The hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, thought they were fighting a cosmic war. According to award-winning writer and scholar of religions Reza Aslan, by infusing the United States War on Terror with the same kind of religiously polarizing rhetoric and Manichean worldview, it is also fighting a cosmic war, a war that can't be won.
How to Win a Cosmic Waris both an in-depth study of the ideology fueling al-Qaida, the Taliban, and like-minded militants throughout the Muslim world, and an exploration of religious violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Surveying the global scene from Israel to Iraq and from New York to the Netherlands, Aslan argues that religion is a stronger force today than it has been in a century. At a time when religion and politics are increasingly sharing the same vocabulary and functioning in the same sphere, Aslan writes that we must strip the conflicts of our world, in particular, the War on Terror, of their religious connotations and address the earthly grievances that always lie behind the cosmic impulse.
How do you win a cosmic war? By refusing to fight in one.
©2009 Reza Aslan; (P)2009 Random House
"In this provocative and engaging book, Reza Aslan shows why he is one of America's leading analysts of the confusing and frightening forces that confront us. It is Aslan's great gift to see things clearly, and to say them clearly, and in this important new work he offers us a way forward. He is prescriptive and passionate, and his book will make you think." (Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House)
This is the second book published by a young reform-minded Islamic scholar Reza Aslan, after his more serious, better articulated one "No god But God" (2006). His latest book seems to me hurriedly written at the request of the publisher who thought the author could say one thing or two on the issues of global terrorism committed in the name of God. I enjoyed the audiobook, but it could have been much better if it had been given more time for more in-depth reflection.
Aslan's analysis and breakdown of the various sorts of Islamic movements was quite helpful. I liked it enough that I bought a hard copy so that I can quote it as needed. I am less certain that he has a solution of how to "win" the war, but his statement that refusing to engage in a Cosmic war is the only valid strategy is one that needs to be heard.
His ability to cite Christian scripture and make it sound ominous (a claim to be "washed in the blood" should not be understood as threatening) needs to be understood, I think, against the backdrop of people reading the Qur'an in equally ominous ways. If you focus on the global pronouncements, this book is simplistic. He does not have any simple solutions that are going to bring peace in the war on terror or in any other war. However, the book can be very helpful in sorting out a range of Muslim attitudes.
Certainly an interesting look at religion and modernization. Sheds light on psychology, identity, modernization, war, and underlying cultures as they function to shape history.
This was a hard one to finish and held a subtle bias. According to the author Christian fundamentalists are dangerous because they follow their scriptures while Muslim fundamentalists are dangerous because they do not. It was interesting to get his perspective on western fundamentalism but in the end there was not enough objectivity for my desire to make this a useful study.
This book offers a comprehensive and probably accurate analysis of the reasons for jihad terrorism. Bravo for his comments on the history of messy American foreign policy in the Middle-East (not to mention the rest of the world). And bravo for his revelations about the inter-sect conflicts rampant in the Muslim world (is the Christian world in much better shape?). The author, however, is quite naive about what might be the answer to overcoming the jihad problem. I certainly don't have the answer, but neither does he.
With good cause, he sings the brown-man-blues about his encounters with American "crusaders" in Cairo and whines about being equally put upon by common Arabs there who spot him (an Iranian raised in the US) as an "other". He further blames violent jihadism on the thought that a second-generation, immigrant, German citizen will never be ethnically "German". Until, many generations hence, when the world's population is boringly homogeneous we might as well accept our built-in distrust of "others". That characteristic evolved in humans too many years ago to expect it to be overcome by a few conversations over tea and a few choruses of "Kumbaya". "Can't we all just get along?"
While not even recognizing how foul his American countrymen see it, Aslan mentions that he knows Iranians in Tehran who will chant "Death to America" in the public square and then secretively beg him for help in getting a US visa. Is it any wonder a lot of Americans perceive the Muslim mind as having a completely different idea of what is factual and what isn't? If "words matter" for Aslan's vacillating hero, President Obama, they also matter for the Muslims of the world.
There is a lot to be learned from this book, but it misses the mark on what a reader could realistically do about settling the world's major dilemma.
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