By Ziauddin Sardar and
Merryl Wyn Davies
The Disinformation Company,
224 pp., $12.95 (paper)
By Joseph Braude
Basic Books, 204 pp., $26
Of two new books of maximum current interest, one, Why Do People Hate America?, opens with the following statement: "This is not a book about 9-11." The other, The New Iraq, closes with the following statement: "This was not a book about a new Middle East." Both statements are true and false.
True, Why Do People Hate America? does not rehearse the immediate events and background events of September 11, 2001; false, would Why Do People Hate America? be seeking a U.S. audience (on top of its proven English audience) had it not been for September 11, 2001?
True, The New Iraq doesn't pretend to offer a utopian vision of a future Middle East; false, it clearly aspires to be a blueprint of what to do and not do now that Saddam's off his pedestal. (Plus, not "a new Middle East"? Then disregard the subtitle "Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World.")
Of the two books, the authors of Why Do People Hate America? -- writer, broadcaster, and culture critic Ziauddin Sardar and writer, anthropologist, and former television producer for the BBC Merryl Wyn Davies -- haven't a kind thing to say (make that, have nothing but a lot to say) about the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. In fact, they seem to share in the opinion ("seem" because they're careful to mount the evidence, not editorialize on it) that all three organizations are understandable seedbeds of worldwide resentment. On the other hand, the author of The New Iraq, Joseph Braude, a 28-year-old "consultant to governments and corporations on Middle Eastern political, business, and cultural affairs," hasn't an unkind thing to say (make that, has next to nothing to say) about the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. (The man's not professionally suicidal.) So, what're the points?
In Why Do People Hate America?, the following points, behind the primary point: America's "knowledgeable ignorance" of world history, ideas, and religions; America's history of "blowback" (look it up) when secret "intelligence" (and foreign policy based on it) backfires; the concept "Orientalism" (look it up); the myth of "America-as-world"; the U.S. military's action and/or intervention and/or occupation over the past century (last count: 134 legal and illegal instances involving other countries, peoples); America's "hyper-imperialism"; America's "free trade" agreements ("free" in name only and only as those agreements benefit big business); America's "structural arrangements" with regard to global monetary policy (a "debt trap" for those nations most needing help); America's "trade liberalisation" (aka one-way measures, e.g., sanctions); America's per-capita stinginess when it comes to humanitarian aid; America's "corrosive consumer culture" (aka "McDonaldisation"); America's model for modern communities, which re-forms whole cities in its own godawful image (e.g., Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: "a poor replica of Houston"; Singapore: "the most pathologically Americanized place on earth"); America's crappy but envied pop-culture nonculture; and everywhere America's "disinformation, obfuscation and gross stereotyp[ing]" of anything that and anybody who ain't from or for the U.S. of A.
You get the point. Why Do People Hate America?, published stateside by the Disinformation Company, should be in your hands. You can choose to learn from it or choose to can the very idea of it, the nerve of some people. It's a free country, isn't it?
Joseph Braude's accessible book is a whole other matter and on these points alone: It's an easy intro to the regional history of the British invention now known as Iraq (thousands of years of that history, which makes it possibly literally Edenic) and a great intro to Islamic history (all intricate factions of it). Mixed in are some personal anecdotes -- the (American) author's paternal grandfather was a translator of Babylonian and Palestinian rabbinic texts and his mother, born in Baghdad, was from an ancient clan that lived in Mesopotamia for more than 2,500 years -- and some present-day (hidden) interviews with Iraqi citizens and migrs, though The New Iraq could have used more of these individual narratives, which we're sorely in need of now. (Curious authorial asides, like his chapter "The Soundtrack of Modern Iraq," make for interesting reading, but do they belong in this book?)
More importantly, Braude has what sound like solid ways to set up the makings of a civil society in post-Saddam Iraq, and those ways of his don't include a call for the wholesale demonstration of American "hyper-imperialism." They do call for help from international financial institutions (you name 'em) but not enough U.N. oversight. Why this book reads like a white paper you can maybe blame on Braude's line of expertise. It's his business. Still, Iraq's a freed country, isn't it?