Eduardo Galeano: Gone

One of the great contemporary writers, Eduardo Galeano, departed today, destination unknown.

From NY Times:

Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer who blended literature, journalism and political satire in reflecting on the vagaries, injustices and small victories of history, died on Monday in Montevideo,Uruguay. He was 74.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, said his sister Teté Hughes.

Books Open Veins

Of his more than 30 books Mr. Galeano is remembered chiefly for “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” an unsparing critique, published in 1971, of the exploitation of Latin America by European powers and the United States.


History never really says goodbye.  History says, see you later.Galeano


From Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: The writer John Berger said of Eduardo Galeano, quote, “To publish Eduardo Galeano is to publish the enemy: the enemy of lies, indifference, above all of forgetfulness. Thanks to him, our crimes will be remembered. His tenderness is devastating, his truthfulness furious.”

The Book Wars: What to Do?

It has been clear for some time that the more book buyers (you and me) depend on Amazon the greater the destruction of bookstores.  It is becoming more apparent that publishers are also threatened. Amazon, the biggest distributor, wants a bigger share of e-book prices which it sells.  Hachette, no small business itself, is refusing.  Amazon is delaying  or making hard to order, Hachette books.  What to do?

In the US

The confrontation between Amazon and Hachette is growing louder and meaner, as the combatants drop all pretense that this is a reasonable dispute among reasonable people.

Amazon has proposed giving Hachette’s authors all the revenue from their e-book sales on Amazon as the parties continue to negotiate a new contract. Hachette’s response on Tuesday was to suggest that the retailer was trying to make it commit suicide

…  For more than six months, Amazon has been trying to wring better e-book terms out of Hachette. The publisher, which is the fourth largest in the United States and whose imprints include Little Brown and Grand Central Publishing, is energetically resisting.

Amazon has responded by delaying shipments of Hachette books and making it harder for customers to order them. Hachette authors have responded by publicly excoriating Amazon.

…  One author,, Ms. Robinson, whose books are not published by Hachette, said that “what writers want is a long-term healthy publishing ecosystem, not a temporary windfall.”

That applies to both parties, she added. “From our publishers we want a fairer share of e-book revenues; from Amazon we want an end to predatory practices that unfairly threaten their competitors, as well as the continued existence of the printed book.”

NY Times: Streitfield

In France

France, meanwhile, has just unanimously passed a so-called anti-Amazon law, which says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books. (“It will be either cheese or dessert, not both at once,” a French commentator explained.) The new measure is part of France’s effort to promote “biblio-diversity” and help independent bookstores compete. Here, there’s no big bookseller with the power to suddenly turn off the spigot.

The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices. Its 1981 “Lang law,” named after former Culture Minister Jack Lang, says that no seller can offer more than 5 percent off the cover price of new books. That means a book costs more or less the same wherever you buy it in France, even online. The Lang law was designed to make sure France continues to have lots of different books, publishers and booksellers.

Fixing book prices may sound shocking to Americans, but it’s common around the world, for the same reason. In Germany, retailers aren’t allowed to discount most books at all. Six of the world’s 10 biggest book-selling countries — Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain and South Korea — have versions of fixed book prices.

NY Times: Druckerman

Official British WW I Journals On Line

The British National Archives has announced that in this 100th year anniversary of the beginning of WW I,  (August), that official journals, required to be kept by each unit, will be put on-line as they are digitized.  These are not personal diaries which, if available, are at the Imperial War Museum, but those kept by officers and adjutants per orders.  It is fascinating, therefore, to see direct, unexpurgated descriptions of the events and conditions.

It looks like they are not browseable as yet.  Searches can be done by unit name or number and much of the work is being done buy crowd-sourcing so by volunteering  to categorize you can read through the section you are assigned.

Those I can see are more like ships’ logs, lists of events and observations day by day.  The one excerpt quoted in several newspapers gives a misleading idea of what will be found, as it is in fact a private diary kept by Capt. James Paterson, First Battalion South Wales Borderers.

“Trenches, bits of equipment, clothing (probably blood-stained), ammunition, tools, caps, etc, etc, everywhere. Poor fellows shot dead are lying in all directions. Some of ours,” he said.

“Everywhere the same hard, grim, pitiless sign of battle and war. I have had a belly full of it.”

“One is very likely to kill one’s own men, and from wounds I have seen since, I am sure some of them were hit like this.”

