BooksPath Reviews

A Border Passage: From Cairo to America–A Woman’s Journey By Leila Ahmed

Posted in Politics by bookspath on March 11, 2007

From Cairo to America--A Woman's JourneyIn language that vividly evokes the lush summers of Cairo and the stark beauty of the Arabian desert, Leila Ahmed tells a moving tale of her Egyptian childhood growing up in a rich tradition of Islamic women and describes how she eventually came to terms with her identity as a feminist living in America.

As a young woman in Cairo in the 1940s and ’50s, Ahmed witnessed some of the major transformations of this century–the end of British colonialism, the creation of Israel, the rise of Arab nationalism, and the breakdown of Egypt’s once multireligious society. Amid the turmoil, she searched to define herself–and to see how the world defined her–as a woman, a Muslim, an Egyptian, and an Arab. In this memoir, she poignantly reflects upon issues of language, race, and nationality, while unveiling the hidden world of women’s Islam. Ahmed’s story will be an inspiration to anyone who has ever struggled to define their own cultural identity.

An Egyptian woman’s “richly insightful account of the inner conflicts of a generation coming of age during and after the collapse of European imperialism.” —The New York Times Book Review


Palestine:By Joe Sacco, Edward Saed

Posted in Politics by bookspath on March 11, 2007

PalestineFantagraphics Books is pleased to present, for the first time, a single-volume collection of this 288-page landmark of journalism and the artform of comics. Interest in Sacoo has never been higher than with the release of his critically acclaimed book, Safe Area Gorazde.

Based on several months of research and an extended visit to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 1990s (where he conducted over 100 interviews with Palestinians and Jews), Palestine was the first major comics work of political and historical nonfiction by Sacco, who has often been called the first comic book journalist.

Sacco’s insightful reportage takes place at the front lines, where busy marketplaces are spoiled by shootings and tear gas, soldiers beat civilians with reckless abandon, and roadblocks go up before reporters can leave. Sacco interviewed and encountered prisoners, refugees, protesters, wounded children, farmers who had lost their land, and families who had been torn apart by the Palestinian conflict.

In 1996, the Before Columbus Foundation awarded Palestine the seventeenth annual American Book Award, stating that the author should be recognized for his “outstanding contribution to American literature,” while his publisher, Fantagraphics, is “to be honored for their commitment to quality and their willingness to take risks that accompany publishing outstanding books and authors that may not prove ‘cost-effective’ in the short run.”

This new edition of Palestine also features a new introduction from renowned author, critic, and historian Edward Said, author of Peace and Its Discontents and The Question of Palestine and one of the world’s most respected authorities on the Middle Eastern conflict.

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When Victims Become Killers

Posted in Politics by bookspath on March 11, 2007

Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda

When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda
By Mahmood Mamdani

“When we captured Kigali, we thought we would face criminals in the state; instead, we faced a criminal population.” So a political commissar in the Rwanda Patriotic Front reflected after the 1994 massacre of as many as one million Tutsis in Rwanda. Underlying his statement is the realization that, though ordered by a minority of state functionaries, the slaughter was performed by hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, including even judges, human rights activists, and doctors, nurses, priests, friends, and spouses of the victims. Indeed, it is its very popularity that makes the Rwandan genocide so unthinkable. This book makes it thinkable.

Rejecting easy explanations of the genocide as a mysterious evil force that was bizarrely unleashed, one of Africa’s best-known intellectuals situates the tragedy in its proper context. He coaxes to the surface the historical, geographical, and political forces that made it possible for so many Hutu to turn so brutally on their neighbors. He finds answers in the nature of political identities generated during colonialism, in the failures of the nationalist revolution to transcend these identities, and in regional demographic and political currents that reach well beyond Rwanda. In so doing, Mahmood Mamdani usefully broadens understandings of citizenship and political identity in postcolonial Africa.

There have been few attempts to explain the Rwandan horror, and none has succeeded so well as this one. Mamdani’s analysis provides a solid foundation for future studies of the massacre. Even more important, his answers point a way out of crisis: a direction for reforming political identity in central Africa and preventing future tragedies.

From Secularism to Jihad: Sayyid Qutb and the Foundations of Radical Islamism

Posted in Politics by bookspath on March 9, 2007

Sayyid Qutb and the Foundations of Radical IslamismThe modern political idea of “jihad”–a violent struggle against corrupt or anti-Islamic regimes–is essentially the brainchild of one man who turned traditional Islamic precepts inside out and created radical political Islam. Using the evolution of Sayyid Qutb’s life and writings, Musallam traces and analyzes Qutb’s alienation and subsequent emergence as an independent Islamist within the context of his society and the problems that it faced. Radicalized following his stay in the United States in the late 1940s and during his imprisonment from 1954 to 1964, Qutb would pen controversial writings which would have a significant impact on young Islamists in Egypt for decades following his death and on global jihadist Islamists for the past quarter century. Since September 11, 2001, the West has dubbed Qutb “the philosopher of Islamic terror and godfather ideologue of al-Qaeda.” This is the first book to examine his life and thought in the wake of the events that ignited the War on Terrorism. A secular man of letters in the 1930s and 1940s, Qutb’s outlook and focus on Qur’anic studies underwent drastic changes during World War II. The Qur’an became a refuge for his personal needs and for answers to the ills of his society. As a result, he forsook literature permanently for the Islamic cause and way of life. His stay in the United States from 1948 to 1950 reinforced his deeply held belief that Islam is man’s only salvation from the abyss of Godless materialism he believed to be manifest in both capitalism and communism. Qutb’s active opposition to the secular policies of Egyptian President Nasser led to his imprisonment from 1954 to 1964, during which his writings called for the overthrow of Jahili (pagan) governments and their replacement with a true and just Islamic society. A later arrest and trial resulted in his execution in August 1966.

