Monday, December 14, 2009

What it means to be Muslim in America

After reading Zeitoun, I found myself looking for books that deal with the subject of what it means to be Muslim in America.  Quite a few titles out there, but Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror caught my interest.  Hugh Eakin writes,

In the varied explanations for the 9/11 attacks and the rise in terrorism, two themes keep recurring. One is that Islamic culture itself is to blame, leading to a clash of civilizations, or, as more nuanced versions have it, a struggle between secular-minded and fundamentalist Muslims that has resulted in extremist violence against the West. The second is that terrorism is a feature of the post-cold-war landscape, belonging to an era in which international relations are no longer defined by the titanic confrontation between two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

But in the eyes of Mahmood Mamdani, a Uganda-born political scientist and cultural anthropologist at Columbia University, both those assumptions are wrong. Not only does he argue that terrorism does not necessarily have anything to do with Islamic culture; he also insists that the spread of terror as a tactic is largely an outgrowth of American cold war foreign policy. After Vietnam, he argues, the American government shifted from a strategy of direct intervention in the fight against global Communism to one of supporting new forms of low-level insurgency by private armed groups.


  1. Sounds right to me. That's Robert Pape's general conclusion -- it's the occupation that fuels terrorism. And he looks broadly, from Lebanon to Northern Ireland. According to his research, there's no direct link to religion or education or economic opportunity. They just want their countries back.

  2. That's pretty much how I feel, av. Mamdini's essay, which I linked to his name gives a pretty good precis of his book.

    The whole idea of "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" is a contemporary version of "Good Indian, Bad Indian," and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were established pretty much as "range wars" between the US and Islam, as much as Bush tried to deny it. His early "Wild West" rhetoric set the tone, especially in Iraq.

  3. Hmmmm.... So many quotable observations in that piece, I don't know where to start. Like this one:

    "The real damage the C.I.A. did was not the providing of arms and money," he writes, " but the privatization of information about how to produce and spread violence — the formation of private militias — capable of creating terror." The best-known C.I.A.-trained terrorist, he notes dryly, is Osama bin Laden......

    or this:

    In the 1980's, Mr. Mamdani argues, the American use of proxy forces became increasingly overt. "What had begun as a very pragmatic policy under Kissinger was ideologized by the Reagan administration in highly religious terms, as a fight to the finish against the `Evil Empire,' " Mr. Mamdani said.

    This is my great fear of what they are doing in Afghanistan now, creating a monster that will come back to haunt the US at some point. As smart as Obama is, you'd think (hope) that he would see that. I heard one analyst say that the Obama administration takes the long view -- from health care to Afghanistan. And thus his goals are not immediately apparent. I hope that isn't wishful thinking.

  4. I was trying to find a good quote from Hobsbawm on what he calls the world Islamic revival during the age of revolution (1789-1848). His arguments are dense, but as I read him he basically argues that the rise and spread of Islam were in direct response to the slave trade and other movements of capitalism.

    I think I may have mentioned this before -- Hobsbawm made a huge impression on me when I read him -- but he also notes that during this same period American Indians also came up with their own revivalist religions as a form of resistance.

  5. I think much of the contemporary militant Islam comes from the Anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th century. The tactics, including the sleeper cells, comes straight out of Anarchism. It really has nothing to do with Islam except as some kind of ideological driving force.

    I have to say the book intrigues me now, as I would like to get Mamdani's view on this.

  6. Will this be a book discussion or an echo chamber? :-)

  7. It can be whatever you want it to be, rick, but if you read the essay linked to his name, you will get a pretty good idea where Mamdani comes from.

  8. Jump in and disagree!

    This is part of the fun of being between books. We can suggest all sorts of different books and then either read them or just discuss them anyway. I pick up all sorts of other books that way which is one of the major financial dangers of hanging out here. I still have a special Robert Whelan bookcase filled with books he's read or might read at some point.

  9. Sometime back in the NYTimes book forums there was a group read on Orientalism. I think you joined in that one, av. Mamdani seems to be coming from a similar perspective. For many years, Said argued, Muslims had been characterized and in many cases "caricaturized" by the West. In large part this was due to Muslims not being able to communicate effectively in English, the de facto international language, and therefore unable to effectively make their cases against these stereotypes. Even the Qur'an was translated by Western scholars, as were many Islamic, Persian and Arabic texts, and treated pretty much like archeological findings, Said noted.