BBC and NYTimes and the Times of India

WW I Photo cover

Steven Erlanger mentions three recent histories of the war — with many more to come:

The three most prominent books so far have been by Christopher Clark, “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,” which was quoted at a summit meeting by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany; Margaret MacMillan, “The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914”; and Max Hastings, “Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War.” But this is just an early skirmish: Publishers plan many more, including novels and the reissuing of classics like Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” and Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.”



Nick Turse with POW Phil Butler in Berkeley

Review of Kill Anything That Moves, here.

Nixon and Kissinger: The Blood Keeps Seeping

I’ve been reading Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers to be reminded again of the tag-team murder duo of Kissinger and Nixon. It isn’t just that, like other sociopaths, their crimes didn’t seem to register with them, but that they acknowledged them and presented them as necessary, patriotic. In a bit of tape from the White House April 25, 1972 Ellsberg quotes this:

President: How many did we kill in Laos?
Ziegler: Maybe ten thousand- fifteen?
Kissinger: In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen…
President: See, the attack in the North that we have in mind…power plants, whatever’s left—POL [petroleum], the docks…And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people. President: No, no, no…I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
President: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?…I just want you to think big, Henry, for Chistsakes.

Thus primed, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, to be reminded of their role in the Bangladesh catastrophe of 1971 in Gary J Bass’ opinion piece in the NYTimes today.

…on March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a devastating crackdown on the rebellious Bengalis in the east. Midway through the bloodshed, both the C.I.A. and the State Department conservatively estimated that about 200,000 people had died (the Bangladeshi government figure is much higher, at three million). As many as 10 million Bengali refugees fled across the border into India, where they died in droves in wretched refugee camps.

As recently declassified documents and White House tapes show, Nixon and Kissinger stood stoutly behind Pakistan’s generals, supporting the murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments. This largely overlooked horror ranks among the darkest chapters in the entire cold war.

Blood Telegram2

Bass has just finished a book, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and the forgotten Genocide, which uses recently declassified material from White House tapes and other diplomatic sources to tell us the terrible particulars of US involvement/non-involvement of those years.

…the president and his national security advisor made sure that, despite a long-standing arms embargo (and against the wishes of the State Department), weapons, ammunition, and other military supplies kept flowing to Pakistan. Presaging the Iran-Contra affair, they followed this up by arranging for illegal transfers of advanced fighter aircraft through third countries like Iran and Jordan, crimes which have rarely garnered much attention. These episodes are expertly told and provide context for often forgotten Nixonian crimes and “Watergate” misconduct unconnected with the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters: the secret bombing of Cambodia, the extensive sabotage and spying operations against political opponents, the wiretaps of government employees, and the illegal effort to silence Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, to name a few.

The book is getting the attention it deserves, among others by Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves, in the Daily Beast.

The Blood Telegram offers a nuanced yet unflinching look at the juxtaposition of geopolitics and humanitarian crisis. Bass shines a much-needed spotlight on yet another dark corner of modern American history, revealing yet another bloody episode stemming from Kissinger’s crass calculations and Nixon’s embrace of brutal dictators. He even offers a window onto a fascinating and truly frightening episode of apparent role reversal in which Kissinger (who long claimed he regularly restrained his “madman” boss) was braying for war—advocating the U.S. throw its military might behind China in a potential conflict with India and the Soviet Union, risking an all-out nuclear war—while Nixon tried to ratchet down the rhetoric and act as the voice of reason.

And by Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker.

Christopher Hitchens completed the first dossier of Kissinger’s crimes against humanity, in 2002 with The Trial of Henry Kissinger. The connivance with the Pakistani military is included, without the granular detail Bass brings, but with plenty more to rouse a fury. Apparently not, however,  among the high pooh-bahs of American culture and politics who seem never to have heard of Gandhi’s call for “non cooperation with evil.”

His 90th birthday celebrations earlier this year were a glittering affair, attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, James Baker, John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Susan Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Bloomberg, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, David Petraeus, Barbara Walters, Wendi Deng, plus Tina Brown and Harold Evans.

Did no one even spill a drink on him? Crush his instep? Hurl abuse?

The genocide did occasion the first of the great SuperGroup concerts raising awareness and funds for disaster relief.  The Concert for Bangladesh was properly lauded and imitated following other tragedies in the years after,  though the awareness raised was entirely of those suffering , not at all of those who had taken them to the edge of hell.

Either or both books ought to bring anyone to a flaming shame at the America which has produced such ‘leaders. Share them and your ire with the young folks, too.

