Books – recent titles reviewed

Democracy makes India slow to act

China’s Nightmare, America’s Dream: India as the Next Global Power
William H. Avery, Amaryllis, USA, 2012, 280pp, ISBN 9789381506078

This road map on a country’s national development and power projection, by former American diplomat William Av­ery, weaves together its educational, eco­nomic and infrastructure needs. It offers up the mechanisms of a modern military force and of well-managed multinational corporations as a formula through which successful development can be achieved.

Almost as an afterthought, Avery sug­gests the map be used by medium-sized nations. But this is specifically directed at how India deals with China. He makes a forensically linear and well-researched argument that India needs to step up its game and seal a special relationship with the USA in order to contain China’s brash and growing influence.

India’s laissez-faire approach to Sri Lanka is one change the country needs to address. In 1991, after the Tamil Tigers murdered Rajiv Gandhi, India should have gone, in US-style, to get the Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran. It was indefensi­ble for a regional power to be intimidated by ragtag rebels hiding in the jungle. Now, India needs to counter China’s construction of the southern Sri Lankan port of Hamban­tota, where Chinese warships are expected to call. It is too close to home, and Avery asks awkwardly whether Beijing would tol­erate India building a port in Taiwan.

The way forward is to cement India’s shared democratic values with the West, and to replicate the relationship forged by the USA and Britain during World War II and the Cold War.

With the focus moving from Europe to Asia, Wash­ington needs India as an ally that commands both respect and fear. It made a start with its 1998 nu­clear test followed by an immediate ‘no first use’ promise, but it needs to do much more.

India is behind China in almost every area, and Avery lays out the challenges. China spends three times as much on its military; direct foreign investment into India is a fraction of its rival; and China is ‘out-innovating’ India with better uni­versities, science and research.

The very democratic values India shares with the USA are the cause for its sluggishness. One example is education. Back in 1995, the government introduced a bill to open up the education sector to foreign universities; 17 years later, it has still not been passed into law and India’s universities are suffering.

But then, India’s governing coalition alone comprises 13 sepa­rate parties, all of whom are needed for consensus. Com­pare that with the US two-party or Chinese one-party system with a 24-member Politburo.

With highly intelligent ar­gument, Avery sets the goal. It is India’s choice to make, he says. But the country’s DNA is made up of a people with many different views and so it is unlikely that this choice will be quickly made.

Humphrey Hawksley, BBC foreign corre­spondent and author of Democracy Kills: What’s So Good About Having The Vote?

The underside of Israel’s invincibility

You Can’t Hide the Sun: A Journey through Israel and Palestine
John McCarthy, Bantam Press, London, 2012, 320pp, ISBN 9780593059463

According to the UN, over a thousand Palestinians were evicted from their homes in the West Bank in 2011 by Israeli forces; in 2012, demolition of Arab homes continues apace while Jewish settlements keep expanding. And recent film footage showing armed Jewish settlers firing live rounds at stone-throwing Palestinian pro­testers while Israeli soldiers stand by has attracted worldwide condemnation.

But what is life like for the 1.5 million Pal­estinian citizens of Israel? In his new book, John McCarthy travels through Israel meet­ing with and interviewing the country’s in­digenous peoples. His sympathetic portrayals of their often tragic histories serve as a potent reminder of the cost of the Israeli govern­ment’s relentless pursuit of a ‘Jewish nation’.  Interwoven between these very moving stories is a candid account of McCarthy’s terrifying ordeal as a hostage; thoughts of home, he says, and of his family helped him to cope. The value of home – both as a refuge and as a place in which we feel we belong is a fundamental thread that runs throughout the book, for here are a people who are ‘home’ but who feel as if they don’t belong. Many, like Abu Ad­nan Beshtawe, whom McCarthy fondly calls “the baker from Acre”, remember with horror the violence that signalled Isra­el’s birth as an independent na­tion in 1948: “All my life, those images have been in my head. I have never felt safe.”

Palestinians account for one in five of Israel’s population, yet they share few rights with their Jewish counterparts. Many have limited or no access to health care and basic services, attend segregated schools and universities, and are unable to maintain contact with family members or to develop their land. It is alarming to read that many Jewish Israelis believe this system of apartheid is acceptable. According to McCarthy, in a recent poll among Jewish students, almost half said they believed that Arab Israelis should not enjoy the same rights as them.

The book’s conclusion finds Israel abuzz with preparations for Independence Day; Palestinians call it the Nakba (‘ca­tastrophe’). The stark contrast between Jewish citizens celebrating their independence while Palestini­ans mourn the loss of theirs only serves to further demonstrate the almost hopelessness of the situation.

John McCarthy is hopeful, how­ever, and believes that Palestinian voices are growing stronger, that they have a vital role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian debate and that, as the international community continues to learn about the injustice in Israel, they will join with those Palestinian and Jewish citi­zens who condemn this oppression.

