Ayman F. (thebigaym) - Reviews

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Addicted to War : Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism
Addicted to War : Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism
Author: Joel Andreas
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 2/28/2012


The peace groups in which I participate distribute this book. It's an easy read which introduces most of the basic premises of the U.S. peace movements. Most residents of the United States will not know the basic facts introduced in this book. It also contains a directory of national peace organizations and a list of references for those who want to take the next step in advocating for peace.


All My Sins Remembered
All My Sins Remembered
Author: Joe Haldeman
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 7/28/2013


Number 1, this is the best title of a fiction book I've ever come across. An intergalactic spy's operations over the course of his lifetime expose the moral and ethical contradictions of the Confederation and its Charter.


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Review Date: 8/24/2016


Professor Postman's book claims that electronic media, characterized by immediacy, compels our discourse to be decontextualized and trivial, i.e. entertaining. Even worse, their dominance has shaped consumers' expectations of all other media so that they must also become decontextualized and trivial to gain acceptance.

Man, this guy is a buzzkill!

Complete review with hyperlinks available at

http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.ca/2016/08/review-amusing-ourselves-to-death.html


Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine
Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine
Author: Paul Offit
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 4/20/2016


formatted text here:

http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.com/2016/04/review-bad-faith-when-religious-belief.html

Dr. Offit reviews a series of incidents in which children died of treatable illnesses due to the pursuit of their guardians or parents of spiritual healing through supplication in lieu of standard medical practice. He then gives an interpretation of Christianity which rejects spiritual healing as a substitute for medicine. Then he provides an overview of the historically recent development of state protection of children from abuse by their parents and guardians. Finally, he discusses efforts to proscribe and punish parents and guardians who fail to provide standard medical care to the children in their care and resistance by some religious groups which led to religious exemptions to these anti-neglect laws.

The organization of the book makes for a logical progression to Dr. Offit's call for an end to all religious exemptions to laws designed to protect minors.


The variety of USA religious groups which rejected standard medical treatment in favor of supplications surprised me. And while I knew that most pre-progressive era law systems ignored abuse of guardians towards their children, I did not know anything about how that changed in the United Kingdom and the USA. I also didn't realize how important developments in radiology in the 1950s were to exposing child abuse.

Muslim bioethicists, health care practitioners and counselors/imams should read this book to understand better the dangers which occur on the periphery of alternative, holistic and spiritual treatment modalities. The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America has published numerous articles exploring "Prophetic Medicine" and "Islamic Medicine," While most of these articles supported standard medical practice, they may not have expressed with Offit's urgency how easy it is for charlatans and con artists to prey on ignorant and vulnerable people in matters of religion and disease.

Some of the most valuable passages in the book are Offit's analysis of Larry Parker, who, after hearing a faith healer speak in his church, decided to stop administering insulin to his eleven-year old son Wesley, who died after several days of suffering. This analysis is based on published reports and the two books Parker has authored since his conviction, We Let Our Son Die and No Spin Faith: Rejecting Religious Spin Doctors. Parker may have suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder,
defined by the [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] as a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity, in fantasy or behavior, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy." When [Parker's pastor Nash] pleaded with the Parkers to take Wesley to the hospital, Larry said, "God has given me the faith." After Larry was arrested, he likened himself to Paul the Apostle. When Larry asked God to set him free from prison, God talked to him. When Larry wondered whether he should fast, God sent him a delicious helping of sweet potatoes. ... To Larry, God was like the CEO of his own personal "make a wish foundation," ready to reward his faithfulness whenever asked; like many believers in faith healing, he had presumed to know the mind of God. (pp. 55-6, emphasis in original)
Imams and preachers need to steer people away from these kinds of temptations and misinterpretations, assuming the religious functionary hasn't succumbed to them himself/herself.

Another great point Offit makes about faith healers is that they tend to cling to some passages of scripture with their sectarian interpretation, but they don't use the same epistemology for other passages of scripture.