Modern Liberty: And The Limits of Government (Issues of Our Time)by Charles Fried

Posted in Politics by bookspath on March 9, 2007

And The Limits of Government (Issues of Our Time)In this book, Harvard professor and former Solicitor General (Reagan-era) Charles Fried mounts an elegant defense of “modern” liberty. “Modern” liberty, in Fried’s lexicon indicates the freedom associated with natural rights tradition of the English/Scottish Enlightenment, and is to be contrasted with the “ancient” liberty of Rousseau and Sparta. While ancient liberty was about political participation, the essence of Fried’s modern liberty is the absence of coercion.

This is an idiosyncratic book for a contemporary conservative thinker, since the ancient/modern dichotomy is today primarily shop talk among Straussians, who seem to come down against “modern” liberty. But then, Fried is not really a conservative, he is a consistent and principled libertarian. Like J.S. Mill or Kant, he is clearly in love with the modern age and he has no time for tradition, status, or organic hierarchies.

“Modern Liberty” is an easy read, but it is dense with ideas. Fried never mentions names but it is clear that, beneath the surface, he is engaged in point-by-point debate with the entire pantheon of modern political philosophy. He takes on Rawls and Walzer and Cohen, but you don’t need to know these names to enjoy the book. (Most thrillingly for me, he utterly demolishes the “capabilities” theory of freedom, advanced by Amartya Sen.) He knows all of these arguments by heart and engages them vigorously.

There are no strawmen here. Fried’s entire theory is built upon the value of individual rationality, and his argument fully engages the rationality of his interlocutors. He does not belittle or insult anyone’s ideas. He presents their arguments in good faith and in the best light possible, and then demonstrates what is wrong in them.

This is a brief but serious book, intended for a popular audience. Libertarians will find a goldmine of intellectual ammunition here, but this book would also make a great text for a beginner’s course in political philosophy (especially when used in contrast with something like Sen’s “Development as Freedom”).

Reviewer: The Dilettante

Ibn Taymiyya Against the Greek Logicians

Posted in Philosophy by bookspath on March 8, 2007

Book Description

The introduction of Greek philosophy into the Muslim world left an indelible mark on Islamic intellectual history. Philosophical discourse became a constant element in even traditionalist Islamic sciences. However, Aristotelian metaphysics gave rise to doctrines about God and the universe that were found highly objectionable by a number of Muslim theologians, among whom the fourteenth-century scholar Ibn Taymiyya stood foremost. Ibn Taymiyya, one of the greatest and most prolific thinkers in medieval Islam, held Greek logic responsible for the `heretical’ metaphysical conclusions reached by Islamic philosophers, theologians, mystics, and others. He therefore set out to refute philosophical logic, a task which culminated in one of the most devastating attacks ever levelled against the logical system upheld by the early Greeks, the later commentators, and their Muslim followers. His argument is grounded in an empirical approach that in many respects prefigures the philosophies of the British empiricists. Professor Hallaq’s translation, with a substantial introduction and extensive notes, makes this important work available to a wider audience for the first time.


‘It is to the credit of Professor Wael B. Hallaq … to have provided the English-speaking public with such a competent and readable translation of a key text of Islamic civilization. That the work carries the insignia of Clarendon Press,
Oxford is a further testimony of its enduring value. Apart from students of Muslim thought, specialists in philosophies and historians of logic are sure to benefit from this sterling effort. Indeed, it should prove to be of equal interest to all the critics, Muslims or otherwise, of modern science.’ S. Parvez Manzoor, Muslim World Book Review 15, no. 2, 1995

`Hallaq has performed a valuable service in carrying out this translation…he has produced a clear, judicious and attractive version…This is in every way an excellent book. Hallaq has written what will surely be the standard work in the area for some time to come.’ Bulletin of the

School of
Oriental and African Studies.

`A major survey of Ibn Taymiyyah and logic … Hallaq’a volume is the ideal introduction to the whole field of Ibn Taymiyyah, logic and the philosophers … a fluent, scholarly and well-organised translation … a fresh and attractive addition to the growing corpus of literature on Islamic logic and its complexities.’ Journal of Semitic Studies

`This work, Professor Hallaq’s most recent, is almost unique to modern studies of Ibn Taymiyah and for this readon deserves our attention. Hallaq has proved an enormously capable writer in his field. … His profound grasp of the discussions in medieval Arabic works on logic is evident here and in that regard it is an important book.’ Mamluk Studies Review, 1, 1997

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