[Cross posted at All In One Boat dot org]

Did Gifted Generals Win the War?

Andrew Bacevich, former colonel in the US Army, and now professor of International Relations at Boston University reviews two books about the war in Iraq, and especially two of its generals: David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.  The books do not tell all they might.  Even though Bacevich praises the research of Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor in The Endgame, he faults them for not walking their analysis out to where it leads.

“The Endgame” seeks to “provide the most comprehensive account to date” of the events it describes. It achieves that. Even so, where it matters mostthe ­authors come up short.

Future historians may well classify the surge as a myth concocted to perpetuate a fraud. The myth centers on the claim that a strategy devised in Washington and implemented by a brilliant general saved the day. The fraud is that a 20-year military effort to determine the fate of Iraq yielded something approximating a positive outcome. Although “The Endgame”provides an abundance of evidence to demolish the myth, Gordon and Trainor shy away from doing so. With the American public and political elites inclined simply to forget the Iraq war, “The Endgame”provides a rationale for doing just that.

A useful antidote to those trotting out figureheads to claim that the ship is heading in the right direction.

Read All

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and Power by Steve Coll

Most of my book and film reviews are at  All In One Boat, companion blog of this one.   When the subject of the work is of contemporary politics, of power and its dominions, I also post them here.  This is clearly the case with  Steve Coll’s new, indispensable volume, Private Empire: ExxonMobile and Power, reviewed in The London Review of Books, Nov 8, 2012.  Coll will be familiar to many readers from his articles and books on US national security matters, particularly the CIA, Osama Bin Laden and oil.  He is also the managing editor of the Washington Post.  His knowledge of the interconnecting worlds of oil, nationalism and power is deep and wide; his discipline to put that knowledge at the service of others is formidable.

From Luke Mitchell’s review:

The pivotal event in the history of ExxonMobil, as Coll sees it, wasn’t the wreck of theExxon Valdez, important though that was, but the fall of the Berlin Wall. ‘The Cold War’s end,’ he writes, ‘signalled a coming era when non-governmental actors – corporations, philanthropies, terrorist cells and media networks – all gained relative power.’ The title of Daniel Yergin’s history of the oil industry, The Prize (1991), came from a similar argument made by Winston Churchill in 1911, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. The best way to prepare for war with Germany, Churchill believed, would be to upgrade the Royal Navy so that it used oil as fuel rather than coal. It would be risky, in large part because ‘the oil supplies of the world were in the hands of vast oil trusts under foreign control.’ But if ‘we overcame the difficulties and surmounted the risks, we should be able to raise the whole power and efficiency of the navy to a definitely higher level; better ships, better crews, higher economies, more intense forms of war power – in a word, mastery itself was the prize of the venture’. As Yergin noted, winning such a prize ‘inevitably meant a collision between the objectives of oil companies and the interests of nation-states.’ This clash is the real subject of Coll’s book. A single nation, the United States, once had the power to break apart the mighty Standard Oil Company. But in the post-Soviet era, ExxonMobil prevailed.

. Much of Private Empirefocuses on war and specific incidents of manmade disaster: the Exxon Valdez, various pipeline spills, Deepwater Horizon, dirty wars in Africa and Indonesia, the wars in Iraq. The largest oil-company related disaster, though, is climate change, which will destroy not just life in the Gulf of Mexico, but life in all of the oceans and on much of the land as well. The smaller disasters happened when the oilmen failed, but climate change is happening because they are successful.

Full review, here…probably behind a pay-wall.

Looks like a fine book.  Send excerpts to your congress critters….


Not Buying Amazon

Although Amazon, the enormous on-line retailer, has said it will begin collecting sales taxes and returning them to the state of purchase, thereby moving off my absolutely-do-not shop here list, it remains on my only-use-in-an-emergency box.

Quite simply, it is a threat to all the small retail outlets we need for a vibrant economic and inter-related community. It is by its size, and it is by its practices.  Lately it has offered to undercut the price of any book anywhere if the shopper will provide proof — easy enough these days with cameras and bar-code scanners.

Stephanie Clifford in the NY Times Business Section on January 16 takes stock of this threat and what some are doing to counter it.

Harold Pollack used to spend $1,000 a year on Amazon, but this fall started buying from small online retailers instead. The prices are higher, but Dr. Pollack says he now has a clear conscience.


