Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World

Article excerpt

Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World Nir Rosen Nation Books, 2010

Journalist Nir Rosen is an American, raised in New York City, with Middle Eastern features (his father's family is of Iranian-Jewish origin). In covering, since 2003, the conflicts that have occurred in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, after 9/11/2001, he adopted an unusual but admirable method: he immersed himself in the populations of those countries, talking with several hundred people who have had many different perspectives, and made it a point to avoid doing what most other journalists have done, which has been to deal primarily with the top level - i.e., with politicians and the American military. His Middle Eastern features and knowledge of the local languages (he took intensive classes in Pashtu, say, before going to Afghanistan) allowed him to mix easily with the peoples of the region. (For the most part, it was "easily," but there was one occasion when he came within minutes of being beheaded as a spy by the Taliban in Afghanistan.)

The resulting book is built on that journalistic method, and both benefits and suffers from it. The benefits come to intrepid readers who have the intellectual curiosity that will inspire them to follow along through the hundreds of conversations to discover that, taken together, they form something like a Seurat pointillist painting in which the myriad dots form a larger picture. When seen in that way, the book is a highly valuable survey of the enormous complexities of the Islamic world. It's a world that, far from being a monolith, is comprised of a wealth of contending factions and points of view. As Rosen points out, a failure to understand those intricacies will lead outsiders, such as successive American governments, far off the mark in dealing with the Islamic peoples. Accordingly, anyone wanting to have that understanding will do well to take this book seriously.

At the same time, Rosen's book will be relatively insufferable for those readers who don't have the determination to see it through. Only the most careful reading will keep a reader abreast of just who it is that Rosen is talking with at a given point, as the telling passes from one human contact to another with almost imperceptible separations. Moreover, Rosen would have done well to keep readers apprised of just what time-frame is being talked about at any given point; he'll mention a year and then three or four pages later say something like "that February" without re-identifying it, making the reader search back through the text. His writing is easily readable, but one has difficulty tracking the flow. So, a warning: we don't recommend the book for those (i.e., most readers) who would prefer to shy away from a formidable self-assignment.

An advantage of reading a review is that, if one has reason to have confidence in the reviewer, much of the benefit from a book can be gleaned from the work the reviewer has put himself through. We will try to pass on many of the main points, subject to an even stronger caveat than usual that the book contains much, much more:

1. Rosen's assessment of U.S. post-9/11 actions. The following passage near the end of the book succinctly summarizes Rosen's conclusions after seven years of immersing himself in the chaos of the Middle East:

A Newsweek issue in March 2010 declared U.S. victory in Iraq. But for Iraqis there was no victory. Since the occupation began in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had been killed. Many more had been injured. There were millions of widows and orphans. Millions had fled their homes. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men had spent years in American prisons. The new Iraqi state was among the most corrupt in the world. It was often brutal. It failed to provide adequate services to its people, millions of whom were barely able to survive... Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees languished in exile. …

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