Weblog Archives

  Saturday  September 8  2007    11: 14 AM

book recommendation

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim:
America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror

by Mahmood Mamdani

This is one of those books that takes facts that I already know and ties them together to provide a larger picture that should have been obvious. Mamdani provides a history of political Islam but it's his history of terrorism that takes center stage. Terrorism that was started by the US. The loss in Vietnam drove America's imperial wars underground. The loss of public support forced the CIA and Pentagon to wage proxy wars that wouldn't be answerable to Congress and the American public. It started in Africa and then moved to Central America. (Remember the Iran-Contra affair.) These proxy wars were characterized by their use of terror on civilian populations funded by drug money. The proxy war reached it's peak with the creation of the Mujahideen by the CIA in Afghanistan. The use of terrorism by Muslims has been in reaction to the terrorism instigated by the CIA. And people wonder why they hate us. The final two paragraphs of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim:

But if the same Iraqis who yesterday welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein today see American troops as an occupying force, is it not time to question the simplifying assumption that the problem lies with bad as opposed to good Iraqis? If good and bad Iraqis—and good and bad Muslims—are really quasi-official names for those who support and oppose American policies, is it not time to go beyond the name-calling and review policies that consistently seem to erode support and generate opposition? Whether in America, Iraq, or elsewhere, the revitalization of democracy in the era of globalized American power requires no less.

Herin lies the continuing relevance of Vietnam. The lesson of Vietnam was that the battle against nationalism could not be won as a military confrontation: America would need to recognize the legitimacy of nationalism in the era of imperialism and learn to live with it. Just as America learned to distinguish between nationalism and Communism in Vietnam, so it will need to learn the difference between nationalism and terrorism in the post-9/11 world. To win the fight against terrorism requires accepting that the world has changed, that the old colonialism is no more and will not return, and that to occupy foreign places wil be expensive, in lives and money. America cannot occupy the world. It has to learn to live in it.

Here is an article by Mamdani and and interview with Mamdani that covers themes in the invaluable book.

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim - An African Perspective

Ever since September 11, there has been a growing media interest in Islam. What is the link, many seem to ask, between Islam and terrorism? The Spectator, a British weekly, carried a lead article a few weeks ago that argued that the link was not with all of Islam, but with a very literal interpretation of it. This version, Wahhabi Islam, it warned, was dominant in Saudi Arabia, from where it had been exported both to Afghanistan and the US. This argument was echoed widely in many circles, more recently in the New York Times. This article is born of dissatisfaction with the new wisdom that we must tell apart the Good Muslim from the Bad Muslim.



To understand terrorism, we need to go beyond self-defense, beyond the violence of liberation movements, beyond the violence of anti-colonial struggles and liberation movements. To understand non-state terror today, we need to understand the historical relationship between state terrorism and non-state terrorism. There is a clear and discernible historical dynamic: during the Cold War, state terror has been parent to non-state terror and, having given rise to non-state terror, it has then proceeded to mimic it - as, for instance, in the "War against Terror".