Giant e-commerce companies like Amazon are acting increasingly like their big-box brethren as they extinguish small competitors with discounted prices, free shipping and easy-to-use apps. Big online retailers had a 19 percent jump in revenue over the holidays versus 2010, while at smaller online retailers growth was just 7 percent.

The little sites are fighting back with some tactics of their own, like preventing price comparisons or offering freebies that an anonymous large site can’t. And in a new twist, they are also exploiting the sympathies of shoppers like Dr. Pollack by encouraging customers to think of them as the digital version of a mom-and-pop shop facing off against Walmart: If you can’t shop close to home, at least shop small.

I recommend the article to you.

I encourage you to shop locally whenever possible, and to shop at alternatives to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the like.

I have my wish-lists at Powell’s in Portland, at Alibris and ABEBooks.  I’ve had experience with all of them.  Never had a failed delivery.  All the — mostly used– books are in good condition.  No reason at all not to have an account and look there first.  Amazon does do one think none other others do, and that’s offer some pages to skim through before purchase.  Google Books does that with many, and anyway, reading the Table of Contents and a random page or two does not obligate you to buy.

Give these others a try.  You’ll feel better

The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

Brian Fagan’s The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations contributes another fine book to the growing library of the history of climate change and human life.   Fagan here concentrates primarily on the Medieval Warm Period from about 800 to 1300 CE.   Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, is perhaps the best known climate history with some 10 examples of societies — many of them in the Medieval Warm Period– which failed, or succeded for a while.  Diamond’s focus, as seen in the titles,  is different than Fagan’s, less a history of climate and its influence on people and more on the decisions societies make, or fail to make, when confronted with great changes in circumstances. Other recent books on the general theme are Catastophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization, by David Keys, which covers some of the same events as Fagan,  and Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World, by Mike Davis, which looks at climate history much nearer to the present time. Fagan himself, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Santa Barbara, has several related titles, including The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850,  the centuries that followed the Medieval Warm Period, and The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization,  which might be better called “How Climate Made Civilization,” as it looks at the years of pre-history, from about 15,000 BCE to the beginning of the Little Ice Age, about 13,500 CE.  Knowledge about climate and human habitation in these long ago centuries has increased greatly in recent years due to new and more subtle technologies, and the marvelous ability of serious science to take what is understood, create new theories which can be tested with new devices and knowledge cross fertilized between archeology, anthropology, climatology, and all of these with the paleo- prefix before them.  The Great Warming is a great place to begin.

Fagan picks the Medieval Warm Period for examination in part because it is continuously cited by climate change deniers as proof, they say, that the earth has warmed up before and it’s part of the natural cycle of things. The conclusions of 99% of climate scientists who say today’s climate is on track to warm to catastophic levels is so much bunkum. The other reason to focus on this period is because the recent surge of data-based evidence from all around the world has given us a much clearer picture of conditions we could only guess at a few years ago: carbon-dated trees long buried below the water of Mono and Walker Lakes in California, measurable titanium content in layered sequences of deep sea core, reflecting heavy and light run-off during precipitation, more and deeper ice-core samples showing carbonate levels connecting long droughts in the Tibetan plateau with droughts in the southern Andes.

The evidence of history, Fagan finds, is that while there were large, positive effects of the  Medieval Warm Period, they were largely confined to northern and western Europe. Looking further afield, the warmth that brought longer growing seasons to France and Germany, and made England a wine exporting country, brought devestating drought to the Eurasian steppes and almost certainly drove Ghenghis Khan and his sons west, destroying Baghdad, the center of the Islamic world, and into Vienna, poised to drive into Europe.

In the American southwest, similar decades long droughts, again during the Medieval Warm Period finished the Chaco Canyon pre-Pueblo civiliation. Multiple three and 6 year droughts sapped the Mayan empire until its collapse in the early 10th century.  In China, the warm period was associated with violent swings between extremes:

The droughts were not continuous but cyclical, which would have had dangerous shock effects on the loess lands where the northern borderlands lay.   When a sudden wet year followed a long drought cycle, , floods would have inundated the arid fields and disused irrigation works in short order.   The centuries of the Medieval Warm Period were climactically extremely volatile in this region of dramatic rainfall shifts, perhaps even more so than anywhere else on earth.