I came into the book extremely suspicious of government attempts to force healthy behavior. Offit's evidence that passage of laws did result in changes in behavior made me more open to this idea. It seems that ending religious exemptions to child neglect laws results in fewer people believing in faith healing without standard medical practice. Law establishes value.

Nevertheless, I'm still reluctant to imprison neglectful parents and strip them of guardianship of their surviving children. I wish there was a way for them to continue raising their children while ensuring that they receive standard medical treatment. In practice, this has proven difficult since many of these parents, while on probation which specifies standard medical treatment for their parents, continue to practice faith healing exclusively. Some of these parents have lost two or more children to preventable disease.

To me, the cases most calling for government intervention are those involving infectious diseases, where other children are placed at risk by the actions of faith-healing parents. Certain vaccines are not administered until children reach a certain age, and maintaining herd-immunity is important, as there will always be some children who are not vaccinated, either by choice of the parents, issues of access or contraindication.

While it may be outside the scope of his book, I think Offit neglects some of the structural reasons why faith healing remains popular. Large segments of the USA population can't afford standard medical care. Standard medical care doesn't have great results with some of our chronic diseases such as diabetes and dementia. Being on the patient side of standard medical care is often frustrating, disempowering and humiliating. So it's not far-fetched that adults are trying to treat their children outside the health system. The obvious retort to this is that the diseases which kill children are actually the ones which our health care system, with all of its flaws, actually does a good job addressing.

Another problem is the undermining of science by special interest groups and of government by oligarchy, as exposed by Cablegate, the Afghanistan war logs and the Panama Papers. People don't believe scientists and government officials when they say vaccines don't cause autism.

Finally, major segments of public and private education fail to provide students with the tools necessary to evaluate claims of faith healers and Ponzi schemers alike, although it should be noted that many educated and high-performing individuals follow them.


The Bee
The Bee
Author: Paul Starosta
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 12/28/2013


a lot of useful info and wonderful pictures about these fascinating creatures.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Review Date: 6/30/2016


Reporter Katherine Boo travels to Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, and chronicles the lives of some of its residents. Is it more poverty porn? Would you not be better off reading Aravind Adiga's collection of stores entitled Between the Assassinations? I mean, poverty is poverty is poverty. And let's face it: We don't like seeing, hearing or talking about it. We want our soap operas to feature corporate intrigue and disputes over vast properties, like Dallas or Dynasty, not schmucks needing payday loans to keep the water on and pay rent. We want our superheroes to be self-funded billionaires like Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Charles Frances Xavier (Professor X). We don't even hear about poverty from our news outlets.

Complete review, with hyperlinks, at my blog:

http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.com/2016/06/review-behind-beautiful-forevers-life.html


Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity
Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity
Author: Lenni Brenner, Matthew Quest
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 2/11/2014


Authors Lenni Brenner and Matthew Quest collected in this volume some of the essays they published between 1993 and 2013 analyzing the positions of prominent figures in the movement for black liberation towards Zionism and Palestinian resistance to Zionism. These positions were reflections of their owners' evolving understandings of the liberation struggles in the United States. The liberation struggle evolved from the civil rights' postures of late 1950s and early 1960s Martin Luther King, Jr and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) to the nationalist (Black Power) positions associated with Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael and even the socialist and revolutionary stances of members of the Black Panther Party like Huey Newton. Correspondingly, Black Americans changed from seeing Zionists as struggling for the rights of a minority (Jews) to seeing Zionists as an extension of white supremacy or global imperialism and capitalism into southwest Asia and northeast Africa. Nevertheless, many factors have limited the development of the Palestine Solidarity movement in the United States. The most important, in my reading of the author's claims, is the non-scientific (in the Marxist sense) nature of most resistance to Zionism (and other anti-colonialist struggles in Africa). For example, should Zionism, which placed one ethnic/religious group's capitalist intermediaries over the means of production in Palestine, simply be replaced by a different ethnic or religious group's capitalist intermediaries? Likewise, should Black Americans be struggling to allow their bourgeoisie the right to exploit workers or working to end exploitation of workers? Is the boycott, divestment and sanctions tactic falsely assuming that European and North American support for Israel is accidental and not intrinsic to Israel's position in world capitalist relations? Another non-scientific aspect of contemporary Palestine Solidarity movements is a failure to study the history of Jews in Europe, the United States and Israel. The authors believe that the Zionist movement's contradictions are dissolving its support among Jews, and a Palestine Solidarity movement which presented a liberating alternative would be the end of Zionism. It would also avoid antisemitism. In the United States, the lack of an political movement for liberation independent of the Republican and Democratic Parties, especially in the Age of Obama, has caused Black Americans' solidarity with Palestinians to be instinctive and romantic yet theoretically ungrounded, expressive without being effective and easily subverted to electoral politics' insatiable demand for money. I recommend this book for those who are interested in Marxist analysis of liberation movements and United States history and Palestine Solidarity activists. I'm not familiar with these issues, so this review is my best attempt to convey the value of this book. The authors have scheduled appearances in Augusta, Georgia (Feb 19, 2014) and Atlanta, Georgia (Feb 21). I hope to attend the one in Augusta and may be able to improve the review afterwards. I purchased my copy of Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity from the On Our Own Authority! Publishing website. The publisher also has a Facebook page.



