Review: Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott by Michael Bar-Zohar, PhD.

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Michael Bar-Zohar’s “Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” garnered an easy five-star rating from me. This book had it all: history, smut, politics, international intrigue, foreign policy, terrorism, psychological warfare, a touch of romance and so much more–all interwoven expertly–something difficult to accomplish given the amount and range of content covered by the author. The story began as a biography of Jean Frydman, a French immigrant from Poland who became a leader of the Nazi Resistance in WWII’s, Holocaust-driven Vichy France. He eventually worked his way up into the position of a vested partner for L’Oreal…only to be covertly fired by historical Nazis with the goal of illegally complying with the Arab boycott.

Dr. Bar-Zohar explained that the Arab boycott was designed to destroy Israel via the prevention of commerce with any organization(s) that had ties to it. This effected L’Oreal when it purchased another company that had previously built one factory in Israel as well as another entity that had a subsidiary or secondary brand’s facility there, too; and, L’Oreal partner Jean Frydman maintained a dual citizenship status in France and Israel.

When the Arab League “demanded a list of all affiliates” (pg. 8), the reader began to learn about how the League’s political system interfaced with L’Oreal. This boycott had the potential to financially damage additional corporations outside of the beauty industry and those which a person would not have typically associated with L’Oreal at the time: Nestle, Baxter International, Panavision and others. A progressive reveal of the vastness and unexpected international business holdings of L’Oreal took place while the author provided a simultaneous education pertaining to L’Oreal’s Nazi era history of three politically and financially powerful people, how they worked to hide anti-Semitic and collaborationist activities and pasts while they gained power, and (ultimately) how they were linked to Jean Frydman’s removal and attempted divestiture.

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” impressed me with how well Michael Bar-Zohar conducted his investigative research and taught the reader about a set of parallel histories and how they intersected. It taught the reader that anti-Semitism never ended and that, surprisingly, it existed even within the Jewish community. This story made me want to read books about Vichy France as well as more texts about the Helena Rubinstein empire. The author’s writing style made me wish I could read the book at a much faster pace. It was so well written! My desire to read more pieces by this author led me to add a few more of his books to my reading list; in doing so, I learned that Michael Bar-Zohar also authored books under the pseudonym “Michael Barak.” I highly recommend this book and suggest that readers consider his other investigative pieces.

Review: The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

cvr_the-oil-kings-how-the-u-s-iran-and-saudi-arabia-changed-the-balance-of-power-in-the-middle-east-by-andrew-scott-cooperThe Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East by Andrew Scott Cooper

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Copy

REVIEW: This is the second piece I have read by Andrew Scott Cooper, with the first one being “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.” I purchased “The Oil Kings” as part of an extensive book haul in late 2015, and this piece sat in rotating loads of books from my local library system and other occasional ARCs that always, immediately, went to the top of my “To Read” stack. Had I known then what great work this book contained, I would have read it much sooner! How could I ever have delayed reading about the importance Middle East oil prices with their crude mix of politics!

The Oil Kings” revealed some jaw-dropping, pertinent micro-histories:
*“Asking the National Security Adviser to rig a defense contract” (71).
*Gilda (“the most dangerous of the Shah’s paramours” (100)).
*Corporate empire fixing.
*Money laundering from Iran, via Mexico, to support Nixon’s campaign/Watergate.
*Iran’s supply of fighter jets to South Vietnam during the war.
*Instability of worldwide economic systems.
*Scathing, SAVAK-caused “Charles Jourdan Incident.”
*Kissinger’s ambitions gone too far.
*Follow the oil; it shifts the power.
*Algiers Accords: a deadly domino effect.

My jaw dropped when I read about how “1975 Algiers Agreement” (246) shifted the balance of power in the Middle East: it betrayed the Kurds, empowered and emboldened Iraq, and weakened both Iran and the United States…immediately. Secondary consequences occurred in countries outside of the region as well. This book significantly underscored the entanglement, or interdependence, of every country with another, regardless of its location on this planet. There was no where to hide from the economic fall-out.

