Saturday, March 05, 2011

REVIEW: Vali Nasr - The Shia Revival

(Arabic version of this review)
YEAR: 2007

As the world as we knew it continues to split asunder, you might consider it somewhat worthwhile to examine this book in a revisionist perspective and see how well it has held up, considering the stature of its author and his influence on several US administrations.

Nevertheless, while I have an overall negative view of this book; it should be noted that this being a book about current politics, it might not have been meant as timeless and should be properly understood only in the context of its times. The subject of its discourse, the rise of Shias and how we should come to terms with it as a positive development; has not bore its fruits fully yet – so such an inquiry might not be so anachronistic as we examine the region unfolding into a new epoch. Moreover, while I personally am responsible for some very biased and primitive analysis  on the state of the world four years ago, I was just finding my feet, grappling with sectarianism, the fragile and rapidly unraveling identity of Iraq and coming to grips with the world, worse: I was once in a fictional band called Hambala for Ali’s sake; whereas this is a writer of considerable clout and thus should be held accountable for his theories more sternly.   

I embarked upon reading this book with high expectations. I have seen its name propped up often on the Internet and it gets consistently high reviews everywhere I looked. Thus I was delighted to find it forgotten on a public library shelf and immediately decided to catch up with how the Western World comes to understand the Sunni-Shia conflict through books such as these and whether there are any new things to be learned from them, although I had the feeling it is meant to be consumed by Western laymen and the books I have already read are far superior.

The book is a relief on several parts, it is concise in its treatment and it dispenses with an often annoying trend to de-stress the importance and centrality of sectarian politics in the Middle East. I got some nice pointers about Khomeini, who Nasr understands as a bizarre incursion which introduced militant fundamentalism to the Shia faith; a complicated leader on whom my knowledge definitely needs more.

But this is where Revival was a major disappointment. While Nasr attempts to be true to the spirit of true academic scholarship, he ultimately fails to cast his depressingly predictable pro-Shia outlook to the Middle East in convincing neutrality. This is easily a biased book, and ultimately a bad one at that. Pains are taken to drive home the point of Sunni massacres and they are depicted in painstaking detail from India to Iraq; whereas Shia-on-Sunni violence are often inflected with such modifiers as “allegedly” in a presentation that assures the reader that they are reactions to a greater injustice, not inherent hostility logically derived from the faith itself.

Ultimately, Nasr’s treatise is weaved to advance the following agenda:

1.      A core problem of The Middle East is to be understood as Sunni hegemony, the Shia community is closer to democracy than bone-headed, fundamentalist and violence-prone Sunnism, which does not know how to deal with problems except through violence which has always worked one way or the other. The emergence of Shia is a good thing. It is particularly good to the civilized Western world.
2.      The anti-Western violent atrocities committed by Shia factions, such as Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, does not negate the fact that true honest-to-`Ali Shias are ultimately good; they are to be blamed on the eccentric Khomeini and his ideology, who for some inexplicable reason messed up the otherwise benign faith. In one statement, Nasr explicitly says Khomeini tried to “sunnify” Shiism, hence explaining the root of all Middle Eastern evil.
In fact:
1.      Through the holy institution of papacy, Shia are far more attached to the idea of dictatorship than Sunnis. (and divine dictatorship at that.)  
2.      The appeal of secularism to Shiism does not indicate belief in modern secular values at all, it is the same reason why Sunnis choose Allawi and the Iraqi Christians collectively praise Saddam Hussein.
3.      Shias are a different religion all right, but they largely subscribe to the same mores of doing business as Sunnis; their relative reluctance to shed blood is largely due to their small numbers, given power they will act in the exact same way as their big bullies. The problem at core is tolerating different people, something we are all a long way from (and the Western world isn’t too special on this one either)

These points will be expanded upon and further detailed in upcoming posts (yes, I will try hard to post more.)  