Book of the Superiority of Dogs over Many of Those Who Wear Clothes (Various Pagings)
Review Date: 1/7/2013


This was the first Arabic book I read, with the help of the accompanying English translation.

The book is in two parts. The first part condemns humans for their cowardice, greed and disloyalty. The second commends dogs for their bravery, selflessness and loyalty.

The author quotes poets and relates stories to support these contentions.

The editor/translator includes an introduction on the author and a discussion of Muslim religious rulings and attitudes regarding dogs.


Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America
Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America
Author: Ranya Tabari Idliby
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 3/12/2014


Formatted text & hyperlinks available at my blog:

http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.com/2014/02/review-burqas-baseball-and-apple-pie-by.html

short url: http://bit.ly/1iAZ7Kk

After listening to an interview with Ranya Tabari Idliby, author of Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America, I published a response/rant the guilt from which compelled me to buy and read the book.

My response to the interview reflects my views, but the book impacted me more deeply and, upon reflection, helped me appreciate Ustaza Ranya's positions. I present some criticism unique to the book and a few observations, and I end with a strong promotion of the book and Professor Ranya.


On page 44, she ponders the terms "secular Muslims" and "non-religious Muslims."
Too often, the choice in the West is cast as if it were a battle between Islam and secular Muslims, a choice that many Muslims appear to confirm when they describe themselves as secular Muslims or non-religious Muslims. I do not feel that this is a wise choice. We must give our children other options. To abandon or to call oneself not-quite Muslim is not just semantics. It has real and important consequences. It denies the possibility of the natural and necessary diversity that exists and has always existed within Islam. ... To shrink from Islam or to qualify our Muslim identity is to abandon our religion in its time of need. For all the stereotypes and challenges, for all the misconceptions and fear, I still expect my children to carry the truth of their faith with conviction and pride, to patiently serve as Americans and as Muslims. It takes courage and fortitude to navigate childhood and young adulthood in defiance of those who are too eager to label you or to dismiss you as qualifying for neither or as both.
On pages 45-6, Ustaza Ranya writes:
My friends have asked me, as I have sometimes wondered myself, why I continue to remain Muslim in spite of my frustrations. The reasons are many, but perhaps the most important is that I remain a Muslim to some degree because of my frustrations. ... I am a daughter of Islam. I have loved its stories, poetry, and people my whole life. I have loved its heroes and heroines. I have loved its prayer beads in the hands of my father and my grandfather before him. I have loved its sights, smells, and sounds; its domes, minarets, and prayers; its art, architecture, mosaics, and ceramics. To have loved is to owe. It is to stand by it in its hour of need. I know no other way. [italics in original]
I agree with her criticism of the term "secular Muslim," and I wonder why she described herself with that term in the CSPAN interview. On page 210, Ustaza Ranya seemingly interchanges the terms "Muslim secularists" with "secular Muslims."
Muslim secularists are not necessarily rejecting their faith. Many do not want to be at the mercy of orthodox Muslims who have appointed themselves as guardians of the faith and who define faith strictly through the observance of rituals. Many secularists do not want to be denied the possibility of spiritually rich lives. They are often inspired by Muslim values and the belief in the transcendent, beyond the here and now of life. Many secular Muslims are not happy just committing to humanistic or secular ideals, but insist on their right to be inspired by Islam's rich plurality of traditions and culture. They do not believe that orthodoxy is exaggerated and inflamed to empower orthodoxy to define the boundaries of faith. [p. 210]
A secularist is a believer in secularism. The varied definitions of secular seem to preclude it from describing somebody affiliated to a religion. I believe in secularism because I think it is a better way to organize society than state-enforced religion. But I am not secular because I believe individuals' actions have a worldly dimension and an otherworldly dimension, i.e. God's judgment. In this and in other issues, Ustaza Ranya is not systematic and careful with her language. [However, by the time I finished the book, I began thinking that my search for systematic thinking was akin to the various fundamentalisms she was criticizing.] [P.S. See this interesting article about religion secularizing.]

