CURRENT AFFAIRS REFLECTIONS IN A BLOODSHOTLENS: AMERICA, ISLAM, AND THE WAR OF IDEAS BY LAWRENCE PINTAK [Pluto Press, 392 pp, 2006]
IF only the current U.S. administration could read, it would’d be shocked and awed by Lawrence Pintak’s dissection of where it went wrong and how far off plumb on the reality scale it has drifted.
Amid the growing pile of books with variations on the ideas of Why We are Losing the War on Terror and Why They Hate Us, comes a relentless, painstakingly detailed and masterfully executed study on how America and the Islamic world misperceive each other and how these misperceptions, stereotypes and outright lies perpetrate the escalating violence.
Subtitled America, Islam, and the War of Ideas, this book is no sociological study about the self and other, but rather a seasoned journalist’s look at how media and propaganda have made a clash of civilizations a self-fulfilling prophecy. What is more amazing about Pintak’s work is that he seldom intrudes with his own musings on the topic. He lets the politicians, news organizations and American and Arab commentators across the spectrum make their points. We all, it seems, know a small piece of the pictures and sound bites that make for our current day impasse. Pintak excels as a collector of such quotes and tidbits, providing an impressive gestalt of the ongoing catastrophe known as the War on Terror.
Making sense, however, does not excuse the criminal negligence involved. It indicts what is usually a very conscious process of demonizingand “othering” in governments and ministries bent on finding an “enemy” at all costs.
Pintak also makes a concerted effort to show how many Arab and Muslim regimes contribute to the ongoing confusion and how an outlet such as AlJazeera forever changed the East/West mindscape. Hc is one of the fewjournalists today who have spent a large part of their professional lives living in the Middle East, getting to know its people and institutions. Given the fact that one of the root causes of all the misconceptions about the Islamic world are images and ideas perpetrated by armchair analysts in Washington or New York, the book is in a paradoxical position. Those who read it usually know the score; those who should read the book probably won’t. In publishing Pintak’s Reflections, Pluto Press has once again furthered its reputation as a leading dissident press in a time when common sense has become an antonym of patriotism.
There is so much food for thought in this volume that readers may come away a bit punch-drunk; acutely aware and increasingly vigilant of what Pintak terms “pseudo-news,” which is in itself a justification to recommend this book to the widest authence possible.
Although the author provides plenty of historical precedent for what is happening today, it is when he argues that George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden are mirror images of each other that he comes into his own as an analyst. Both, he argues, are driven by a very fundamentalist worldview. They use thinly veiled scriptural references to cloak their aggressions, and both have reduced a complex Zeitgeist to Manichean sons of Light and sons of Darkness scenarios. It’s the kind of argument heard on the streets throughout the Middle East: that Bush is no better and no less dangerous than bin Laden. But seldom is the argument backed up with pages of proofs, quotations and sound logic. It is as though the average world citizen has an inkling of what is wrong today, but it takes a Lawrence Pintak to show that such an intuition is far from idle speculation or blame-mongering. When truth is subject to so many beatings and mutilations, it is inevitable that a sense of this filters down to street level. Here, in one volume, is the evidence set out by an accomplished prosecutor. This book is oddly comforting, not because it provides a way out – we are far too entrenched at present for an easy out – but because it explains in minute detail why we feel hoodwinked when state propaganda machines and the media play tunes we somehow know to be false and mechanical.
The way in which Pintak lays out his arguments and proofs never becomes strident or heavy handed. How could it when most of the damning statements are being made and quoted by the lead players in this ongoing tragedy? The result is a fast-moving, well-orchestrated and in-depth look at how a war of ideas can claim so many thousands dead, and how – unless we decide to engage in the ongoing dialogue between America and Islam – we have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing it to happen.