August reviews: part 1

I know I posted a few reviews a couple of days ago but that was to celebrate the Hugo Awards. I do wish I’d been able to go to Loncon but such is life. Right, enough with the wishing, on with the reviews.

The Muslims Are Coming!
Arun Kundnani

Verso
2014

Arun Kundnani makes the observation in this insightful and thought provoking look at ‘The War on Terror’ that

If Muslims constitute the majority of those indicted for terrorism in the US, this is in large part a product of whom the FBI is deciding to target in provocative operations rather than an objective measure of where the threat of terrorism comes from.

(page 200)

In reading the arguments put forth by the author, including the evidence he presents, I would be inclined to agree. The quote above summerises his argument neatly, about halfway through the book; essentially his point made throughout the book, supported by the testimony from people from many different Muslim communities, is that if your government demonize a section of society, make people fear open discussion and debate, and spreads unsubstantiated stereotypes (i.e. Muslims are inherently prone to violence etc), you’re going to end up with angry people with no outlet. Then turn the eye of suspicion and state security services on that community. In this case

Terrorism is not the product of radical politics but a symptom of political impotence.

(page 289)

The author details a brief history of counter-terrorism policies of the US government from the nineteen sixties onwards, comparing behaviour towards different communities and tactics used. There’s, unsurprisingly, a continuum between attitudes/behaviour by law enforcement organizations in America over that time period, using provocative behaviour, pressure tactics to force people to become informers, inciting illegal behaviour then arresting people as a proxy for punishment for whatever group happens to be the ‘terror organisation’ du jour, for instance African American civil rights groups and communists in the sixties, Muslim civil rights advocates now.

I have little critical comment to make about this book; the author makes his points in a rational manner, uses a variety of sources, critiques current political thinking and is clearly passionate about his subject. I think the link to US foreign policy, not just in war zones like Somalia and Egypt, but with regards to the rest of the world needs greater exploration, as does the emphasis on Israeli influence on US policy. However, I think there’s a hint of the ‘racial’ stereotyping he rails against with regard to the seventh and eight chapters; the book reads as though the author is trying to find a way to say ‘It’s the fault of the Israelis’ without actually saying that at certain points.

Arun Kundnani presents an argument that tries to refute the ‘radicalization’ narrative we have been hearing for the last thirteen years, and instead suggests an alternative. He also puts to bed the idea of a ‘Sharia law conspiracy’ – that sharia law is creeping into the legal systems of Western Europe and the US – with actual evidence that this is not the case. The author ends by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.

I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.

The link between “violent extremism” and the foreign policies of certain governments was obvious to Dr King; nothing has changed in fifty years except to whom the appellation ‘enemy’ is attached.

This book gave me things to think about, and another point of view on the subject of terrorism, its causes and the political narrative surrounding it. I recommend it for anyone interested in political matters.

This is meant to be a book review, not a political opinion piece. Sorry about that; it’s a fascinating subject, considering current events and I got carried away by the strength of the author’s argument. It says something about the quality of writing in this book that I became swept up and ignored my inner cynic long enough to read the last two thirds of the book in a few hours, spread over two days.

3/5

Seven Modern Plagues and how we are causing them

Mark Jerome Walters
image

Island Press
19th February 2014

The title of this book tells you what it’s about. The author has chosen seven ‘plagues’, and describes how human behaviour – intensive farming, overuse of antibiotics, mass migration etc – contributes to their evolution and spread. HIV/AIDS, flu pandemics, BSE, antibiotic resistant Salmonella, Lyme disease, Hantavirus and West Nile virus are the seven ‘plagues’ focused on, but the author uses them to illustrate another narrative. The deeper story, the real message Walters’ is trying to pass on, is that our actions either spawned these diseases or allowed them to have a far greater effect than they have had in the past.

I found this book interesting. The author is straightforward, and writes intelligently. This book is probably aimed at a general reader; the author goes in to some depth to back his arguments he doesn’t go into the depth required by an academic audience.

4/5

The last two reviews were about serious subjects so lets move on to a bit of fantasy.

Princess Ugg: Volume 1
Ted Naifeh
image

ONI Press
26th November 2014

BLURB

Princess Ülga isn’t your standard princess, but her royal lineage goes back for generations.

At her mother’s bequest, Ülga travels to the city-state of Atraeska, where the prestigious Princess Academy lies, so that she can learn about things like diplomacy — hopefully for the benefit of her rough and tumble people.

But Ülga will learn that she’s more behind in her studies than she realized, and that when you’re a princess, you’re bound to have a few enemies.

It isn’t often I review comics or graphic novels, but I needed a giggle so I requested this one from Net Galley.

Well, I didn’t get my giggles; the mock-archaic language and ‘I have no idea what you just said’ jokes are so worn out it was more irritating than amusing. That said, I liked the storyline, and Ulga is a good character. I’m sure she’s going to learn some valuable lessons at Princess School. She’ll probably teach a few to her fellow pupils too.

The artwork is fab, too.

3/5 for turning the Princess trope around and good graphic work. It would have been 4/5 if I hadn’t found the language stereotypes irrationally irritating.

V-Wars Volume 1
Jonathan Maberry
image

28th October 2014

Another graphic novel, because why not?

Luther Swann is a ‘bleeding heart liberal’ academic in a world where a virus has messed with genetics and made some humans vampires. As an expert on vampire folklore and mythology Luther is called in to advise the US president, and a specialist military team, V-8.

Drawn into the war, Luther tries to be the voice of reason. Such a pity nobody is listening.

Hmm, I wonder, a metaphor for the ‘war on terror’? Journalistic integrity?

Sorry, I’m being cynical again. Even if it is an obvious metaphor, the story is good and I think the style of the artwork suits the narrative. It’s not a particularly ‘scary’ story, but there is some gore. It’s to be expected, but it wouldn’t put you off your tea.

4/5

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