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How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terrorby Reza Aslan
Synopses & Reviews
A cosmic war is a religious war. It is a battle not between armies or nations, but between the forces of good and evil, a war in which God is believed to be directly engaged on behalf of one side against the other.
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, is also fighting a cosmic war-a war that cant be won.
How to Win a Cosmic War is both an in-depth study of the ideology fueling al-Qa‘ida, 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.
Raised in the "insular town" of Enid, Okla., but born in Tehran, Reza Aslan, the Muslim author of this book, grew accustomed to feeling like the odd man out, especially after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. "Are you with us or with them?" people asked. "Which is it? Time to decide. There is no middle." But for Aslan, whose coolly detached writing style suits his subject well, there... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) clearly was a "middle" way, one that did not involve him picking sides in a war that could never be won in the first place. In his view, the jihadists who attacked the United States were fighting "a cosmic war," one that provided "an invitation that a great many Americans were more than willing to accept." Aslan argues that a cosmic war is distinct from a holy war, which pits rival religious groups against each other in an earthly battle: "A cosmic war is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens." For Aslan, the moment President George W. Bush went on television and either intentionally or through clumsiness framed "the war on terrorism" in terms of "this crusade," he fell into a well-laid trap. "He responded with precisely the cosmic dualism that those who carried out the attacks had intended to provoke," Aslan writes, before reminding us that the idea of the United States as a cosmic force dates back to the Founding Fathers, who "drew up a seal that depicted Moses on the shores of the Sea of Reeds, his staff raised, the waters surging over Pharaoh's army." But Aslan's new book — his second, after the best-selling "No God but God," about the origins and evolution of Islam — provides more than just historical precedent; it also offers a very persuasive argument for the best way to counter jihadism and its many splinter groups, such as al-Qaeda. "Islamism," Aslan says, "can act as a foil to Jihadism. Unlike Jihadists, whose aims and aspirations rest on a cosmic plane, Islamists have material goals and legitimate ambitions that can be addressed by the state." He defines Islamism as a "nationalist ideology" based on religion, distinct from jihadism, which wants to "erase all borders" and aspires to "an idealized past of religious communalism." He cites Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, where democratic elections between hard-core parties and the moderate Awami National Party resulted in a rout by the ANP and adds that "throughout the Middle East, whenever moderate Islamist parties have been allowed to participate in the political process, popular support for more extremist groups has diminished." This was certainly true in Iran earlier this month, when the independent presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi won a substantial number of votes by stressing his reformist credentials, not his Shiite beliefs. Aslan credits Bush for promising to promote democratic elections in the Middle East, then lambastes him for not following through on that promise: "By refusing to engage the democratically elected leaders in Lebanon and Palestine, and by looking the other way as its allies in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia reverted to their despotic behavior, the United States was telling the world that the promise of peaceful political reform through democratic participation was a lie." Aslan's regret is all the more profound because he believes that his adoptive country's domestic commitment "to the freedom of religion and religious expression" is second to none and has enabled it to resist the pull of jihadism on its citizens far better than its European counterparts. "I have watched Muslims chant 'Death to America!' on the streets of Tehran, then privately beg me to help them get a visa to the United States." Indeed, Aslan is no armchair philosopher, and the abiding pleasure of this book is how he deftly describes his peregrinations. From the chaotic splendor of Jerusalem to the downright penury of Gaza, to the mean streets of Beeston in northwest England, where the so-called 7/7 London bombers grew up, to the crowded cafes of Cairo, he appears equally at home. This he proudly acknowledges: "My citizenship is American, my nationality, Iranian; my ethnicity, Persian; my culture, Middle Eastern; my religion, Muslim." And after eight years of "us versus them," President Barack Obama's victory speech provided Aslan with a perfect epilogue: "'If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.'" Tobias Grey is a freelance journalist and literary critic living in Paris. Reviewed by Tobias Grey, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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How does America win a Cosmic War--the war against Jihadism? By refusing to fight in one, according to Aslan, who maintains that the Jihadists have no earthly agenda because they are fighting a theological war.
About the Author
Reza Aslan is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, and Senior Fellow at the Orfalae Center for Global and International Studies at U.C. Santa Barbara. His first book, No god but God, has been translated into thirteen languages and was short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award.
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