    Orhan Pamuk takes a more literary approach in Istanbul to this same subject, noting how for decades the city had been written about in the West and pretty much treated as someplace foreign and chaotic, a place to imbibe, metaphorically speaking, in someplace exotic. He notes a circle of Turkish writers who tried to change these impressions, more or less countering Western impressions, but they never got very far with it.

    When you read Pamuk you realize that Muslims, at least those in Istanbul, go through many of the same things we do in the West, but for centuries we have pretty much been oblivious to it, preferring to treat Muslims more or less as caricatures, the same way we treated Russians and Eastern Europeans during the Cold War, and to some extent still do.

    But, what Mamdani argues is that the recent level of stereotyping has taken on far more menacing tones, and Islam has taken on much more significance in the minds of Westerners than it should when it comes to these terrorists, which he seems to think took most of their ideas from CIA manuals, not the Qur'an.

  10. I did read Said with the group. In fact, I think I sort of pushed for it because I had it on my list of readings to prep for my exams and it was a difficult book to get into for me.

    As I recall his major point, it was not only the characterization of "the inscrutable East" and "the Other," but also the way western writers and artists portrayed Muslims in ways that were sexually suggestive and slightly decadent.

    I also read Cannadine's Ornamentalism which looks at western conquest from the perspective of class. I don't recall that he totally disagreed with Said; more that he thought there was more to the picture with the way the British imposed their own version of hierarchy while enhancing existing hierarchies within these cultures.

    But I agree that the link you posted suggests something totally different. I think Bush et al sold the American people a bill of goods in this "radical Islam" business. One of the terrorists that Pape investigated, for example, was a Lebanese Christian. And you never hear about the "radical Catholics" when it was the IRA bombing tube stations.

  11. I think it would probably be more accurate to say that these terrorists Mamdani speaks of took their methods from CIA manuals and their ideas from the Koran.

    Mamdani's arguments are identical to those made by Russian diplomats during the Cold War when questioned about the Gulag. While denying that the Gulag even existed, they quickly wanted to know about the treatment of Native Americans.

    And your mention of Pamuk reminds me that he was scheduled to be tried for mentioning the Armenians massacred by Turks.

  12. Or maybe their justification?

    Religion can be used to justify all sorts of crazy acts, and has been.

  13. But it's awfully difficult to get around jihaad, isn't it?

  14. Yes, but I wonder if that's a result of what Mamdani and Pape and others are writing about in relation to the occupation and exploitation of their land? Isn't that where bin Laden et al really comes from? The US occupation and so-called corruption of Saudi Arabia?

    I'm not trying to soft pedal religious fanaticism here. It is what it is. But if you see Catholics doing the same thing in London subways or in Brighton at the annual political conventions when I lived there in the 1970s, I don't see that you need a Koran to necessarily make you blow up people.

    But being sort of mildly anti-religious anyway, this is an odd argument for me to get drawn into. I can't defend any of them on religious grounds -- I find all of these religious texts and received wisdom slight barbaric.

  15. Nice to see you here, Rick!

    I take it school is out....?

  16. School is out.

    I am anti-religious and that no doubt colors the way I view arguments like Mamdani's. He's being too clever by half.

    Funny thing about jihaad. You almost can't find the term anymore in online versions of the Koran. Typically in its place you find the word struggle within parentheses. More Muslim unwillingness to own up to the truth I'm afraid.

  17. Rick, hope you have a good break. I'm sure the semesters seem longer and longer. For me, they seem way too short but that's because I still find myself cramming all my work into the end of them.

    I guess I should take the Coll book out of the car and put it back in the stack so I can substantiate my own beliefs (and maybe New York can join in here).

    That said, I think people like Pape (who is not a Muslim as far as I know) and Mamdani look for what motivates people. It may not be religion, or solely religion, although it is convenient for the US government to pretend it is.

  18. My reading has been more limited than that of those here, but I can't recall reading about a connection between Islam of any variety and Anarchism. Can you say more about that, gintaras?