It is also clear from the second passage the great extent to which Islam remains for Ustaza Ranya a matter of personal identity. Earlier in the book, she emphasized how it would be inappropriate for parents to burden their children with a despised religious identity out of "loyalty." [pp. 13-14]

It is also tricky, IMO, to say that Islam is in need. And even if I would accept that assertion, I would hesitate even more to think that it needed me. In a secular sense, Islam is not an animate being that needs (see Edward Said's book Covering Islam.) In a divine sense, if Islam is God's religion, than there's no reason to fear for it. Muslims, and humanity in general, are in need. There may be something I can do for them. I also think the same thing when I hear Muslims of other viewpoints say things like "Islam needs you to do X or believe Y."

I'm sympathetic to Ustaza Ranya's response to the passage in the Quran which some Muslims have used to justify wife-beating. She wrote that Muslims take three approaches. The first is literalist and Wahhabist and in full support of the most misogynistic practices. "The second approach, embraced by apologists, tries to whitewash the verse by offering conditions and qualifiers regulating and limiting the circumstances under which a Muslim husband can beat his wife. ... I find this approach tragic and comically absurd in its desperate efforts to resolve a Quranic verse that is clearly offensive--even to those defending it. Its proponents understand that the verse is unacceptable to the social and cultural values of the twenty-first century, but they are not ready to make that leap which requires the rejection of a verse that is in the Quran. Progressive and reform-minded Muslims embrace the third approach." (pp. 72-3)

The author mentions some figures who have shaped her thoughts on these matters. Most prominent is Feisal Abdul Rauf, associated with the Cordoba Initiative to build a community center in Lower Manhattan and author of the book What's Right with Islam, which I liked. Another is Abdolkarim Soroush, whom she met through a New York Times Magazine article. Ustaza Ranya writes, "... I secretly wondered if Muslims had virtually replaced the divinity of Jesus with the divinity of the Quran ... In my mind, the Quran for many Muslims had become God; to worship God was to worship the Quran." [p 51] She also references Khaled Abou El Fadl and Fazlur Rahman.

I do feel a need to be more systematic when taking radical positions regarding the dominant ideas among Muslims about the Quran, but I do not believe that that particular shortcoming overshadows the insights Ustaza Ranya presented on this subject.

I was curious to find out what Ustaza Ranya ended up doing regarding the textbook which mentioned Muslims' acceptance of wife-beating, but that was never revealed in the book.

The book is filled with praise for "America." Thus, I found it ironic that the author could write this sentence without irony:
Israel is America's kindred spirit in the Middle East, a relationship nourished by religious, cultural and political connections. [p. 97]
Another example of unsystematic use of a concept fraught with dispute in American minority communities is assimilation:
As a confident America moves forward in its expansive power of assimilation, I hope that my children too are a part of that larger and better union, a stronger union, and a union that includes American Muslims. Let us inspire Muslims all over the world as they pursue a justice and a freedom that we as Americans have long known. [p. 158]
This passage upset me at first, but I believe the author has in mind something that only became more clear to me by the time I finished the entire book.

