A Reading List for the War on Terror
Robert A. Hall
Everyone has an opinion about the current nasty world situation, including Hollywood celebs who couldn’t place Wisconsin on a map, never mind Iran or the UAE. But are the opinions based on knowledge?
Below is a list of books I’ve read recently to try to educate myself on the subject, which I highly recommend. I doubt they will change your Weltanschauung, but think how entertaining you’ll be at cocktail parties, armed with a wealth of new facts to club your opponents!
The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic. Subtitled, Islam: History, Theology, Impact on the World, this critical volume by British journalist Trifkovic explores the theology of Islam, including the Shia-Sunni split, who Mohammed was, how Islam came to power in many lands, and the foundations of the terrorists’ beliefs in the Koran and the traditions of the faith. It will not encourage feminists to look forward to the imposition of shari’a law.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades by Robert Spencer, who maintains the website www.jihadwatch.org and provides a free e-newsletter with info on world news on the topic. The book is not flattering about Islam, of course, but makes its points by quoting extensively from the Koran, the Islamic traditions that are also considered holy works and the writings of ancient and modern Islamic scholars. (Sometimes hard to tell the difference.) It also provides a pretty interesting reading list of other works, listed in each chapter as "Books you're not supposed to read." Islam may, as we are told, be a "Religion of Peace" but not according to Spencer, or what he quotes from a large body of Islamic writing. Islam Unveiled by the same author is also excellent.
The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion by Robert Spenser. As you might expect from the keeper of JihadWatch.org, and someone who has to live in a secret location for safety, this is not a flattering biography. It is, however, backed by solid research, and uses the Quran and the Hadith (the Muslim traditions of Muhammad and his followers, which Muslim scholars use to interpret the Quran) as his sources. Since Muhammad is considered by Muslims, as Allah’s Messenger, the perfect example of how a man should live, and his revelations in the Quran not subject to modification, what he did and thought is of great importance today. Using only Muslim sources, Spencer documents things like Muhammad’s marriage to a girl of six, which was consummated when she was nine. While child marriages were common at that time, this is still the rule today; Iran, for example, has a marriage age of nine for girls. The Islamic law requirements that a woman must have four Muslim witnesses to prove rape, that a woman’s testimony counts for only half of a man’s, that Jews and Christians are second class citizens in Islamic lands and can only live if they pay the Jizya (the special tax on unbelievers which funded Muslim conquests), and that slavery is proper and a man may have sexual relations as he pleases with slave girls all come from Muhammad’s revelations and example. From Muhammad comes the ruling that anyone who eaves Islam must be killed. So too, does the ideal that Jihad against the unbelievers—Muhammad was constantly at war in his conquest of the Arabian peninsula—and the use of beheading and torture against enemies. The idea that Muslims must fight the non-believers until Sharia—Islamic law—rules all nations is not the concept of a “small group of radicals who have hijacked a religion of peace.” It is solidly founded in Allah’s revelations to Muhammad which constitute the Quran.
Apologists who persist in seeing Islam as no different from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Hinduism will be offended by this book, because it uses the Quran and Hadith to prove them terribly misguided.
A Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden. Were the crusades the brutal attempt by Europeans to subject the Muslims to Christian rule, or the first war on terror, a European defensive reaction against a hostile religious power bent on the invasion and conquest of Europe. You get the facts and decide.
A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East 1914 – 1922 by David Fromkin. Following the close of the “Great War” in 1918, one of the generals remarked that if it was really “The War to End All Wars,” then surely the peace accords developed by the victorious allied powers were creating “A Peace to End All Peace.” From this prescient remark, Fromkin draws the title for his excellent book on how the hotch potch of nation states that make up the ever-roiled Middle East came about.
Most of the countries in the Middle East we know today (Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon) were not nation states prior to WWI, but territories in the Ottoman Empire, governed from modern Turkey, and were created after the war. Turkey’s decision to support Germany in the war led the allied nations—France, Russia and Britain—to look on her empire as potential colonies, useful buffers against rivals, or necessary spheres of influence. The clash of these forces with each other and with local movements such as Zionism, the ambitions of the House of Saud, the Hashemite movement and the Wahhabis sect produced results that we are still paying for today.
Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East by John Keay, this is a broader look at the area than A Peace to End All Peace. Published in 2003, probably too late for policymakers to read, this is an excellent one-volume history of the Middle East, from the 1890 through the Suez crisis in 1956, with an epilog to bring us up to date. The catalog of crime and invasion, contention, execution and insurrection, siege and betrayal of Hashemite vs. Wahhabi, Sunni vs. Shia vs. Kurd vs. Turk, Allies vs. Ottomans, Britain vs. France, Zionists vs. Muslims, and other groups great and small would give a tourist pause, never mind a diplomat or soldier. Sowing the Wind is as entertaining as it is educational, fascinating as it is frightening. Packed with characters from Saddam to the Hoffman twins, from Lawrence to Ibn Saud, this should be required reading for every policymaker and politician.