The Shah attempted to hide his cancer diagnosis to prevent political fall-out; I had read details surrounding its secrecy several times throughout the years. Cooper included new information and wrote about it with an unforgettable analogy: “In the spring of 1974, Iran’s supreme leader and his closest aide had both contracted incurable cancers. Shakespeare could not have imagined a more exquisite tragedy of state: unbeknownst to each other, the empire’s two most experienced helmsman were mortally ill. It brought to mind another empire whose fated Romanov dynasty and the deadly hemophilia suffered by Czarevitch Alexei, son and heir of Czar Nicholas II” (167).

While the Shah’s illness progressed, his country became more politically isolated…though one did not directly create the other; the possibility existed that the ruler’s behavior drastically changed as a result of his terminal diagnosis. By “December of 1974…it should have been abundantly clear that the Shah was pulling away from Washington to pursue a foreign policy based on independent nationalism, as Ardeshir Zahedi had been advocating since the late 1960s. Years earlier the CIA had warned that as the Shah became more assertive the chances would increase that Iranian foreign policy goals would diverge from those of the United States. Whereas Saudi Arabia was making inroads in Washington, Iran was increasingly identified as a source of tension and instability” (228). The American intelligence failure pertaining to knowledge surrounding the Shah’s lymphoma diagnosis allowed for the following situations: “…no policy adjustments made, no contingency plans drawn up, no legwork asked of the intelligence community. The transfer of high-tech weaponry to Iran did not slacken. The negotiations to sell Iran nuclear power technology remained on track. No steps were taken to reduce the number of expatriate personnel. In short, the United States continued its march to folly in Iran” (280).

This folly included targeted assassinations and generalized attacks on Americans in Iran. The warning signs and predictions were in place and well-known…but they were ignored. Everything led up to the Islamic Revolution, where this book tastefully ends but includes a follow-up to what happened to some of its key players. “The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East” contained compelling writing, great analogies, and interesting stories with just the right amount of “smut” factor. This piece easily earned its place on my “Favorites” shelf.

Review: A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It

cvr_a-thousand-hills_rwandas-rebirth-and-the-man-who-dreamed-it-by-stephen-kinzerA Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

RELATED MOVIE(S): Hotel Rwanda (2004)

REVIEW: The central figure in Rwanda’s rebirth, Paul Kagame, emerged during the first decade of the twenty-first century as one of the most intriguing figures in Africa (pg. 3). “He preaches a doctrine of security, guided reconciliation, honest governance, and, above all, self-reliance” (pg. 3). Three distinct parts comprise Stephen Kinzer’s book, “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It:” colonial rule, genocide, and reconciliation. Rwanda’s current status rests in that of reconciliation. The genocides have been dated as far back as 1959, and colonial rule has been officially established as early as 1884. This time-frame may be equated with the creation of the foundation for this country’s genocide.

The “Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 had awarded Germany control over the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, which today forms the ‘twin’ nations of Rwanda and Burundi” (pg. 24). During World War I, Germany lost Rwanda to Belgium. Belgians took over and created an official, twisted classification system of segmenting Rwandans already existing tribes (Tutsi, Hutu and a minute group of Twa) into racism-based categories.

Laws passed that required Rwandans to always carry their race identification cards. Belgians placed Tutsi into power positions and the Hutu majority into, essentially, servitude and poverty. As the world social climate changed, Belgian alignment with the non-majority Tutsi did not bode well with outsiders. Belgium reduced its presence in Rwanda, placed the majority Hutu in power, and broke its alliance with the Tutsi. The Hutu utilized this situation as a time for payback; and, “the racial designation on the cards, called ubokwo, would later consign hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to death” (pg. 26).

