicts through dialogue." A viewpoint that certainly resonates with mine, since I too have "been there, done that," been threatened, but have come to the same conclusion. I also very much appreciated his next statement that addressed one of my "pet peeves"; journalists publishing "cut and paste" books from their previous works. Cole says that he wrote his perspective afresh, and I found that to be so.

Cole's postulates the reason for the conflict between the West and Islam in the first chapter in true "follow the money" style; it really is all about oil, and the West's dependency on this essential economic lubricant which is controlled primarily by Islamic countries. And this has been going on for a long time. Not only was the CIA responsible for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953, but also the democratically elected government of Shukri Quwatli in Syria in 1949. Although Syria has virtually no oil, the latter coup provided a more amenable government to the "Tapline project," an oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean which would have to pass through Syria.

In the second chapter he delineates Muslim activism from Muslim radicalism. His comparison between the social conditions that gave rise to Mohammad Atta and Timothy McVeigh is an important one, and useful for destroying the pigeon-hole thinking that declares one a "terrorist," and the other a " murderous misfit," or some synonym, as long as it doesn't start with a "t."

Cole's clipped no-nonsense writing style is in basic "primer" fashion, which is, in many ways what this book is, and would be an important read for not only the "interested observer" but also anyone in a policy making or implementing position. His title "overreaches" a bit, since much of the Islamic world, Indonesia, Bangla Desh, Syria, North Africa, are omitted. The remaining chapters focus on some of the most critical countries: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. I lived in Saudi Arabia over a period of a quarter of a century, and although many books on the Kingdom are riddled with errors and out and out fantasies, I found NONE in Cole's account. In fact, that applies to the entire book.

The folly of American actions in Iraq is covered, for sure. Cole's account did not provide me with any new insights that were not covered in Thomas Ricks Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq But I did find fascinating the author's description of the Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is rich and insightful. Cole says that CBS's "60 minutes" made him look more extreme than he is. The author credits "Larry King Live" with doing the best job of presenting him frankly and honestly! Cole goes on to skewer the British Orientalist, and Princeton professor, Bernard Lewis, saying:"Lewis's beliefs about Iran are even more bizarre than Ahmadinejad's about Israel..." Also, as Cole points out, Iran's military budget is on the order of Singapore's, so we need a much more clear-sighted approach instead of trying to shoehorn the Muslim world into the role of the new "Soviet Union."

My main reservation of Cole's account is his citing of opinion polls in Islamic countries without caveats. From my experience, the results are far more problematic than the now well-honed and defined polls in the United States. I'd feel much more comfortable if Cole had been qualifying them with an error rate of "plus or minus five, or even, twenty percent."

Cole's account is current, and does much to debunk the myths and propaganda promoted by those who would prefer endless war against "the other." Humankind once had a hundred or so year war of religion. For those who might consider that one is sufficient, particularly since nuclear weapons could become widely available if the latest one drags on for a hundred years, then this is an account to read, for you and your children. His book is as topical at today's headlines from Egypt. 5-stars.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A liberal ME scholar's take on U.S. relations with the muslim world Aug. 13 2009
By Samuel M. Brummitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Cole's writing has an obvious liberal slant, but his deep knowledge and experience living in and studying the Muslim world makes for an enlightening read. He dispels many myths and misconceptions that we hold against Muslim people and Islamic societies. He sheds light on the fears and misbeliefs that exist on both sides - giving the name "Islam Anxiety" to describe our fear of Islam, while also (briefly) describing the "American Anxiety" that many in Middle East feel towards our society and government.
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