In Europe, where the increased warmth laid the basis for moden life, he cites crop productivity before the warm period then shows how it grew as the summers lengthened, rainfall became more regular, predictability was more accurate. As crops increased in size and food was above bare survival amounts, life span increased, family size got bigger.  As families got bigger more land was needed. Marginal land was converted and could be plowed with the advent of the moldboard plow which could turn over clayey ground as the earlier ard plow could not. Deforestestation began apace. In 500 CE over 3/4 of temperate western and central Europe was forest or swampland. By the early 1300s, the end of the warm period, over half of that was gone. As early as 1322 in England, villagers complained about deforestation. As crop-based wealth grew and supported more people, skilled trades advanced, capital was accumulated and such monuments as the Cathedral of Notre Dame could be built…

The chapter about the Mongol raiders is very interesting, though he spends too much time, in my opinion, on their “interesting” ways of killing, and the fear they sowed everywhere they went, and too little on the climate connection. He does say:

The prolonged warm period detected in the Mongolian tree rings coincides with Ginghis Khan’s savage conquests: hotter and drier conditions would have mean a surge in warfare at a time of potential hunger and rising unrest.

and follows Batu Khan’s withdrawal from Vienna by saying that the wetter, better conditions in Bulgaria and the Cuman steppes took away the incentive to drive on into Europe’s heartland.

He also has interesting, more speculative chapters about the Inuit in the Yukon and how warmer seasons allowed them to push east, how the gold trade between western Africa and Egypt was dried up as the sahara grew southward.

To Fagan’s own surprise, after synthesizing all the material available, “as my research progressed away from Europe, I realized that drought was the hidden villain in the the Medieval Warm Period.” And not only then:

In a telling analysis of ninteenth century droughts, the historian Mike Davis has estimated, conservatively, that at least 20 million to 30 million people, and probably many more, most of them tropical farmers, persihed as the consquence of harsh droughts caused by El Niño and monsoon failures during the nineteenth century, more people than in virtually all the wars of the century.

Fagan has an important story to tell, and by and large he tells it well.  The cut-outs with explanations of El Niño and the Southern Oscillation or Pacific Decadal Oscillation are helpful, as are the many maps, illustrating the regions under discussion.  Less successful for me are the periodic present tense narratives of peoples thousands of years ago:

The gray light of a clear sky before dawn spreads across a dry lake bed.  The men crouch low among the shrubs on the dry floor of a huge, rapidly shrinking lake in what is now California  This is the driest year they can remember…

For some readers, these portions may humanize the larger systems histories.  For me, they are a different register, and interrupt my otherwise pleasurable, and informative reading.

His fear is great.  Those societies that managed to survive calamitous droughts and other forms of climate chanage were those which were most adaptable, typically associated with smaller and well connected communities.  The larger, and less flexible cities or societies became, the less able they were to adapt.  He hold out some hope, however small.

The people of a thousand years ago remind us that our greatest asset is our opportunism and endless capacity to adapt to new circumstances.  Let us think of ourselves as partners with rather than potential masters of the changing natural world around us.

 The Great Warming is certainly worth reading, as it look like, are those others listed above.  For a more general view on climate change, the events and science of today, my preferred book is Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers: A History of Climate Change.  It’s a series of essays, engaged in climate science and detailing the trouble spots on the globe today, examples of what we are facing.  Another excellent primer is Joe Romm’s [of Climate ProgressHell and High Water: The Global Warming Solution.

Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes

I’ve had the pleasure of reading (actually, listening to) Bay Area author Tamim Ansary’s Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, over the past few days.   It’s just the sort of introductory history that’s needed in the West, whose citizens have been suddenly made aware of  about one-quarter of the world’s population previously ignored, hidden or appearing only in exotic stories and costumes or terrifying videos.

Ansary doesn’t claim to be a historian. In fact, he’s written a novel, a memoir, several  children’s and young adult books, both fiction and non-fiction.  For many years he was a text book editor for High School history texts, where he first noticed the paucity of accounts of the Muslim world.  He is  currently the director of The San Francisco Writer’s Workshop.  What he has done is to read deeply in academic and popular accounts of the story of Islam, from the revelations of the Prophet Mohammed to what he calls “secular modernism” and the rise of a response to that in our decades.  He writes with balance and poise, often telling how an event or a person has come to be regarded differently by different traditions of Islam.  I can’t make out any bias when he tells us why Shia and Sunni look differently at Aisha, the Prophet’s youngest daughter;  we do understand however, why she is important to each.  Ansary, born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1948, has lived in the United States since 1964, and describes himself as a “secular guy.”