I also disagreed with the author's definition of fatwa: "legal decrees in Islam issued by religious law experts." [p. 87] But I 100% agreed with her condemnation of the mindset which demands and produces fataawaa:
Do Muslims really need a fatwa on everything from brushing their teeth to how they socialize? Or when and how to have sex with their spouses? What some of these people need are parents, not Muslim legal opinions. By engaging in the trivial and the banal, Islam becomes a trivial and banal religion. [p. 92]
My attitude about the book changed right as I was entering its final third. Perhaps it was because my own rigidities were loosened enough to appreciate it. Sometimes a book and a reader take a while to get in tune. Think of two pendulums eventually matching oscillation. Or maybe because Ustaza Ranya just let it rip and wrote the final chapters with more passion.

On pages 141-2, she makes her first historical argument about why Muslims frequently seem to justify political violence.

Then we start getting beautiful passages such as:
Those who have made Sharia into an obsolete punitive system obsessed with regulating people's vices as opposed to a true quest for justice or taqwa are criminals. [p. 157]
Chapter 16, entitled "Mommy, Can I Marry a Jew?," makes two assertions with which I disagree yet contain truth I cannot deny. The first is that it is better to marry a good non-Muslim than a bad Muslim. The second, regarding the offspring of mixed religious marriages, is the idea that the child can practice two religions at once.

As a male, I have forbidden myself from commenting on women's clothing issues, but I like how the author handles it in Chapter 17.

Speaking of the idea of the "Clash of Civilizations," the author writes:
My children's identities will not be a paradox, but an inspiration. It is more accurate today to speak of the complicity of civilizations. Of the candor, collaboration, and cooperation of civilizations as we move forward together to solve, heal, cure, and advance in our quest for God's irrefutable and absolute values. [p. 203] [italics in original]
In the final chapter, the author describes her idea of assimilation in rhetorical assertions of the rightful place of Muslims in America and the noble nature of America itself:
America's nascent ideals have proved to be more powerful and resilient than the contradictions of its reality and historical struggles. ... When American Muslims salute the flag and take the oath, they are bowing at the altar of America's one and most important religion, which preempts all other differences and diversities; it is an American faith in the elixir of its ideals. Although historically those ideals have been tested, corrputed, and appropriated to the exclusion of others, time and time again it is not cynicism that sets in but a resilient faith that a better America will reign supreme. ... Our journey has been about refusing to be denied our simultaneous Muslim and American identities. By no uncertain measure, we choose to be Muslims because we refuse to be lesser Americans. [America's] heart and soul are in its historic promise, its superpower ability to welcome, assimilate, and empower those who continue to flock to its shores. [pp. 221-5]
So I feel like I disagree with the author on a variety of points, yet the author has convinced me that those differences don't matter. It's more important to focus on the values of agreement, which are more important, than the value of purity of religious practice or ideology. It's very disarming! It is very easy to continue reading and listening to people who reaffirm your own thinking. I am very happy that I did read this book despite my misgivings because it changed how I think about my practice of Islam and my relations with other people.

P.S. I also think that the author's concern for her children elevated her thinking on topics beyond where I, who don't have children and thus may not have as much skin in the game, have gone. It's like the Arabic proverb:
اللي إيده في المية مش زي اللي إيده في النار
Literally, "the person whose hand is in water isn't like the person whose hand is in fire." Meaning something along the lines of walking in another person's shoes.

Updated February 25, 2014: Everywhere I had written the word fatwa, I inserted a link to a fantastic article.


Christian Nation: A Novel
Christian Nation: A Novel
Author: Frederic C. Rich
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 12/6/2015


My complete review, with hyperlinks and text extracts, is available at

http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.com/2015/12/review-christian-nation-by-frederic-c.html

Frederic C. Rich retired from one of the United States's largest law firms. He also found time to write a speculative fiction (by now, nearly alternative history) novel set in our time about the takeover, via election, of the United States by Christian dominionists and reconstructionists.

