Deeper Reading: Recent Titles on Islam around the World

If you are reading and watching American news in the last few weeks, you are probably simultaneously seeing a lot and very little about Islam in America today. The conversation surrounding Park51, the Islamic community center slated to be built in Lower Manhatten, is often very shallow, with little explication of terms and nuance. Words are being thrown around — Muslims, freedom, the Muslim Brotherhood, jihad  — as though they are self-explanatory and monolithic. Here are a few titles I have reviewed recently that might give a deeper understanding of the issues behind this politicized debate:

My Worlds Collide: Global Conflict and Public Health

After years of writing about Asia and globalization, politics and conflict, I’ve taken on a new gig as the community manager and frequent blogger at ReportingonHealth.org. Certainly, there are a lot of new skills and background to pick up as I learn more about health in America, but, as it turns out, my dual interests are also not that far apart.

Life at the Speed of Books

I’m spending most of this month and last looking over the Hudson River, from Jersey City to New York. It’s a good vantage point to be an observer of global interactions and politics. It is from here that I read wrote most of the books I have reviewed so far for Zócalo Public Square.

Three of those books have been about American foreign policy in the Middle East. To be sure, the three were very different in style and content, but in so many ways they all underscore the simple need for context.  It is a desperate need in these days of information overload and soundbite news. While the foreign policy histories and opinions in the books that I reviewed are essential for thinking about monumental existential issues like national security, the act of consistently reading books is a reminder to take more time to think about, well, everything. Sometimes it’s best that life move at the speed of books.

Here are some excerpts and links in case you’re interested.

Book reviews at Zócalo Public Square

Last week, Zócalo Public Square ran the first book review I wrote for them. The inaugural piece was on  The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty by R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2006, Warren Buffet made a $31 billion gift to the Gates Foundation. He explained the generous donation this way: “A market system has not worked in terms of poor people.”

R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan, the dean and a senior lecturer at Columbia Business School, turn Buffet’s assertion on its head in The Aid Trap. Free markets, they say, are not the cause of poverty. Indeed, the market system and strong private business sectors are the solution to poverty.

“The market has not worked in poor countries because it never had the chance,” Hubbard and Duggan write.

For those who feel good about their charitable contributions, The Aid Trap is not an easy idea to stomach: The food and clothes and medicine rich countries send to poor countries, the money they put in the hands of government programs, even the wells enterprising students dig in villages during their summer vacations — this kind of long-accepted charity does very little to alleviate poverty. In fact, flooding the market with free goods makes it difficult for local businesses to compete and provides incentives for governments to maintain the status quo.

You can read the whole review at Zócalo. Hubbard and Duggan make a compelling argument to change the way we look at charity. Zócalo is dedicated to increasing public discourse, so please do weigh in and comment. I’ll be writing reviews regularly. The next review will be on Vali Nasr’s Forces of Fortune.