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A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb [Paperback]

Amitava Kumar

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Book Description

June 10 2010
Part reportage and part protest, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb is an inquiry into the cultural logic and global repercussions of the war on terror. At its centre are two men convicted in U.S. courts on terrorism-related charges: Hemant Lakhani, a seventy-year-old tried for attempting to sell a fake missile to an FBI informant, and Shahawar Matin Siraj, who was baited by the New York Police Department into a conspiracy to bomb a subway. Lakhani and Siraj were caught through questionable sting operations involving paid informants; both men received lengthy jail sentences. Their convictions were celebrated as major victories in the war on terror. In Kumar's riveting account of their cases, Lakhani and Siraj emerge as epic bunglers, and the U.S. government as the creator of terror suspects to prosecute. Kumar analyzed the trial transcripts and media coverage, and he interviewed Lakhani, Siraj, their families, and their lawyers. Juxtaposing such stories of entrapment in the United States with narratives from India, another site of multiple terror attacks and state crackdowns, Kumar explores the harrowing experiences of ordinary people entangled in the war on terror. He also considers the fierce critiques of post-9/11 surveillance and security regimes by artists and writers including Coco Fusco, Paul Shambroom, and Arundhati Roy, as well as soldiers and torture victims.

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"A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb imaginatively portrays the forces shaping contemporary India, and it is a remarkable reader of mass culture and popular narrative forms, of the worlds of Hindi cinema, pulp fiction, sensational journalism, and globalized media. Amitava Kumar's rendering of the Starr Report through the experience of the protagonist, Binod, shows us how a seemingly quintessential American narrative--shaped by domestic politics, the culture wars, and a market-driven media--can travel all the way to Delhi in a 'cheap, pirated version,' and be remade by alternative forms of entrepreneurship." --Siddhartha Deb, author of An Outline of the Republic and The Point of Return "Kumar's searching and humane account of the global consequences of the U.S. "war on terror" gets behind the rhetoric and state public relations campaigns in a brisk but thoughtful narrative. Kumar covers intellectual and artistic responses to American domestic and foreign security policies, including the work of conceptual artist Hasan Elahi, who after being randomly interrogated by the FBI after 9/11, has taken to documenting and uploading to his Web site every move he makes. In his own reportage, Kumar (Husband of a Fanatic) focuses on two legal cases, in whose details, including his own interviews with the defendants, he astutely deconstructs the logic of what he sees as a burgeoning police state and the global order (or disorder) it encourages. The first is that of Hemant Lakhani, a boastful 70-year-old smalltime London clothier arrested in a sting operation delivering a sample shoulder-fired missile to an FBI informant. The other concerns Shahawar Matin Siraj, drawn into a bomb plot by undercover New York police. An arresting and heartrending work of public protest and valuable social analysis, this work contributes forcefully to a subtle, human-scaled accounting of 21st-century geopolitics. " - Publishers Weekly, Starred Review "It is among the accomplishments of Amitava Kumar's new book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb that it refuses to separate the cultural and the political means by which the War on Terror has been waged. Kumar endeavours to connect not only the tortuous practices common to states fighting terrorists, but also the ways this "war" has been imagined... Alongside his personal encounters with these terrorists, Kumar shows the haphazardly constructed legal cases, the government witnesses, and the clash of half-digested cultural understandings. He peels back the stories that we only know by headlines ... With a novelist's eye and a reporter's doggedness... Kumar makes both a political and legal argument, but also a cultural one. It is to his credit that, while writing a non-fiction book, he acknowledges the power of the imagination - of art - to wrestle into view that which politics works to hide from us. Kumar's work demonstrates that the Terrorist is not a "known unknown": he is both ordinary and comprehensible." - Manan Ahmed, The National "Amitava Kumar has written a unique book. It is ultimately a book about neoliberalism, about the public interest defined as militarism rather than as well-being. It is a book about the imagination reduced to suspicion and fear rather than hope and liberty. It is a book that swells from India to Indiana, depicting the global ecology of antiterrorism."--Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World "Kumar's book succeeds in lifting some of the fog that engulfs the war on terror. It's a must-read." Shobhan Saxena, The Times of India "An important book... Kumar is able to combine painstaking research, taut pacing, and thought-provoking analysis to produce an outstanding work of nonfiction."--Aayush Soni, Business Standard "Kumar builds, with considerable finesse, a case against the brutality and incompetence of the state, both Indian and American."--Sadanand Dhume, Outlook India "I can't think of a more urgent, important, and necessary book."--Pradeep Sebastian, The Hindu "This is a very important book since it speaks of crimes committed by the State under the garb of tackling terror. Be it the paranoia in the U.S. After 9/11 or in India [after] the 2001 attack on Parliament, liberal democracies, while accusing individuals of moral turpitude, have violated all norms of justice and fair play themselves."--Rahul Pandita, OPEN Magazine "Mr. Kumar's book isn't especially long, but it is a many-tentacled beast. In part it's a deft survey of post-9/11 art, from its fiction and nonfiction to its foreign films and obscure works of performance art. At its heart, however, [the book] is about the ordinary men and women, brown-skinned in general and Muslim in particular, who have had their lives upended by America's enraged security apparatus. Mr. Kumar calls them the "small people," and to them he extends his own impressive and trembling moral imagination... A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb carries in the crook of its own arm Mr. Kumar's plaintive appeal. If we're to bridge the perilous divide that separates us from those poor and unnamed people who resent us, we first need to see them, to look into their eyes. We need, Mr. Kumar writes, "to acknowledge that they exist." This angry and artful book is a first step." Dwight Garner, The New York Times "Foreigner is part contemporary history, part investigative journalism, part political treatise, part memoir - and an absolute must-read. My greatest fear is that the readers who most need to read this book will not. Kumar is an excellent storyteller. He's also immensely convincing. Drawing on his vast, voracious knowledge of literature, film, television, and breaking headlines, Kumar makes a case that post-9/11 fear has created a not-so-brave new world of bullies and fools. Moving fluidly between his adopted US home and his birthplace of India - another country altered by concerns over terrorism - Kumar carefully exposes what he sees as the senseless abuse of power justified by the 'war on terror'... Again and again, Kumar makes a case that the 'red zone of a terrorist threat' has blinded post-9/11 courts to blatant injustice, condemnation without evidence, and even torture: '[T]his new definition of public interest, where the argument is made in terms of national security,' writes Kumar, 'will trump all other claims every time.' That national security threat at home, Kumar argues, keeps citizens distracted from the 'greater horror of the other war [in Iraq] from our eyes.'" - Terry Hong, Christian Science Monitor