The author maintains a website with more information about the book and a list of questions for discussion. You can search for the book at your local independent book store or at a library near you.

While the book is alternative history, its pre-2008 public events and persons are real. Governor Sarah Palin, R. J. Rushdoony of the Chalcedon Foundation, Michael Harris of Patrick Henry College and the Home School Legal Defense Association, Doug Coe of The Family, Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz (whom President Palin nominates to the Supreme Court in the book) and others are real people who have advocated dangerous policy choices. It's worth reading the book while connected to the Internet to learn about how close some of the changes described in the book are to reality.

The book draws heavily for inspiration from Hannah Arendt's writings, Lewis Sinclair's It Can't Happen Here and Chris Hedges's American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

The novel is not great literature, but it is worthwhile edutainment. It prompted lively discussion in the book club I attended.


City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan
City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan
Author: Beverly Swerling
Book Type: Audio Cassette
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 2/23/2014


Listened to abridged audio book. I'm sure if I was a New Yorker I'd really love this book, as I would be familiar with the locations described. Even so, I enjoyed this historical fiction. In addition, Gabrielle De Cuir is a great voice actress!


Cleopatra: A Biography
Cleopatra: A Biography
Author: Stacy Schiff
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 66
Review Date: 5/24/2014


I did finish this book weeks after I started. It made me want to find an asp and kill myself. The author uses 2 paragraphs to supply one sentence's worth of information.


Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South
Review Date: 6/26/2014


I was very suspicious of the idea that "culture" could be the reason for higher levels of personal conflict homicides among Southern whites, but the evidence presented was surprisingly convincing.

I have a couple of observations. #1, and I have no scientific basis for this, but I have an attachment to Malcolm X's assertion that "chickens come home to roost"/ karma / uncontrollability of violence. That the US south and west have the worst histories of genocide & slavery & expansionist war seems to me to be a "cosmic" reason for higher rates of bad things happening. Of course, that doesn't explain why non-personal homicide rates are similar.

#2, When the US military talks about a culture of honor, is that the same thing?
http://www.army.mil/values/

#3, Since the south hosts a higher percentage of military facilities than other regions, I wondered if white homicide rates could be correlated with presence of military installations?

#4, when the US government responds to "insults" with war, is that a reflection of a culture of honor? I'm thinking about the personalization of the enemy - Hitler, Tojo, Noriega, Saddam - so we're attacking an individual who "dissed" us rather than entire peoples.

As you can see, I am ideologically more inclined to attribute US violence to national policies than a culture brought by Scotch-Irish pastoralists. Although, if I'm honest with myself, that doesn't explain regional differences in white personal conflict homicide rates.


Cuneiform (Reading the Past, Vol 3)
Cuneiform (Reading the Past, Vol 3)
Author: C. B. F. Walker
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 11/3/2012


Good introduction to a difficult topic. Major props to the researchers and archaeologists who have been able to bring those ancient times back to us.


Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything
Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything
Author: Philip Ball
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 3/24/2016


For formatted review with hyperlinks http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.com/2016/03/review-curiosity-how-science-became.html

Today, citizens of the industrialized world almost universally consider curiosity to be a praiseworthy trait, and we consider it to be a fundamental attribute of the Scientist, the Jedi of Science, through which our place in the universe can be understood and our welfare enhanced. But humanity did not always consider curiosity to be praiseworthy.

It is certainly not evolutionary advantageous. How many curious hominids had their genetic lines snuffed out by eating unknown plants or entering dark caves or traveling to the next valley?

In the early modern period of European history, Christianity was generally interpreted to discourage curiosity as a distraction from God's revelation and hubris, in that the effort to seek new things implicitly indicated a dissatisfaction with that which God had already made known and available.