Chapter 2 alone, will clear up the confusion most of us have had since the Bush invasion of Iraq, over the Sunni and the Shia, and just who is this Ali, and how is he related to The Prophet.  The City of Basra with which we became reluctantly acquainted in the first weeks of the invasion was the scene of the first great battle between Muslims — which the Koran and the Prophet had forbidden barely 40 years earlier– called by many The Battle of the Camel. The Prophet’s youngest daughter, the fiery Aisha [Ayesha], rode into battle and directed her troops from the back of a camel against Ali, the Prophet’s paternal cousin, and quasi adoptive brother.  The years of the “Rightly Guided Caliphs,” the first four successors to Mohammed,  the struggle to maintain the Ummah (the community of the faithful) and the split off of the Umayyad Caliphate become intelligible, if not as familiar to us as to Muslim school children.

We read of Mohammed’s orphaned childhood and therefore his life-long concern for widows and orphans, built into his sense of the Ummah, and spoken of in the Koran.  We read how Jews in the region spoke Arabic and, as great fighting tribes, were sometime allies of Mohammed or one of his successors.  We read how Umar, somewhat like Saul, was converted in a blinding flash from ferocious opposition to ferocious support — and went on to become one of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs.  All these are as well known to Muslims as Gospel parables and old Testament stories are to Christians.

As importantly, Ansary makes the case that these are not just individual apples to be picked up and carefully added to a Western narrative of apples but they are part of an entirely different understanding, one which if seen honestly by its new readers will allow and encourage true inter-cultural understanding.  The Muslim world has been saturated by Western history, values and morays, while to the West, Islam has been in the periphery.  The time has come, it seems, to sprinkle a little of  its history back upon ourselves.    Ansary  says in his introduction:

The two civilizations have narratives with different trajectories   In the ideal future of  Post Industrial Democratic  Societies  the shape of narrative leading to here and now would look something like this:

  1. Birth of Civilization – Mesopotamia and Egypt
  2. Classical age – Greece and Rome
  3. Dark Ages – Rise of Christianity
  4. Rebirth – Renaissance and Reformation
  5. Enlightenment- Science and Exploration
  6. Revolutions – Democratic, Industrial, Technological
  7. Rise of Nation States – Struggle for Empire
  8. WW I and II
  9. The Cold War
  10. The Triumph of democratic capitalism

The Narrative from Islamic eyes, on the other hand, would look something like this, in which the year 0 is not the birth of Mohammed, but the Hijra, the year Mohammed and a few followers moved from Mecca to what would become Median — the beginning of the Ummah, the community.

Through Islamic eyes: Year 0  is year of migration of Mohammed to Medina.

  1. Ancient Times – Mesopatamia and Persia
  2. Birth of Islam
  3. Caliphate  — Quest of Univeral Unity
  4. Fragmentation — Age of the Sultans
  5. Catastrophe – Crusaders and Mongols
  6. Rebirth — The three empires
  7. Permeation of East by West
  8. Reform movements
  9. Triumph of secular modernists
  10. Islamist reaction

It is an interesting and mind-stretching story, one which many of us should be anxious to begin to understand.  I’m far from being a scholar of this and won’t vouch for the authenticity of Ansary’s details, though  any I have looked further into, from other narrators, confirm closely to his telling.  As he says, by the time of the Hijra, 621 CE (Year 0 for the Muslims) the Middle world — as he calls the great land mass between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, tied together by the major and minor trade routes– was highly literate.  Many contemporaneous sources attest to events and personalities.  Though it sometimes shows Ansary’s background in writing for young readers it is certainly a good beginning for all of us, being young as it were, in the face of this knowledge.  Those who find it compelling enough can begin intellectual journey to fuller knowledge by comparing new scholarship to old, and adding in representations of how Muslim values are represented in fiction and film.

Ansary, has plenty of material on the Internet, as background and incentive to get to know him better, here, here and here.  He is particularly attached to the country of his ancestors, Afghanistan.  His website is a good place to check in on, for his thoughts and late breaking news of his homeland. I can think of no better way to begin, however, than to dive into Destiny Disrupted. It’s like hearing the life story of a neighbor you meet one day after a generation of being separated by the walls built by our grandparents.  And in fact, I can particularly recommend the audio version of the book, narrated by Ansary himself, one the best readers of the several dozen audio books I have listened to in the last year.  I do miss of course, the nice collection of maps he includes in the book itself.


[cross posted at]