As a child, Paul Kagame’s life was spared due to royal interference at just the right time; ultimately his family had to flee to Uganda to preserve its safety. Paul developed a close relationship with Fred Rwigyema while in a Ugandan refugee camp. At one point, Fred had disappeared to conduct a string of rebel activity for the sole purpose of overthrowing Uganda’s Idi Amin. Once this action was completed, Fred returned, reunited with Paul and shared the rebel knowledge with Rwandan exiles. This knowledge helped them envision an independent Rwanda; thus the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed.

“Most RPF leaders…grew up in Uganda, spoke English, and felt no connection to France” (pg. 95); this was opposite of Rwanda’s Hutu regime. Kinzer described how the RPF gained strength and credibility over time and that Uganda supported this group as allies. Prior to the mass genocide of 1994, Kagame negotiated a “Demilitarized Zone” created by the Arusha accords; they also mandated withdrawals of French troops coupled with United Nations neutrality, the latter two points were ones of consternation for the RPF leader. Regardless of the accords, plans continued to develop under Hutu extremists for increased killing of Tutsi. The Hutu hardliners began developing militias and a vocabulary to start carrying out the genocides; “death squads in Kigali could slaughter one thousand people in twenty minutes, kill Belgian peacekeepers (so the rest would withdrawal)…” (pg. 125). One could assert that they created a genocidal culture; it was supported by France and other countries, including the Middle East. The United Nations had no idea as to the haste and extent of the genocidal campaign. Regardless, UN troops withdrew “except for 270 whose main job was to watch the slaughter” (pg. 156).

Stephen Kinzer was thorough in interviewing an array of people familiar with the holocaust and having them define what reconciliation meant to them. It proved to be a word with much more meaning than that found in the dictionary. The word evoked an expectation of all Rwandans and perhaps the outside world as well. The author delivered well on his promise. He provided an in-depth set of lessons all rolled up into a neat package. He took readers on a visitor’s tour in between interviews and casual conversations. Quotes were well-utilized and did not detract from the intensity of neither the story of Rwanda nor the accomplishments of Paul Kagame. “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It” encompassed all of this and so much more…easily earning it a well-deserved five-star rating and a place on my “Favorites” list.

Review: Infidel

“There are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.”― Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel

cvr_infidel-by-ayaan-hirsi-aliInfidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Ayaan Hirsi Ali did it again–she easily pulled a five-star rating out of me for a second time. I had inadvertently read “Nomad” before “Infidel” because I did not have knowledge of this book as being her first one.

Once I started reading, “Infidel,” I was hoping that she would not simply re-state everything I had already read in the other text. She did not. In fact, while the author’s voice was consistent in both pieces of literature, the reader was educated with a series of micro-histories that could not be disregarded, neither in the character development of this fine woman nor in the culmination of Muslim Fundamentalist religious ferver on a worldwide scale.

Ayaan wanted to “…be judged on the validity of (her) arguments, not as a victim.” This stance seemed to exist as a delicately crafted undercurrent of her stories while she continued to educate the reader about her life and that of so many innocent people around the world. When she asserted that “My combat was legitimate,” it was Hirsi Ali’s way of wrapping up all of the facts into a neat package and making it clear to the reader that he/she was in survival mode with the author as well.

The only difficulty I face in writing this review is that anything submitted cannot do this author’s fine work the justice that it deserves. I find myself in awe of her life experience and how she has chosen to manifest them into an incredibly educated, passionate and compassionate existence.

In closing, I cannot wait to get my hands on her next book, “The Caged Virgin,” and continue along the path of this educational journey and heightened sense of awareness that she has created.

Review: Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations

cvr_nomad-from-islam-to-america-a-personal-journey-through-the-clash-of-civilizations Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW:Nomad” exists as one of the best books I have ever read. Ayaan Hirsi Ali presented herself as an incredible, multi-faceted, dynamic human being, and her book did not waste a single word in its effort to directly and thoughtfully convey her Somali clan culture, Muslim history, and personal growth that paved the way to an atheistic position.