Philip Ball's book examines the transition of the value Europeans and their intellectual travelers placed on curiosity. I've reviewed other books on the history of science, but the length and detail of this book made it an especially challenging read. Nevertheless, it's important material for North American Muslims and many other people for at least some of the following reasons:

1. The circuitous, confused, two-steps forward one-step back nature of building the ecology of concepts necessary for the modern scientific enterprise should make contemporary Muslims cautious about glib assertions that early modern Muslims were open to science and that Islam and science are compatible. Early modern "science" like Ibn al-Haitham, al-Biruni, Galileo and Newton and what people do today are so different as to make such assertions comically reductionist and anachronistic. I recommend Taner Edis's book An Illusion of Harmony in this regard.

2. Just as the vitruosi (a collector of observations, especially using the newly refined instruments of the microscope and telescope) could not do science without a framework of concepts, disciplines such as history and sociology have frameworks. Histories without acknowledgment or reflection on the framework are likely to be nationalist, self-serving propaganda. If a history is truly without a framework (something I'd judge to be nearly impossible), it would simply be a collection of observations and likewise without value.

3. While organized religions like Christianity and Islam have tended to oppose some of the major scientific advances since the early modern period, I think statements like "Had it not been for religion, we would have had the Internet 500 years ago," or "If the Christians hadn't burned down the Great Library in Alexandria, we'd have averted the Black Plague" and others like them are unknowable and belong in the shelves of alternative history books. Aside from the fallacies related to the Great Library, readings in the history of science show how much our modern scientific enterprise is contingent upon its surrounding technological society. Insofar as organized religion led to the social cohesion which created the economic, political and moral forces which turned curiosity into science, then speculating on how far ahead science would be had there been no religion is baseless.

4. For those who claim that Muslims can take "the knowledge of the Europeans and not their morals," they need to understand that the scientific enterprise is incomplete and ineffective without a constellation of supporting behaviors and attitudes. While I don't assert that 21st century development requires people all over the world to do the exact same things 19th century Europeans did, it's certainly more complicated than the grocery-cart model of cultural borrowing some contemporary Muslims advocate.

As for the book itself, Philip Ball to some extent has imbibed the spirit of the virtuosi and included vast numbers of people and places and books to tell the story of the intellectual concept of curiosity. Mercifully, each chapter ends with a few paragraphs to sum up the chapter's main points. I'm trying to recruit a reviewer better able to deal with this book than me. If so, I'll in sha Allah link to what he writes about it.


Equal Worth: When Humanity Will Have Peace
Equal Worth: When Humanity Will Have Peace
Author: Adil E. Shamoo
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 8/21/2012


Chapters 1-7 summarize just war theory and then summarizes the history of three conflict zones, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, in its light. This portion of the book is essential for somebody who had not read anything on these topics. The author is careful to reference each passage, so the diligent reader can easily follow-up on any particular topic. The unique contribution of this book is Chapter 8, "Morals in the Age of One Super-Power." The author calls on nation-states to behave morally because information technologies, in all their forms, have allowed more and more people around the world to evaluate the actions of state actors, and hence "[t]he tolerance for immoral acts in whatever sugar-coated reason presented can no longer last forever and the yearning for fair and moral treatment to each other [sic] is on a rapid rise." (p. 154) Dr. Shamoo urges USA citizens to use the next 10-20 years, which the author estimates would be the limit on the United States's potential to provide unique world leadership on global issues, to take control of their democracy: The current process for the consent of the governed is so flawed that it renders democracy in the United States dysfunctional. (p. 155) United States media contribute to the destruction of the three pillars he identifies for democracy: "sufficient, accurate information, comprehension by the population, and lack of duress or undue influence (i.e. fear)." (p. 154) "Capitalism is good for innovation in science, technology, and business but it is not good for factual news." (p. 155) I question whether USA citizens can or will do this. Dr. Shamoo has seen enough good from individual Americans over the time he's lived in the USA to believe that its citizens can compel their government to change its policies. One issue which I wish the author would have addressed is humanitarian intervention, particularly as articulated by Samantha Power. Dr. Shamoo has written extensively on the ethics of research. You can follow Dr. Shamoo on Twitter.



