This is the tenth group of books I’m getting ready to drop off for donation. With this group gone, my second shelf is cleared—“cleared” being a relative term, of course. I get a chance to wipe it down and fill it with books that have been lying around the house. Writing about the book donations is my way of saying goodbye. Many of these books bring back fun memories. There is one notable exception this week, however. I’m still debating whether to donate it or to keep it and use it as a doorstop.
The Future of Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations or Peaceful Coexistence? by Shireen T. Hunter (1998) describes the roles of ideology and pragmatism in how nations conduct themselves. In her introduction, she writes, “…even during the Cold War [kids, ask your grandparents–my note], more often than not, ideological interests and objectives had to be abandoned or relegated to second place because their pursuit endangered more tangible interests; but the pursuit of tangible interests had to be rationalized and justified as in perfect harmony with the ideology and the other values of the state as well as in the service of some higher, unselfish objective.”
She also stresses that Muslim areas of the world have long and varied histories and are not monolithic. They are often, in fact, in conflict with each other. For the West to view Muslims as one civilization sells them short.
This was written before the rise of al Queda and ISIS and before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It does pay homage to the idea–cynical and ideal at the same time–that peace, if not harmony, can prevail through paying attention to practical matters.
Bio: Shireen Tahmasseb Hunter (b. 1945) is an independent scholar originally from Iran. She holds a B.A. from Tehran University, an M. Sc. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Ph.D. from Graduate Institute of International Studies Geneva. She is fluent in English, French, Persian, and Azeri Turkish and has a working knowledge of Arabic. Until 2019, she was a Research Professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with which she had been associated since 2005. Among her books are Iran and the World: Continuity in a Revolutionary Decade (1990), The Transcaucasus in Transition: Nation-building and Conflict (1994), and (With Jeffrey L. Thomas and Alexander Melikishvili) Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security (2004).
Why I am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq (1995) was written in response to the fatwa and death sentence against Salman Rushdie for his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses. There were several assassination attempts on the author, and the book’s translator into Japanese, Hitoshi Igarashi, was murdered.
While the violence around Rushdie bothered Ibn Warraq, he was further incensed by articles and books written by those he called “Western apologists for Islam,” those who argued that violence was not the nature of Islam. He spends the rest of the book arguing that violence is part and parcel of Islam despite what the individual Muslim practices. He uses both historical and contemporary examples.
While the history was interesting, I have mixed feelings about this book.
Bio: Ibn Warraq (b. 1946) is the pen name of an anonymous author born in present-day Pakistan. The pen name is from Abu Isa al-Warraq, a 10th-century scholar and skeptic. Ibn Warraq is the founder of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society. Among his books are The Quest for the Historical Muhammad (2000), What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary (2002), and Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism (2007).
Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts by Georges Jean (1992) is a pocket-sized, richly illustrated book on the history of scripts. The text is more of a decoration, and the illustrations are the main story. It also describes the decipherment of hieroglyphics and cuneiform. The reader also gets a tour of Asian scripts and a couple of articles on the text used as art. Oddly, the pages in the beginning are thick and glossy. Those toward the end are standard paper and black and white. Nevertheless, I really loved this book.
Bio: George Jean (1920-2011) was a French poet and essayist specializing in linguistics, semiology, and children’s literature, according to Wikipedia. According to his author’s blurb, he was a professor of linguists and semiology at the University of Maine (France) and published some forty works. He was awarded the 1980 Fondation de France prize for his book, Le Plaisir de mots. In 1985, he received the Louise-Labé prize for D’Entre les mots.
The Signature of God/The Handwriting of God by Grant R. Jeffrey (1999) is a two-volume set of previously published absolute bullshit. The first volume points to “scientific” aspects of the Bible, the second to “Bible codes,” that is, hidden messages in scripture by counting so many nth letter of the text. Among the claims for scientific knowledge is a demonstration of the understanding of Conservation of Energy. God rested from all his works after the sixth day of creation, and therefore matter can be neither created nor destroyed. Yep.
At one point, he says society performs paternity tests and not maternity tests because blood type is inherited from the father and not the mother. Never mind the scientific ignorance–the practical everyday knowledge he had to ignore to make such an egregiously silly statement does rather boggle the mind.
Not surprisingly, this garnered criticism not only from outside the Christian community but also from Jeffrey’s fellow Christians.
I confess I bought and read this book on a dare. At this point, I’m in two minds about donating it. Should I let it continue to take up space on my shelf? Or let it loose on an unsuspecting world? Maybe I’ll keep it. Who knows when I’ll need a good door stop?
Bio: Grant R. Jeffrey (1948-2012) was a Canadian television personality and teacher of Bible prophecy/eschatology and biblical archaeology. Jeffrey’s book, The Millennium Meltdown, reached #2 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for religious paperbacks. How unfortunate. It dealt with the Y2K, ahem, problem, and what people should do to protect themselves. A little fearmongering here? At present, it’s out of print. Grant also hosted a program on the Christian broadcasting television network, TBN.
Under the Red Flag by Ha Jin (1997) is a collection of twelve unrelated short stories set during the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China. Several take place in or around the (fictional) village of Dismount Fort and involve recurring characters such as a boy called Bare Hips, but the stories are all stand alones.
Casual brutality runs through many of the stories. In “Man to be,” a husband is convinced his younger wife is cheating on him and arranges her gang-rape. But that’s not the point of the story. The reader doesn’t even know if the woman is indeed unfaithful or what happens to her after the assault. In another, the richest man in the village is denounced and tries to defend himself with the truth, not realizing that he’s supposed to confess to things he’s not guilty of and ask for forgiveness. In yet another, a woman returns from burying her husband and is assaulted by a stranger. She kills him with his knife. Upon being told he was the nephew of some important party official, she becomes terrified. That’s not all there is, of course.
In many of the stories, the author makes the point that party loyalty and subjugation to the party–even at the cost of simple human compassion or decency–are all that matters.
I was looking forward to reading this book, having heard the author interviewed on a podcast and read his biography of classical Chinese poet Li Po (or Li Bai). I liked his narrative style. The author himself seems an interesting person. I can’t fault it for not conforming to my expectations, but what a downer.
This book received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.
Bio: Ha Jin is a pseudonym for Chinese-American writer, poet, and academic Xuefei Jin (b. 1956). Jin joined the army at fourteen and left after five years. Afterward, he worked as a railway telegraph operator and learned some English by listening to the radio. While studying English at Brandeis University, he watched the government crackdown on Tiananmen Square in 1989 and decided to stay in the United States. Among his books are Waiting (2000), War Trash (2004), Nanjing Requiem (2011), The Boat Rocker (2016), and A Distant Center (2018).