Of course, these sentiments are only expressed as undercurrents that are very assiduously concealed between layers of solid paragraphs, never being given front and center in the book but their contribution to the direction the book takes is very obvious. Perhaps Nasr did not dare to formulate them as a fully-fledged centerpiece because no matter how you spin it, there’s just no perfect Paradigm of Everything to explain the Middle East for you, these views are challenged when Nasr succumbs to the pressure of being an objective academic and is forced to mention Shia violence against Sunnis in southern Iraq (albeit as an afterthought.)

Amidst all the objective research and facts, which are steered by a respectable showmanship of academic scholarship, this agenda rears its head in wobbly, barely controlled and un-sourced exclamations (such as “the debate about democracy in the Shia communities is greater than anywhere else in the Middle East!” there is also a very emotional kneel-at-Persian-glory paragraph ) which greatly undermined my confidence in the parts of the book which I actually liked: early in the book, Nasr shows allusions (that are backed up by credible scholars and sources) that Shiism has Persian roots, and it should be viewed as a separate religion -two points of view I’ve long debated. On the superficial level of criticism, Nasr’s Persian roots show their influence more than he would have expected; hence this emphasis on Shiism’s Persian roots, my distaste was further enhanced with some questionable use of grammar and inexplicable spelling errors.   

The Shia Revival is a good example of bad scholarship which pretends to cast a more objective view of the Middle East than “a region long viewed through an unfair Sunni prism” but ultimately does nothing to correct that ailment except by adding another misleading view: Shiism as the desperately-needed force of good, all it really does is pretty up the Shia through an academic setting and that is nowhere close to the reality. Other such works by misleading non-neutral academics and politicians of Shia backgrounds (who were all pro-war) such as Kanaan Makiyya and Fouad Ajami. For a better analysis of the same subject you can always read Yitzhak Naqqash’s Reaching for Power: Shia in the Modern Arab World.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Write u SOB

Abbas said...

Why so anonymous?

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

All right Abbas, what's up? Where'd you stash that post you just did?

Bloggingbooks said...

Dear Mr. Abbas Hawazin,

As an employee of Bloggingbooks, I am looking for enthralling, informative and clearly legible blogs, and I discovered yours.

Bloggingbooks publishing house, which is a trademark of the scientific publishing house known as SVH Verlag, is actively looking for new authors.

Would you be interested in publishing your blog posts in book format? I would be pleased to discuss the publication possibilities that are offered by Bloggingbooks.

You will find basic information about Bloggingbooks concept by visiting our homepage: bloggingbooks.net.
Of course, I would be pleased to provide you more information and to answer your queries by e-mail.

contact email: m [dot] gorbulea [at] bloggingbooks [dot] de

Abbas said...

Lynette,

i wrote that thing when I was reading a little novel you probably heard of called American Psycho.

upon re-reading it, I found it very disturbing. Don't worry, I'll continue from where I ended.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

Well, at least you didn't say you were reading "50 Shades of Gray".

Okay, I won't ask for a refund of my comment then. :)

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

P.S.

You need some lighter reading material. Seriously.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

If you want something American try "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry. One of those books I couldn't put down.

Jacob Silverman said...

Wow. Good.
-jack

Anonymous said...

gaming variety makes in vele casino's, en je zou zelfs vinden vele films injecteren van scnes over een spelletje roulette te laten zien van de glitter en glamour van het spelen van dit biz. [url=http://www.tasty-onlinecasino.co.uk/]online casino[/url] online casino In here, no affair what others tells you, There is to anyone outside the Breeding department, to Get it harder for essay-preparation companies to get their workforce on them. http://www.onlinecasinoburger.co.uk/

Anonymous said...

Admiring the time аnԁ effort yοu put into уour blog and detаiled informatiοn yоu offеr.
It's nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same out of date rehashed informatiοn.
Wοnderful read! I've saved your site and I'm adding your RSS feеds to my Google account.



My webpage; payday loans

Anonymous said...


[url=http://ph-pills.com/item/generic_propecia.html]propecia[/url]

Anonymous said...

