US Policy Towards the Muslim World: A Review



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Kidwai, Salim. US Policy Towards the Muslim World: Focus on the 9/11 Period. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 2010, 309 pages.

Two major challenges which confront Americans in the twenty-first century are the failure to understand the causes and conditions which led to the U.S. entrenchment in the modern Middle Eastern conflagration of endless conflict, and the failure to consider how the rest of the world perceives this involvement. Saleem Kidwai has compiled a series of fourteen essays written by professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, which attempt to explain the roots of US foreign policy in the region, as well as the various and highly varied relationships between the U.S and such states as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and India. These authors attempt to trace the historicity of these relationships to their origins in twentieth century war and trade, define the successes, failures, and mistakes of successive American administrations, and offer suggestions intended to aid U.S. policy makers in future decisions about diplomatic objectives in the region. As a side effect, the book is highly informative and very enjoyable to lay-readers and students of the subject, but there are some significant drawbacks to purchasing this edition.

Many of these deficiencies are probably not the fault of the contributing authors, but rather are the result of a very poor translation from the Indian language into English for western audiences. In summary, these errors are grammatical and structural. The simplest and most common errors in this work are merely departures from grammatical convention. For a common example, the authors (in the English translation) will often begin a sentence with 'Although,' but will begin the second clause with 'but,' effectively conjoining two dependent clauses, instead of a parent clause and a dependent clause. For instance, in chapter seven, the author writes "Although more than 400 Israeli Civilians have fallen victims to Palestinian violence inside Israel and OAT's but over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military forces, 20,000 injured and over 10,000 permanently crippled." The author's intended meaning is reasonably clear, that there have been Israeli casualties, but that Palestinian losses have generally been greater. By simply removing either of the dependent qualifiers, 'although' or 'but,' the sentence is easily fixed. However, there are dozens of these simple errors scattered across the pages of this work, as if inserted via shotgun. In other instances, key transitional words between clauses are absent, sentences are sometimes just fragments, and readers are sure to find other minor errors not worth mentioning here.
On the other side of the scale, however, are what this author calls 'ghost phrases.' Around the middle of the book, there is a certain phrase which is repeated like a Manchurian activator, many times over several pages, verbatim, as if literally copied and pasted. The effect on the reader is disorienting, repeatedly causing the reader to question whether he or she has just been reading the same page over again. The sentence is "Dick Cheney and his supporters persuaded George W Bush that Operation Iraqi Freedom would unleash the 'explosion of joy' and Iraqis would great the US/UK forces..." It first appears on page seventy-nine, then a few pages later on page eighty-nine, and several more times elsewhere in the book. These other instances are not similar rephrasing, but are literally reprinted word for word, sometimes followed by a few other repeated lines, but often just proceeding in a different direction altogether.
Beyond these editorial issues, the work is sound. The essays are thoughtful, detailed, and neutral. The book is neither an attack on, nor a defense of, U.S. policy, but the illustrative of the value of treatment by well-educated foreigners without patriotic psychological incentive to rationalize or justify mistakes made by other nations involved along the way. None of the authors seem to have lost any love for the conservative war-hawks which all of them seem to agree are the principle drivers of these many conflicts, but they do not rail or hyperbolize. Their evaluations are sober and concise, and for that, they are useful. India is its own nation with its own skin in the game, and India is affected by almost anything that happens, militarily and economically speaking, in any of the neighboring countries. However, these authors confine their analysis of U.S. policy decisions to their effects on intended U.S. outcomes, and on matters of security and stability in the regions concerned. This kind of objectivity is invaluable to western audiences, who so often substitute substantive debate with simplistic reinforcements of their own opinions.
The best aspect of this work is the diversity of subjects covered. Under the over-arching question of the U.S. relationship with Islam, these authors deliver detailed and authoritative analysis of objectives in each of the countries involved, painting an extraordinarily complex collage of conflicting and/or overlapping interests, shifting battlegrounds, and cyclical storms of cause and effect. The authors deserve praise for their careful attention to these highly controversial subjects. This work is highly recommended to families with loved ones who serve in the armed forces, to voters whose opinions, and at times, outrage, guide the decisions of leadership, and most of all, to that leadership, whose outlook and understanding are the most crucial determining factors in the futures of these conflicts. The scope of this war is overwhelming, and as a result, American audiences are often discouraged from a thorough examination of U.S. foreign policy. Of all the threats to the U.S. as a dominant world power, this is perhaps the most dangerous of them all. Without the efforts of scholars and historians such as Kidwai and his contributors, the future might just be a lost cause.

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