Falcons on the Floor
Falcons on the Floor
Author: Justin Sirois
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 7/22/2012


This book, by genre, could be Young Adult because the protagonists, both American and Iraqi, are all in their early 20s, and the narrators are those protagonists. There may be too much profanity for it to be placed in the library recommended reading list for this summer. The writing is excellent, and I say that as a reader who enjoys action in his fiction novels. There is a certain buddy cop vibe to the two main Iraqi characters, Salim and Khalil. But the novel is more Albert Camus and Michail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov. I am less and less sure that it is every possible for us in our comfortable North American life to understand the soldiers our governments send abroad in these occupations, much less those who live under occupation. What I like most about this novel is that none of the characters, no matter how minor their roles, comes across as absolutely evil or good. Even the senior members of the Fallujah insurgency, whose reckless actions invite destruction on Salim and Khalil and the entire city, come across as human characters whose actions, had the story been told through their point of view, would make as much sense as Salim's and Khalil's. And in the pressure of war, nobody really makes sense.



Famous Romans (The Great Courses)
Famous Romans (The Great Courses)
Book Type: Audio CD
  • Currently 2.5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 10/22/2011


A culturally conservative professor presents "great man" history, displaying oligarchical fawning over the Romans and implying that the oligarchy of our time should be allowed to run amok.

Nevertheless, it's useful as a way to learn about major figures in Roman history and probably helps in understanding how the United States's oligarchical founders viewed the Roman Empire and themselves.


Far Horizons
Far Horizons
Author: Robert Silverberg (Editor)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 12/11/2010


A good way to be introduced to major science fiction space operas.


The Future of Life
The Future of Life
Author: Edward O. Wilson
Book Type: Audio Cassette
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 12/8/2012


I first heard about Edward Osborne ("E.O.") Wilson from a 2007 interview with Bill Moyers. This is another of the books on science I've discussed. As I was listening to it, I wondered what humans fifty years from now, assuming humanity survives, will think about the humans who preferred acquiring consumer goods over preserving our planet's biodiversity? Or worse, the humans who were too busy killing each other, most assuredly for justifiable reasons, to notice that the planet was preparing to cull its most destructive species, home sapiens? Or even more unfathomable, large swaths of humanity spent all their time and effort worrying about which humans were indeed closer to God and immersed themselves in endless disputes over texts whose authors would be horrified that their works were cited as reasons for ego-assuaging religious one-upmanship. In high school, I dabbled in forensic 2-peson policy debate. Every policy (or failure to enact a policy) would result in global thermonuclear war or species extinction, and it was a toss-up which one was worse. This book helps you understand why species extinction is happening, the incredibly serious consequences for the viability of the human species, the extent of aesthetic loss in our lives and efforts and strategies which show the greatest promise in slowing the rate of species extinction. There were a few points which stuck in my craw, and I list them here with the caveat that I'm no specialist or expert. The underlying assumption of the range of solutions is that no solution which challenges the dominance of techno-capitalism is viable. In fact, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, through their participation in reserve-creating non-governmental organizations, in some of which Professor Wilson participated. The world's poor are a threat to be managed. He doesn't say this, but their only agency in this story is that they stop reproducing so quickly and that they accept NGO bribes to preserve their forests. I would have liked Professor Wilson to mention that the United States and other governments of the industrialized nations support the militaries which protect the oligarchies and multi-national corporations which plunder the resources of the planet, suppress indigenous peoples and labor unions and perpetuate poverty, when these governments are not knee-deep in wars and occupation in mineral-rich regions of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Nevertheless, I do believe doing something is better than doing nothing, and it seems like our ecological consciousness had not matured to the point where we can set our thermostats to 68 in winter, stop eating industrially-produced poultry or even deep-sea drilling after BP's disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. So maybe the best we can do for now is praise the super-rich. Note that I have not even fully implemented a recycling program at my house, so the preceding passages were quite a hypocritical rant! Despite these reservations about Professor Wilson's presentation of political economy, this book is tremendously important for its presentation to the layman of the ecological situation and the components of an environmental ethic which would lay the foundation for changing human behavior.



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