Sweat equity new construction home loans are managed by specific state applications [url=http://www.oiupaydayloans.co.uk/]payday loans[/url] this site Consequently a debtor gets flexibility from pledging security resistant to the money http://www.qwepaydayloans.co.uk/

Anonymous said...

Can you access a computer from the iPod touch without installing anything onto the computer?
[url=http://b-apuestas-deportowias.com/]b-apuestas-deportowias.com/[/url]

Anonymous said...

If some one needs to be updated with latest technologies afterward he must be pay a visit this web site and be up to date every day.



Feel free to visit my homepage http://canaldemusica.com/read_blog/19568/stuhrling-articles-page-3

Anonymous said...

Hello, I enjoy reading through your article. I wanted to write
a little comment to support you.

Review my homepage relic watches for women

Anonymous said...

The articleice Machines introduces:This article about How To Buy Commercial Ice Machines For Restaurant,With the introduction of cutting edge and innovative technologies, a commercial ice machine is no longer a bulky device producing insanitation, consuming a lot ...

If you need more ice Machines infomation about How To Buy Commercial Ice Machines For Restaurant, Click here to find.

With the introduction of cutting ice Machines edge and innovative technologies, a commercial ice machine is no longer a bulky device producing insanitation, consuming a lot of energy, making noise, and taking a lot of time to make the needed supply of ice. As a result of high end technologies, commercial ice machines are able to achieve “being green” the highest levels of energy and water conservation. Now a commercial ice machine can easily produce from 65 pounds to 2,000 pounds of ice cubes in a day. You can find varied shapes of ice cubes such as dice, half dice, octagon, crushed, nugget, and flake.

Commercial ice machines are the standalone units,ice Machines designed to produce large quantities of ice for various commercial purposes. Once installed, these commercial ice makers are pretty automatic and do not need much attention from you or your staff. These factory-made machines consist of a condensing unit and ice-making section that operates as an integrated unit to make ice, an ice bin or a storage unit to store the created ice and a dispensing unit to dispense the ice out of the machine. Many automatic ice machines use moving water to create an improved quality of ice cubes. They work on the principle of “faster the water moves the better the ice quality becomes”. In this process, the air and un-dissolved solids get washed away. This results in pure and clear ice production.

Large amounts of ice are demanded for various purposes in many ice Machines commercial entities such as Restaurants, Bars, Ice Cream Parlors, Bakeries, Country Clubs and Golf Courses. A commercial ice machine is the perfect choice for such places as the large quantity of ice also needs to be a certain quality as well. Automatic commercial ice machines will make plenty of ice of equal size in a short span of time. All you need to do is just start the machine and set the required functions, and leave the rest up to the machine. You will get good quantity of quality ice in a short amount of time. In addition, many commercial ice machines come with a self cleaning function. This will help maintain the quality and quantity if the produced ice while decreasing the time that you and or your staff must spend with the machine.

Keep in mind that there are two varieties of ice machines: air cooled and waterice Machines cooled. Air cooled ice machines use air to disperse the heat, whereas water cooled ice machine uses water to do the same function. Air cooled ice machines use more energy and also are much noisier than water cooled ice machines. However, they are more affordable than water cooled ice machines.

An assorted collection of wonderful, fast and energy efficient commercial ice makers are readilyice Machines available in the market. Various renowned and reliable manufacturers have come up with their unique range of these amazing machines. Numerous models that create different types and sizes of ice are available in the local and online market. A competitive urge of creating more efficient and cost effective ice machines, has left the customers and consumers with a distinctive variety of these units in which to choose.

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

jobs in pakistan atomic energy commission said...

This is a very informative article. I was looking for these things and here I found it. I am doing a project and this information is very useful to me. I always try to find information and hopefully I found more about what I am looking for.

Robiul Hasan said...

Great article posting. Thanks for sharing. Please keep it up to date.

Packers and Movers in Gurgaon said...

In most cases the premium you pay is 10% of the market value of the goods. You may choose not to ask for coverage for most of the household goods