January Books 21) The Two Faces of Islam, by Stephen Schwarz

Sent to me by the author after a chance meeting a couple of years ago, and now rather out of date as it was written in 2002 (slightly revised in 2003). The two eponymous faces are fanaticism and moderation; the book’s subtitle is “Saudi fundamentalism and its role in terrorism”, and the whole thrust of the book is to expose Wahhabism and its linkage with the Saudi monarchy as a driving force in Islamic terrorism worldwide. The tone of the book is offputtingly polemical at times, but there were a couple of good sections – Schwarz is pro-Shi’ite, so his take on Iran is much more sober than one usually gets from US sources; and his account of the failure of Wahhabism to make much headway in Bosnia or Kosovo is almost comical. However, he has a painfully unconvincing page on Iraq (I guess to try and exploit the 2002 market) and also numerous other surprising asides – that the Yugoslav wars might have been planned from the Kremlin, or that Trotsky’s assassination was the most famous terrorist act of the 20th century (the latter particularly surprising from someone who knows Sarajevo as well as Schwartz does).

However, despite the weaknesses of the argument, the case is well made that if the US is actually serious about fighting terrorism through regime change, there are worse places to do it than Saudi Arabia. Also Schwartz’s call for more intense monitoring and intervention by US authorities in their own domestic Islam religious and educational discourse is probably well-founded, and it has to be said that the recent incidents of home-grown extremism in America rather prove his point. But I would be interested to read a more sober and detailed account of the relationship between Wahhabism and Saudi money; the indications are all there but the details didn’t quite join up for me.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer – second time that has come up this month.

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1 Response to January Books 21) The Two Faces of Islam, by Stephen Schwarz

  1. surliminal says:

    Ah, I meant to tell you that I had my phone meet with the guy from the Lisbon Thinktank and he was amazed that we had worked out he was a mutual acquaintance! I just said “I just assume Nicholas knows everyone in Brussels.” Anyway my little essay seems to hav gone down well; apparently the sainted Hargreaves himself really liked it! Also they are sending some surrealist Belgian photographer all the way to Edinburgh to photograph me!! Where is their dosh coming from!

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