Lighting Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil by Tom Diaz and Barbara Newman. Diaz was the lead Congressional Democratic counsel on Anti-terrorism, and a consultant to the Justice Department on technology & terrorism. Newman is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The book provides a very interesting history of the development of Hezbollah, which the authors consider more dangerous that al Qaeda. It goes into interesting details about the FBI’s busting of the Charlotte, NC Hezbollah ring, how they use criminal activity here (credit card fraud, cigarette smuggling, etc.) to fund Hezbollah and terrorism. It details the connection to the Arab community in Dearborn, MI, which LE folks call “Hezbollah Central,” and the operation smuggling Hezbollah members over our southern border. It also explains why it was so hard to fight in the 90s, due to the “Chinese Wall” that grew up at Justice, due to weird ruling, which prevented the sharing of information between the intelligence section and the criminal section of federal agencies, which prevented the 9/11 hijackers from being stopped in advance. (Thank you, Janet Reno, for protecting their civil rights!) And it details other American cities where it is believed Hezbollah cells operate. Not guaranteed to help you sleep at night.
Infidel by Ayann Hirsa Ali. Ali’s autobiography describes her rise from a nomadic Muslim family in Somalia, her and her sister’s genital mutilation at ages 5 & 4, her escape to Holland from a forced marriage, her election as a member of the Dutch parliament, her campaign against the domestic violence and circumcision of little girls on kitchen tables that is widespread among Muslim immigrants in Holland, the murder of Theo van Gogh (grandson of the painter) after they made a film about violence against women, and her move to the United States after having to go into hiding to save her life. If there was ever a feminist book by a feminist who sought change at the risk of her life, this is it. I highly recommend reading Infidel.
War by Other Means by John Yoo. Anyone who really wants to understand how the legal decisions in the War on Terror were made, rather than depend on the red state-blue state polemical attacks, should read John Yoo’s book. He is a University of California at Berkeley law professor who served in the Office of Legal Counsel at Justice, and was involved in many of the legal decisions about military tribunals, the Patriot Act, wiretapping and coercive interrogation. Regardless of your views on these issues, doubtless formed by red state-blue state polemical attacks, your understanding of the arguments will benefit from Yoo’s clear presentation of the issues and the reasoning behind the decisions.
The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power by Max Boot. The popular view is that the “American Way of War” is to bring massive power to totally defeat our enemies, with WWII being the poster-war for such thinking. But most of American conflicts have been low-intensity, insurgency type operations, using limited power, for limited political goals and, often, with results that were much less satisfying than VE or VJ day. Journalist Boot set out to draw the history of these conflicts together, and try to create some guideposts for the future. If all you know about America’s military history is WWI & II, or you want to know what the War on Terror will look like ten years from now (You don’t think it’s going to end that soon do you? Surely we won’t surrender that fast!) you need to read this book.
No True Glory by Bing West. West’s book details the first and second battles of Fallujah, and the period of anguish in between. A Marine veteran himself, West clearly likes Marines, a bias which feels just right to me. This is a fine account of the courage and sacrifice of young Americans at war. (I know, you don’t support the war, but you support the troops. You just don’t want to know anything about them.) More importantly, West details how the multiple factions in Iraq, Kurds, Shias, Sunnis, tribes, sheiks, and Imans, interact with the multiple factions trying to manage the war, the American civilian authority and the US military leadership in Iraq, the Pentagon, the White House and the Congress, to create such a mess it’s a wonder anything has gone right.
One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel C. Fick. This is a fine combat memoir, but it’s also a wonderful guide to leadership. Equally important, One Bullet Away should be required reading for those responsibility for policy, who wish to understand what went right and what went wrong in Iraq. Fick quotes a sergeant telling him exactly how and why the present insurgency would start. I had flashbacks to Vietnam, where Marine corporals were openly contemptuous of the Johnson administration’s plans to build a wall across the DMZ, asking if the leadership had ever heard of the Maginot Line. So there’s another lesson here as well—leaders need to listen to the folks on the bottom, doing the dirty work. They often have insights you don’t. As a Marine veteran, I regret Fick’s decision to leave the Corps. We are going to badly need officers like him in the coming years.
An End to Evil by David Frum and Richard Perle. Yes, this is the Neo-conservative view of how the War on Terror should be conducted, including what Clinton did wrong (described harshly) and what Bush is doing wrong (described gently). Think how badly you’ll be able to trash the neocons when you actually know what they believe! Then you should read the opposition’s book laying out their strategy for victory. (So far, only chapter one, “Impeach Bush,” has been written. But more will come once they agree.)
There you have it, a good week’s reading, which will make you the most informed war protester around. Let me know when you finish and I’ll recommend a few more. Unless, of course, you want to go on getting all your political opinions from Barbra Stresisand and the Dixie Chicks.