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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An indispensible report on the war on terror Aug. 7 2010
By lapata - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Since 9/11/01, the War on Terror has served up no major players in the attacks that occurred in the US on that day. Instead, our intelligence gathering systems have produced a string of inadept wannabes, their files released to the press as major coups in the global war. Within days of each arrest, we begin to learn that each of these characters was not the Big Bad that we were originally given to understand.

Amitava Kumar's new book zeroes in on some of these specimens of the Global War, and in fine-grained detail examines their deeds, their cases and their role in this ongoing drama. What we learn is depressing-- both for the punishments (and often torture) meted out on individuals whose crimes usually amount to talking big to the wrong people-- and for the mounting evidence that this war is in no way closer to achieving its initial goals than it was on September 12th, 2001.

Kumar's discussion is balanced (he is not always sympathetic to the subjects of his narration) and written in an engaging and accessible style. As in his previous books, Kumar mixes different narrative styles, especially reportage and memoir, and quotes at length from portions of the court documents associated with the various cases.

For anyone wishing to understand the War on Terror in greater detail than what is generally available in the press, this book is essential reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Humane Look at the Inhumanity and Theatre of War April 15 2011
By AZNmovieFan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Many post-9/11 and "War on Terror" books have attempted to explain the zeitgeist of the world, but most have been superficial, like Amis's and Updike's novels, or polarizing.

Amitava Kumar's book is a brilliant and very accessible transnational study of the victims on both sides of manufactured wars. Connecting imperialism, colonization, insurgency, and growing fascism around the world, Kumar carves out a book that is a deeply personal study of innocent strangers swept up and ensnared in globalized net of entrapment, racism, blind rage, and hatred. Kumar is never a distant observer; instead, he meets with almost everyone he talks about, covering events related to the "war on terror" from the U.S. to India to Kashmir. This is a remarkable book.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nuanced and complex book Aug. 9 2010
By sepoy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Amitava Kumar's book takes the pulse of American response to 9/11 at home. His writing is at times lyrical, at times reportage but always precise, focused. He pays as much attention to himself as a subject and object as he does to the people and circumstances he is describing. In alternate chapters, he discusses the prosecution (via sting operations) of two domestic terrorism cases, the response of Indian army to Kashmir, the attempts by artists and thinkers to contextualize the domestic sphere of the global War on Terror. This is a rich, wonderfully written book, deserving of a sustained, deep reading - perhaps one of the best non-fiction treatment of the post 9/11 apparatchik.
4 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Accidental Terrorists and Other Little Guys Aug. 7 2010
By Academic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The major point of this book is that hatred is a failure of the imagination. So along comes Amitava Kumar, cosmopolitan Indian-at-large to remedy this problem. But the failure, it seems, is Kumar's.

His book turns terrorism into a problem of brainwashed, provincial little guys, hapless entrapped merchants, and bureaucratic bunglers. He concedes that some terrorists are dangerous, but bracketing that entire issue, he concentrates on his little guys. Turns out Kumar is fascinated that one of the terrorists in the Mumbai attacks is awe-struck by the opulence of the five-star hotel in which he carries out the killings. This detail preoccupies Kumar and is offered to us as a major revelation about terrorists. What he leaves out is what horrified most others about this attack--that the terrorists used drugs to keep themselves awake so they could maximize the destruction and killing of men, women, and children, that in a huge city like Mumbai they meticulously hunted and killed members of a tiny Jewish community, that they unflinchingly killed children at point-blank range. Given the enormous moral and political complexity of the problem of terrorism, Kumar is entirely disingenuous to suggest that looking at the little guy, the accidental terrorist, we will have understood better what we confront.

I wonder if he had talked sympathetically about one of the "little guys" involved in the 9/11 attacks, instead of the Mumbai attacks, whether his book would have been reviewed in the mainstream press.
3 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Terrorist Expert? Aug. 9 2010
By bookworm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An English professor from Vassar as a terrorist expert? Give me a break.

If we are getting our legal analysis and "reportage" of the global war on terror from an English professor at Vassar, it shows just how bad things have become. The mainstream coverage of the war on terror has its flaws, but who can seriously say that this is an alternative? The book's claim to offering a "humane" account of the events covers over the superficiality and flawed reasoning in this book. The writing is patchy, the reasoning is flimsy, and the book is simply not worth its cost.
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