    I try to avoid the idea that what happens in other regions is far more than a function of what we do for good or ill, and I sometimes get a feeling of a kind of global pull to the right, with fundamentalist Christians wanting that kind of changes not entirely different from those Muslim fundamentalists call for.

  19. That last paragraph should say "what happens in other regions is merely a function of what we do..." Apologies...

  20. The concept of "holy war" is hardly foreign to the Bible, and has been evoked any number of times over the centuries, but it doesn't color Christianity the way "jihad" has come to color Islam.

    I'm most curious in Mamdani's views of Wahabism, which is a radical form of Islam, going back to the "original intent" of the Qur'an, sort of speak. It is similar to Fundamentalism in Christianity. But, in this case at least two Islamic states remain based on Wahabist principles, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These countries have also sponsored "reform" movements in Afghanistan, the Sudan and other Islamic countries. So, there are some serious internal divisions here.

    But, I really have to wonder how much these struggles have to do with religion per se, as they have to do with power. The same with the so-called Shia Revolution taking place, sponsored in large part by Iran. Really this is no different than the Hindu Nationalists of India a few years back or any other nationalistic movement built on questionable religious grounds.

  21. NYT, I don't think there is any stated connection between radicals like bin Laden and Anarchism, but they use pretty much the same principles and techniques in carrying out their "holy war." The aim is to disrupt regions, resulting in unstable states in which they hope to rise to power an implant their form of radical Islam. They succeeded in Afghanistan and in The Sudan. Not surprisingly, they have many benefactors in the Arab world, much of their money coming from Saudi Arabia, which was one of only three countries to recognize Taliban Afghanistan and continues to support The Sudan.

    Most of this revolves around power, and as long as the House of Saud controls Mecca it has a hold over Islam that is unbreakable. This is really about controlling and in many ways reshaping Islam to suit nationalistic ambitions. All too familiar.

  22. "The concept of "holy war" is hardly foreign to the Bible, and has been evoked any number of times over the centuries, but it doesn't color Christianity the way "jihad" has come to color Islam."

    Maybe because the Crusades ended quite a while ago. Jihaad is alive and well, or so it seems to me.

    I don't understand the distinction you and others seek to make between struggle based on religion and struggle based on the desire for power. Would you say the Crusades were fueled more by the pursuit of power than by the forceful spread of Christianity and/or the reclamation of the so-called Holy Land?

    In my view Islam is widely used to maintain and/or establish political power. Arguments to the contrary that I am familiar with, like Mamdani's, are full of opened-ended rhetorical questions that are ultimately evasive.

  23. I suppose the use of Islam to maintain power in Arab and Central Asian countries is more overtly stated, but Christianity underlies all the Democracies in Europe and the Americas, and we saw the religious zeal with which Bush pursued his wars, at one point even referring to the Iraq War as a "crusade."

    I think the qualms many Muslim scholars have is with the ideological branding that has occurred in recent years and the attempt to categorize Muslims the same way we did American Indians back in the 19th century.

    There is nothing evasive about this. At its core lies the frustration in trying to engage in a meaningful dialog when the West passes tougher and tougher immigration and naturalization laws, carries out petty sanctions like that concerning the minarets in Switzerland, and in general maintaining decades old stereotypes of Muslims.

  24. Interesting discussion.

    I just discovered Jonathan Turley's blog and he has a story this a.m. about how "Israel’s Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman wants the country to adopt its own religious book, the Torah, as the basis for the country’s laws."

    And the U.S. goes through this all the time with the Ten Commandments being the basis of our law, etc.

    You make an interesting point, Rick, and I agree with what you're saying. But I think the trick Bush played on the American people was to convince them that this is a struggle between Christian (good) vs. Muslim (bad) and that being Muslim (evil) drives you to attack and destroy anything white/Christian (holy).

    That is similar to the Indian wars -- hadn't thought of that -- but I think of what the propaganda machine did to the Japanese, displaying them as roaches with slanty eyes and little commando hats. It's a gross characterization and dehumanization of a people that allows you to despise them all in one fell swoop. And bomb them to oblivion.