She clearly defined how the Muslim religion manifested itself in numerous familial generations and those around her. This belief system was stagnant, fanatical, illogical, sexist, and radical; this perspective did not change in the hearts and minds of her loved ones as they moved to different countries and modernity infringed upon the clan. Hirsi Ali did a phenomenal job of demarcating when the Muslim “Call to Prayer” migrated from a poetic one to a song that sounded like a call to arms.

This woman had every right to be angry and bitter; yet, if anything, she demonstrated an endless capacity for compassion toward just about everyone. She clearly understood the clash of cultures dynamic and thoroughly explained why it was important to motivate people to enjoy their heritage but thoroughly integrate into their new country(ies).

Ayaan Hirsi (Magan) Ali seemed to want her book to serve as a wake-up call to the reader(s). It could not, nor should not, be ignored. “Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations” proved to be an excellent, educational read!

Review: A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State

cvr_a-road-unforeseen_women-fight-the-islamic-stateA Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State, by Meredith Tax

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: “The year 1989 is notable for a great worldwide upsurge of fundamentalism” (25). “A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State,” by Meredith Tax, details an internationally-political and economically-driven set of events, that have culminated in a religious, cultural, gender-based situation allowing for the formation of “the patriarchal belt” (24). Activities increased for the following reasons, according to the author: “removal of Soviet state control, causing of nationalist and religious identity movements; and, globalization with its capitalist forms of organization and notions of individual liberty–wrongly defined as Western–penetrated to the most remote areas, bringing their values and media to threaten traditional male elites, who reacted violently” (25). Factors that contributed since that time involved “destabilization of the region, seductions of Western media and the freedom offered by the Internet, and success of the global woman’s movement. Its legal achievements peaked at UN conferences in the early nineties, setting off alarm bells and traditionalist enclaves from the Vatican to Saudi Arabia” (25-26).

The alarm bells rang decades after a seemingly infinite series of events sparked when the Sykes-Picot Treaty and other pacts carved up Kurdistan amongst the winning, dominant world powers. This book detailed Kurdistan’s history and the United States’ rush to fill a gap as soon as the Cold War ended…selectively continuing to fight communism by aligning with Turkey, utilizing Israel as America’s proxy and conveniently finding the PKK/Kurds as being equal to the same communists previously fought, while ignoring differentiating aspects.

Meredith Tax adeptly presented, and compelling supported, her positions in what I viewed as the following themes:
*Revolutionary Strategies: ISIS, ISIL, Daesh
*Ethnic Identity and Genocide
*Tribalism and Sultanism
*Totalitarian Theocracy
*Globalization
*Oil Politics
*UN Sanctions: Challenges and Manipulations
*Systemic Violence and Homicides Against Women
*Hyperbolic Focus on Female Virginity
*Conflict Zone Governments: Big Government vs Local Councils vs Small Communes
*Jihadist Heavenly Rewards Program: A Sliding Scale
*Manipulation of Western Audiences
*Democratization of Iraq: A New Radical-Islamic, Anti-Female State
*Recruitment Efforts and Profiling

The reader must wonder if the aforementioned themes developed because the Kurds lived in an area resting on oil. “Iraqi Kurdistan has huge oil and gas reserves, as many as 55 billion barrels of oil, a quarter of the reserves in the whole country. Thirty-nine different oil companies from nineteen countries moved in” (98). It looked like a power-grab, regardless of the multi-faceted costs to the tribes and overall states; and, without regard to its ripple effect worldwide.

A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State,” by Meredith Tax, revealed itself to be a surprisingly-thorough, well-organized and compelling read. It should be recognized as a primer on Kurdistan and Daesh, while highlighting the challenges and accomplishments of a unique group of females that continued to fight against an internationally-misunderstood conflict with escalating, global implications. The book’s “Glossary of Organizational Names” (13), map, and photos greatly contributed to ease of reading and understanding of its contents, easily garnering the compendium a five-star rating and a spot on my “Favorites” list.