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Engaging the Muslim World

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  • Posted July 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Blazing a Path through Mutual Prejudices to Build a Brighter Future Together

    Juan Cole succeeds in his endeavor to shine a penetrating light on some widely misunderstood dimensions of the Islamic world. Mr. Cole would like to reduce what he terms "Islamic Anxiety" that holds sway over the hearts of many Westerners, especially many Americans. That Islamic anxiety derives from the growing dependence of the world on the oil from the Middle East, terrorism, and misunderstood regional powerbrokers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the Islamic world is in the grip of what Mr. Cole dubs "American Anxiety." The U.S. Middle Eastern policy has been suboptimal for a long time due to its over-reliance on some unsavory regimes, some attention-deficit disorder, a strong dose of wishful thinking, and some short-term thinking.

    Mr. Cole comes up with some viable proposals to further strengthen a partnership between North Atlantic and Muslim countries to tackle the most pressing problems. Those problems are the future of energy markets, the neutralization of religious fundamentalists, the stabilization of both Afghanistan and Iraq, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the engagement of Iran. Mr. Cole's viable proposals are for example a grand compromise among the main players in Iraq after the Taif agreement for Lebanon, less money for the "toys" of the Pakistani military in favor of an expansion of the government school system, the development of the civilian infrastructure in Afghanistan, or the delicate balancing of Israeli and Palestinian legitimate interests. Some of Mr. Cole's other proposals are not realistic, i.e., convincing Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal or the swift transition from hydrocarbons to solar energy in the biggest energy-consuming states.

    In conclusion, Mr. Cole proposes that the North Atlantic and Muslim countries work better together to address some of the most pressing issues that the world will continue to face in the coming decades.

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