    But I think the distinction Pape and probably Mamdani are trying to make is that religion isn't necessarily what is driving these people, except as a way to bind people together (like the Irish Catholics vs. the Church of England). There are underlying reasons people choose to blow themselves up and it may have more to do with the occupation of the infidel than just the infidel across foreign seas.

  25. I think I have this order right re imperialism:

    First you send the scientists, who "discover" the resources and return home to analyze them. Then you send the priests, to convert the population and assure them of the good life later (i.e., when they are dead). Then you send the military to subdue those who don't want to convert. And then you send the bureaucrats to establish the state and protect the resources the scientists discovered.

    Pretty efficient system if you ask me.

  26. And speaking of good vs. evil:

  27. I'm no apologist for Bush; nor am I willing, or more importantly, able to view Jihaad and terrorism as little more than a PR problem for Islamic scholars.

  28. I'm assuming everyone here would agree with you on that -- but I think it's more than PR that some scholars are trying to address.

    For example, Said wrote his book long before this current religious war. But I take your point.

  29. I don't think the jihadists are anymore a thorn in the side of Islam as fundamental extremists are in the side of Christianity. You look at the abortion clinic bombings and the murder of doctors, Oklahoma City, Waco, the emergence of Sarah Palin and so on. Do these persons define Christianity? Do these persons define America?

    I think the point that is trying to be made is that the jihadists are just one aspect of Islam. No one is apologizing for them. Muslims would just like to have themselves and their religion seen in a broader context, not the exceedingly narrow one that has been established over the years.

  30. To hear you tell it one would think Muslims are completely open to criticism. Were that the case, I might better appreciate where you're coming from. Unfortunately, they're not open to criticism. I mentioned the Turks and Pamuk. When Obama recently visited Turkey he went in knowing any mention of Armenians was off limits. That's just one example.

  31. We are talking governments here, not people. And, once again we have seen Western governments that aren't open to criticism and have detained persons with no charges mostly on the basis of racial profiling, so not much of a leg to stand on here.

    I think the Islamic governments are accountable, and Turkey remains accountable for atrocities it committed against Armenians, but that is really not at issue here. What is at issue is the way Muslims are being treated as a whole in the Western media, defined by a narrow definition of their religion and their governments.

  32. Governments are made of people. Saudi Arabia is a perfect example of an Islamic government that, at home at least, plays the anti-American infidel card at every opportunity. It can't afford to appear as though any of its principles have been compromised by its relationship with the West. That would be un-Islamic. The Wahabbians wouldn't like that.

    When you say Turkey remains accountable for atrocities committed against Armenians, what do you mean? Responsible, yes.

  33. We are straying pretty far away from the concept of what it means to be Muslim in America, which was why I posted this thread. But, as far as a government accountable to the people and vice-versa, Turkey is a better example than Saudi Arabia since people actually have the opportunity to vote in Turkey.

    The interesting part is that the US openly supports both countries, yet in just about every way Saudi Arabia opposes the Democratic principles on which the US is based. We seem to support the Saudis mostly for oil and what we deem as stability in the region.

    Turkey may have its problems and a court system that definitely has its problems, but because of its efforts to join the EU, it is much further along in terms of adopting Democratic principles than is Saudi Arabia. It still needs to own up to past atrocities, but then the same can be said for the US and other countries.

  34. Can you imagine Saudi Arabia if it hadn't had the U.S. as a guaranteed oil addict? What a different place the Middle East would be.

    And since everyone apparently has something to own up to, the Saudi Arabians have to be willing to share some of the blame for our dependence on oil, the depletion of the ozone layer, and global warming. After all, they enabled our dependency AND profited from it!

  35. Saudi Arabia scares me. In one of my many lives, I worked on the start-up of an engineering research center that specialized in biofilms. The director's specialty was biofilms associated with oil production, so he spent a lot of time consulting in Saudi Arabia. In those days (mid-1980s) you had to fax to maintain communication and you had to be very careful what you sent over there for fear it would be offensive. I found it very strange at the time. Still do.

  36. The worst thing about the Saudi government is that there is absolutely no accountability. It is an oil fiefdom, supporting by US and European powers with a cruel repression record, the worst perhaps in all the Muslim world, you we turn a blind eye to this government, allow Prince Banda and other Saudi "royalty" to basically have free access to the White House as was the case under Republican administrations.