Hannah Cochrane, freelance writer and researcher

Extremism and closed minds

Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening
Maajid Nawaz, WH Allen, London, 2012, 400pp, ISBN 9780753540763

In May 2011, Brigadier Ali Khan, a serv­ing officer in the Pakistan Army, was arrested for his alleged links with the banned extremist organisation Hizb ut- Tahrir (HT). Active in 40 Muslim coun­tries, and propagating an ideology based on the revival of the Caliphate, HT stands also against democracy and wants to im­pose shariah law across the Islamic world.

HT has been banned in Pakistan and many other Muslim countries. Although it claims to be a peaceful organisation, it has been trying to infiltrate armed forces in Muslim states to seize power. Much of its fund-raising and recruitment is centred in the UK, where it functions openly.

When Maajid Nawaz joined its ranks, he was only 17, but was drawn to its phi­losophy because it gave him a powerful sense of identity, tying him in an organic way to the worldwide ummah, or the na­tion of Islam. For a young man trying to survive racist attacks on the mean streets of Southend, Essex, it was important to be part of a gang.

Radical describes Nawaz’s early days as a happy, cool schoolboy, deeply into hip-hop music and street art. At home, religion played little part in his upbringing. But after an en­counter with racism, he joined a gang whose members lived under the daily threat of be­ing ambushed by Combat 18, a racist crew of skinheads. This menace was suddenly lifted when Nawaz’s older brother, Kash, claimed to have an Islamic terror group behind him.

Once recruited into HT, Nawaz rose through its ranks and was sent to Egypt to establish the movement there. He was picked up by President Mubarak’s dread­ed secret police and thrown into a noto­rious prison where the sounds of people being tortured could be heard every night. Thanks to the efforts of Amnesty Inter­national, Nawaz was released four years later.

Returning to England, he began to re­flect on his beliefs. Discussing changes in HT’s rigid ideology, he was disillusioned by the closed minds he encountered within the organisation. Once he left HT, he was invited to advise the British government on ex­tremism, and went on to set up Quilliam, an anti-terrorist think tank, with his old HT mentor, Ed Husain, author of The Islamist.  Britons are often outraged by the fact that some young Muslims, born and brought up in the UK, have turned to terrorism, and have plotted against their own state. To gain an under­standing of how these young men become radicalised, they could do no better than read Maajid Nawaz’s personal account of this journey.

Irfan Husain, columnist for the Pakistan daily newspaper Dawn

A triumph threatened by anarchy

Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution
Lindsey Hilsum, Faber and Faber, London, 2012, 320pp, ISBN 9780571288038

No one could misinterpret the delirious joy with which the different stages of the up­rising against Colonel Muammar Qadhafi and his cronies were greeted across Libya. The monstrous behaviour of the man and the regime he had fashioned around him­self were long past justifying. And yet the chaotic manner of the revolution and its highly uncertain outcome have left im­mense challenges for those now trying to restore order in this fragmented polity.

Working for Channel 4 News, Lindsey Hilsum followed the progress of the revo­lution with close and regular reporting in often difficult and dangerous conditions. Her book not only describes the different stages but takes account of the motiva­tions and aims of the large numbers of in­dividuals – fighters and ordinary citizens alike – whom she encountered at different moments in the struggle.

She starts by highlighting the critical significance of the 1996 massacre at the Abu Salim jail, in which over a thousand prisoners were killed in cold blood. It in­tensified the sense of alienation, especial­ly among people in the east of the country who had never identified with Qadhafi’s rule. This leads to a quick sketch of some of the basic realities of Libyan history; this is far too sweeping to be entirely ac­curate but it does provide some essential context for the uninitiated reader.

The ironies of Qadhafi’s rule – how his absurd am­bitions led him into end­less blind alleys and even eventually provided direct ammunition to those who would overthrow him – are an abiding theme. Hilsum looks back to the 1970s and 80s and Qadhafi’s support for “any group that chal­lenged what he saw as colonialist or im­perialist power” – from the IRA planting bombs in Britain to the Japanese Red Army planning a Communist revolution. She also takes close account of Qadhafi’s cooperation with British intelligence after 2001, and the embarrassing revelations of Western complicity with Qadhafi’s own secret services up to the time of the NATO bombing.

A further irony was the engagement with African rebel movements, whether supporters of Liberia’s Charles Taylor or Tuaregs of the Sahara Desert. Far from engendering conti­nental solidarity, this has led to Africans living in Libya becoming highly vulnerable and appallingly abused.

Hilsum concludes that the new Libya is a “blank canvas on which any group might paint its own design”. Her book may lack deep analysis, but it contains enough sharp insights to serve as a valuable account of a crucial period, one from which the ripples are sure to be felt for years to come.

Richard Synge, Consultant Editor, Global


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