Synopses & Reviews
What does the "war on terror" and a new era of religious ferocity look like to an Englishman living in the Pacific Northwest? Jonathan Raban finds that as he reads the source texts that have inspired modern-day jihad, memories of his own rigidly fundamentalist adolescent atheism help him understand why young people suffering from cultural alienation, spiritual emptiness, and moral uncertainty turn to a backward-looking version of Islam to help them resist the upheavals of modernity.
Raban reflects on the Bush administration's manipulation of the threat of terrorism to undermine civil rights. In diagnosing what has gone wrong in the Iraq war, he emphasizes the US failure to understand the history of the Middle East and its loyalties of religion and ethnicity. He traces the continuing support for a disastrous war to the legacy of American Puritanism: the tendency of Americans no one more so than President Bush himself, our "Pastor-in-Chief," to whose reelection it was key to be inspired by a religious fervor and sense of predestination oblivious to history and reason. And he explores the increasing polarization of American politics, as exemplified by the issues that he has seen divide his urban from his non-urban neighbors in the Northwest.
"Seattle-based British author Raban eloquently argues a by now commonplace premise throughout these 15 previously published political and cultural think pieces, autobiographical reflections, book reviews and travelogues: that the Bush administration's bellicose unilateralism abroad and burgeoning security state at home were neither the necessary nor best response to the attacks of 2001. Rather, the administration capitalized on an exceptional moment of national unity to take the country down a dangerously antidemocratic, Manichean path that wedded widespread religious faith to a right-wing imperial agenda. As a potent prose stylist and keen observer of the American scene, Raban charts with rare luminosity the changes and widening fissures in American society from 9/11 through 7/7 (as the 2005 London subway bombings were instantly branded), which makes revisiting even topics like Howard Dean's presidential race worthwhile. Several thoughtful and compelling chapters grapple, meanwhile, with the largely Western and entirely modern origins of Islamist extremism, drawing on Raban's demonstrated familiarity with the Middle East (Arabia: A Journey through the Labyrinth) and careful perusal of both the English-language Middle Eastern press and a sampling of jihadist Web sites. Amid a plethora of works on American domestic and foreign policy post-9/11 by journalists, academics, policy makers and government insiders, Raban's contribution will inevitably seem, at times, limited or redundant. But the book's defense of reason over militant irrationalism, resting as it does on the author's formidable talent for insight and analogy, will inspire readers with the underlying issues at play in this dizzying, event-crammed historical moment." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)