  37. I think what Muslim Americans are most acutely sensitve to is the racial and religious profiling that has occurred over the years, and in particular since 9-11. The idea that any expression of their faith, from a habib to praying in public, immediately marks them as a suspect. Not to mention their skin color or any other "defining" physical traits.

    Eggers doesn't dig too deep in Zeitoun, but he made it clear that Zeitoun had long sought to keep a low profile, coming from Syria, and in the aftermath of Katrina both he and his American wife, Kathy, were deeply scarred by the experience they suffered at the hands of FEMA and local law enforcement officials.

  38. Thomas Friedman has an Op/Ed piece in today's NYT that you all might find of interest:

  39. A woman from NYU (I think) was on Hardball last night. She said that when these young people go off to fight against the infidels killing Muslims -- their motivation as far as I can tell -- what they don't realize is that they are joining groups that mostly kill other Muslims. That's the educational process she sees as needed and what I think Friedman is getting at.

    I read Friedman's article this a.m. but was more interested in Dowd's piece on Gates. At least he says he reads history! And who would have thought that a movie like Charlie Wilson's War would prove to be so informative. It wasn't a great film, but I did find it provocative none the less.

  40. Either Friedman is being facetious or he doesn't know what he is talking about in that,

    "We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North."

    The Southern states had undergone complete redemption within 25 years of the Civil War, purging whatever nominal gains had been made and instituting a set of Jim Crow Laws that haunted the South for another 75 years. Not to mention that racism and bigotry remain an indelible part of our cultural fabric. This is what the Civil War wrought. Does he wish this same thing upon the Muslim World?

    It's the same old editorial snow job, lumping all the problems in the Middle East and Central Asia on the Muslim World and taking no responsibility for own actions in these regions over the last 50+ years, not least of all our unquestioning support of autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia and blind faith in Israel.

  41. It's funny how two people can read the same article and get something completely different from it. Here's what I got.

    From Friedman's article:

    "Whatever surge we do in the real Afghanistan has no chance of being a self-sustaining success, unless there is a parallel surge — by Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders — against those who promote violent jihadism on the ground in Muslim lands and online in the Virtual Afghanistan."

    That looks like a thesis.

    "We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before."

    Restatement of the thesis?

    "Only Arabs and Muslims can fight the war of ideas within Islam."

    A point he immediately ties to how the war against slavery was fought in this country.

    "What is really scary is that this violent, jihadist minority seems to enjoy the most “legitimacy” in the Muslim world today. Few political and religious leaders dare to speak out against them in public."

    The thesis restated again.

    "How many fatwas — religious edicts — have been issued by the leading bodies of Islam against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Very few."

    "Not only was there no meaningful condemnation emerging from the Muslim world — which was primarily focused on resisting Switzerland’s ban on new mosque minarets . . ."

    "So please tell me, how are we supposed to help build something decent and self-sustaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan when jihadists murder other Muslims by the dozens and no one really calls them out?"

    "A corrosive mind-set has taken hold since 9/11. It says that Arabs and Muslims are only objects, never responsible for anything in their world, and we are the only subjects, responsible for everything that happens in their world."

    I'm sure Mamdani is already formulating a response.

  42. There is no doubt that stability in Afghanistan can only come with Muslim and Arab support of a non-Taliban government, but the way Friedman arrived at this thesis, seeming to encourage Civil War, is highly questionable, especially in an already very corrosive region that has seen a lot of internal division.

    But, one of the best ways to encourage self-administrating governments is to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq all together, where are very presence fuels these jihadist movements. Our presence in the Arab and Muslim world over the last 50+ years has to a large degree inspired these movements, and our support of regimes like that of the Shah and now the House of Saud further undermines any confidence these people have in our efforts to promote democracy in the region, not to mention the way we have let Israel off the hook time and again when it comes to the peace agreements we have tried to forge between Israel and the Arab world.

  43. "Our presence in the Arab and Muslim world over the last 50+ years has to a large degree inspired these movements, and our support of regimes like that of the Shah and now the House of Saud further undermines any confidence these people have in our efforts to promote democracy in the region . . ."

