Thursday, August 10, 2006

Exploring the Middle East: War, Faith, People

It’s good to be back on the blog. Summer is on its final roll, and because of professional and personal constraints, I haven’t had a lot of time to update my column here.

When I wasn’t writing or taking time off,books about Judaism,Christianity, and the Middle East in general occupied my time. I’m doing a column for Family Security Matters, and wanted to learn more about the areas, cultures, and faiths that dominate the global consciousness. I read a few blogs about the subject too; most of those I found are gloriously inaccurate and skewed by one political view or the other (the latter without benefit of an “opinion” tag unfortunately).

So here’s a list of several books I read, with opinionated annotations—if you choose to read one of these titles, let me know your reaction. I’ll list some more next time—I’m trying hard to learn to write shorter pieces for the Net.

INSIDE ISRAEL (Marlowe and Company, 2002) by David K. Shipler and others
This is a collection of essays, and in my opinion, it’s the best of the dozen or so books I read. Featured here are essayists like P. J. O’Rourke, whose “Zion’s Vital Signs” illustrates why he is one of the best essayists writing today. Other essays by Saul Bellow, Karen Armstrong and the like make this book a page turner. The collection is very even-handed, and not at all irrational, which makes it an unusual book in its genre. Many of the pieces first appeared in publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic. O’Rourke’s essay is my favorite—he’s one of the only writers I know who can be simultaneously funny and serious about the Middle East.

WHAT WENT WRONG?(Perennial, 2002) by Bernard Lewis
Lewis, a highly respected scholar on Islam, is Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton. This book offers a very objective, informative view of historical and current events. He’s not a dry academic writer; unlike many formal scholars, he can actually write as opposed to presenting information.

ISLAM (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Sort of an all-about-Islam book by University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. Central theme of the book is faith; excellent information about the various manifestations of Islam in terms of place and culture. At times, the author’s attitude can be wearisome—a reliance on the-Western-world-makes-them-do-it is a convenient rationale for violence perpetrated by political factions in some Islamic countries. But a useful text for looking into the mind of a man serious about his faith. Sort of an Islamic take equivalent to a book about Christianity if Billy Graham were to write one focusing on the topic from the same perspective as Nasr.

THE ASSASSINS (first publication Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1967; preface to paperback added 2003)
Fascinating account of the “radical sect in Islam”, the Ismaili Shiite sect described in the book as the first group to make systematic use of murder as a political weapon. This book is a very useful tool for understanding all the different branches of Islam. I liked Lewis’s book listed above so much I bought this one too. He really is a fine creative writer.

Link of the week:The Renegade Writer


Sheryl said...

Thanks for this list. I think I may take you up on this. I'll be writing these titles down.

Kay Day said...

Sheryl, I just saw this comment--hope you read some of them. Let me know what you think--best, Kay