Synopses & Reviews
In this brilliant look at the rise of political Islam, the distinguished political scientist and anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani brings his expertise and insight to bear on a question many Americans have been asking since 9/11: how did this happen?
Mamdani dispels the idea of “good” (secular, westernized) and “bad” (premodern, fanatical) Muslims, pointing out that these judgments refer to political rather than cultural or religious identities. The presumption that there are “good” Muslims readily available to be split off from “bad” Muslims masks a failure to make a political analysis of our times. This book argues that political Islam emerged as the result of a modern encounter with Western power, and that the terrorist movement at the center of Islamist politics is an even more recent phenomenon, one that followed America’s embrace of proxy war after its defeat in Vietnam. Mamdani writes with great insight about the Reagan years, showing America’s embrace of the highly ideological politics of “good” against “evil.” Identifying militant nationalist governments as Soviet proxies in countries such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, the Reagan administration readily backed terrorist movements, hailing them as the “moral equivalents” of America’s Founding Fathers. The era of proxy wars has come to an end with the invasion of Iraq. And there, as in Vietnam, America will need to recognize that it is not fighting terrorism but nationalism, a battle that cannot be won by occupation.
Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is a provocative and important book that will profoundly change our understanding both of Islamist politics and the way America is perceived in the world today.
"Osama bin Laden's pronouncements are rarely published in full in the United States, but transcripts of his messages often available overseas provide startling insight into the political, rather than religious, nature of his thinking. 'Labeling us, and our acts, as terrorism is also a description of you and your acts,' bin Laden said recently. 'Our acts are a reaction to your acts.' In this meandering rumination on modern-day terrorism, Mamdani takes a controversial step by agreeing with bin Laden, at least on this point; he argues that groups like al-Qaeda are generally motivated by legitimate political grievances with U.S. foreign policy. 'In a nutshell,' Mamdani writes, 'the U.S. government decided to harness and even to cultivate terrorists' during the latter half of the Cold War as it sought to roll back the Soviet Union's global influence. Now, with that legacy coming back to haunt its creators, Mamdani concludes that 'no Chinese wall divides 'our' terrorism from 'their' terrorism. Each tends to feed the other.' These ideas evolved from a series of talks the author gave at New York's Riverside Church in the weeks after 9/11, and the book retains the informality of those discussions. There are flashes of inspiration, among them a thoughtful distinction between 'political Islam' and 'Islamic fundamentalism,' two terms that are frequently and wrongfully used synonymously. There are also frustrating digressions, and Mamdani makes few attempts to address potential dissenters. Still, readers who can overlook these drawbacks will find that this study does make provocative connections across disciplines and continents finding similarities, say, between Liberian and Zionist settlers. Mamdani is searching for big ideas, not nuances, and in this he is successful, making his book an important contribution to the national discussion on terrorism and Islam." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mamdani is searching for big ideas, not nuances, and in this he is successful, making his book an important contribution to the national discussion on terrorism and Islam." Publishers Weekly
"Where Mamdani is unique and particularly compelling, however, is in drawing on his African-studies background to back up his assertions about violence, terrorism and Islam." Booklist
About the Author
Mahmood Mamdani was born in Kampala, Uganda. A political scientist and anthropologist, he is Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. His previous books include
Citizen and Subject and When Victims Become Killers. In 2001 he presented one of the nine papers at the Nobel Peace Prize Centennial Symposium. He lives in New York City and Kampala with his wife and son.