USA and the Muslim World: Cooperation and Confrontation
Happymon Jacob ·       

This is a well-timed volume in which some of the well-known Indian academics have chosen to address the extremely crucial and contemporary issue of the strained relationship that the US shares with the Islamic world. Divided into eight chapters apart from an introduction by Riyaz Punjabi, the book is a valuable resource on the history of the relationship between the US and the Islamic world, and provides a conceptual clarification of notions such as jihad, and fatwa among others.

Mohammad Hamid Ansari, in the opening chapter titled 'America and the Traditional Muslim States' argues that the traditional American view of the Islamic world is negative and has been heavily influenced by images of crusade, and that of the Holy Land being populated by 'infidels'and 'unbelievers'. Even as the Islamic states of West Asia became important to the US for strategic and economic reasons, the American view of the Muslims did hardly undergo any change.

The second chapter by Riyaz Punjabi probes the nature and dynamics of the global Islamist movements. This region-wise study of contemporary movements looks at how local movements of protest have graduated into a global phenomena of rebellion and terror. The three phases during which these movements evolved and thrived are the colonial period, the post-colonial , and during the anti-Soviet mujahideen war in Afghanistan.

Rakesh Gupta in his article on 'US policy towards the Muslim world' maintains that it is realism, self-interest and ignorance that drive the US policy towards the Muslim world.

Manmohan Agarwal and B K Shrivastava in their joint and well-researched chapter, analyse US policy towards the moderate Muslim states. The authors attempt to throw light on the official, academic and popular perceptions about Islam and Muslims prevalent in the US. They rightly mention that "[F]or a large number of Americans the superiority of western values are (sic) never in doubt. It is always the Islamic world that has to change and give up its traditional values and belief system". (p.163)

The chapter by A K Pasha on 'The US and the radical Muslim states in West Asia and North Africa' critically analyses the relationship between the US and the West Asian and West African states. One well-known important point, he raises is that it was the blind US support to Israel which made much of the Arab world suspicious and uncomfortable with the US.

Kalim Bahadur in his article 'US and Islamic militancy in Pakistan' traces the history of the anti-Soviet mujahideen war in Afghanistan and the US role in it. He also dwells in detail on important issues such as the relationship between the US and the Taliban, legitimacy through jihad, jihad in J&K, and the post-9/11 US-Pakistan policy shift on the Taliban.

Abdul Nafey takes a closer look at the theme of civil society in Islam. He argues that concepts such as democracy and pluralism were very much present in the early days of Islam and consequently found expression in Madinat U-Nabi and Ayyam-Ullah. He also provides an interesting analysis of 'social capital' in Islam which he argues are embedded in the Quranic injunctions.

The final chapter by Saleem Kidwai is an important one because it gives the much-needed conceptual clarification (specially in our times) on issues such as jihad and Fatwa. He explains how jihad has been misunderstood and used for partisan purposes by some extremist forces.

Taking a holistic look at the volume in the background of the contemporary discourse on Islam and the US perceptions of the religion, one would say that the book is an extremely important one, especially chapters by Riyaz Punjabi, Saleem Kidwai, Manmohan Agarwal and B K Shrivastava, and Abul Nafey. These chapters would certainly help the readers to understand the ongoing debate in respect of Islam-fundamentalism-terrorism issues in a far more informed manner. Credit goes to Punjabi, Agarwal and Shrivastava for having dispassionately looked at this debate.

On the other hand, one is at a loss to understand whether it will be doing justice to history to say what Rakesh Gutpa says on page 131, "[I]f Islam has acquired one particular shade today it is a product of western propaganda", even as one would agree with him that "[I]gnorance and schizophrenia mould the US perception of the Muslims" (p. 122). True, the US can be rightly blamed for depicting Islam in poor light, but if by saying so the author assumes that US propaganda is the only reason why fingers are pointed at the manner in which Islam has been practiced in different parts of the world, it would be stretching the argument too far.

One is also surprised when Ansari's analysis lays all blame solely on the US for its negative perception of the Islamic world. While he is right that the US perception has been negative, it is not analytically sound to stop at that: one needs to analyse the two-way dynamics behind the construction of such a perception.

On the whole, this volume deserves attention for taking the bold step of engaging the ongoing debate on an extremely important issue. A lucid and uncomplicated style adopted in the book will enable readers of even non-academic persuasions to be enlightened by it.