    Who are these people you refer to? The Jihaadists or the Muslims Friedman is taking to task?

  44. It seems like Friedman deals mostly in blanket statements and appears to be taking on the Muslim world as a whole, as if the jihadists are wholly supported by Muslims. What Mamdani notes is that many of these jihadists have found sponsorship far and wide, noting the money and arms the US provided the Mujahideens in the Afghan War against the Soviet Union. Not to mention the CIA-sponsored efforts at creating instability in the region and toppling governments, like they did the democratically elected government of Iran back in 1953.

    There is no clear picture here. No thesis that bears up well under scrutiny. It is a volatile region, largely as the result of US, British, French and Soviet involvement in the region from the early Mandates to the attempts to impose monarchies on these countries for the sake of "stability," which roughly translates into oil. So, when Mosaddeq decides to nationalize oil, the US and Britain choose to dispose of him and put back in place the Pahlavi dynasty.

    As a result, many Muslims have fled the region, have moved to Europe and the US seeking greener pastures, and in many ways fully acclimated themselves to these countries. Yet, we still seem them as "undesirables," begrudgingly accepted but held in suspicion when events like 9-11 occur. Much like we held Japanese-Americans accountable for the actions of Imperial Japan.

  45. Friedman is directing his comments to "the Muslim world as a whole" because, as he says at the beginning of his Op/Ed piece, "Whatever surge we do in the real Afghanistan has no chance of being a self-sustaining success, unless there is a parallel surge — by Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders — against those who promote violent jihadism on the ground in Muslim lands and online in the Virtual Afghanistan."

    If and when we ever get out of places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and I hope it's sooner than later, it will be interesting to see what role the Jihaadists have in the governing of their countries. If present day Iran or Afghanistan under the Taliban are models, then I'm not optimistic about the region. And if non-radicalized Muslims are fleeing the region now, I suspect their numbers will dramatically increase if and when the Jihaadists have their way.

  46. I don't buy that thesis. What has to happen is the US and EU start investing in Afghani infrastructure -- building roads, providing schools, hospitals and other public services which Afghanis sorely lack. Maybe then we can win the peace.

    Simply asking the "Muslim World" to mount a surge against "Internet Jihadism," especially when most of these groups are based in Europe and SE Asia, is downright silly. Saudi Arabia is one of the most oppressive countries in the world with its Internet tightly monitored. Of course, the Saudis fund Wahabist mosques in Europe and around the world, which probably have Internet access.

    All we have done in recent years is fight wars or fund proxy wars in Central Asia, contributing greatly to the instability in the region. Maybe if we pulled back and took a more humanitarian approach to the crisis, Muslim nations might be more willing to cooperate with us.

  47. Friedman wasn't only talking about "Internet Jihadism."

  48. I would like to think that at some point the US could actually sit down with leaders from Iran, Syria and even the Sudan and try to discuss some way around this impasse. As Obama said in his Nobel Lecture,

    "I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- and condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door."

    This is what is currently lacking in our diplomatic efforts. We seem to solely rely on the "stick" to carry us through these negotiations.

  49. "the satisfying purity of indignation"

    Oh my, whoever wrote that gets major props from me.

  50. Ooops, hope my comment didn't get interpreted as pertaining to the very involving discussion here--I was thinking of the bloggers and pundits in the media who scream their indignation at the, slight. (Like the idiot who accused that "Muslim" Obama of planning his televised speech so as to pre-empt the showing of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. I'm not hallucinating this, you could look it up.)

    My C'mas request for Eggers' latest, which to me meant "Zeitoun," yielded instead "What Is The What" by a hasty shopper, so reading the former will be delayed a bit longer. However, another more careful shopper, a co-worker friend who knows my MidEast reading last year proceeded from the Gertrude Bell bio ("forget Lawrence of Arabia, she was the real deal") to Coll's "The Bin Ladens" & "Ghost Wars," very nicely chose for me "Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes." by Tamim Ansary which seems like it will be perfect to enlarge my frame of reference conditioned by oh, so many years of US- & Euro-centric reading/study (though alas, out of AHP range, too).

    I'll be following discussions, if not commenting, and in the meantime Seasonal Felicitations to All!