Review: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

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

REVIEW: When undertaking the negotiations of, or simply reading about, the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, everyone becomes aware of how influences within and beyond the borders of the Middle East become a party to the issue. “The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall, investigates the dynamics of these relationships and how they influence outcomes. His thesis establishes the element of force as core to achieving change, regardless of country and/or organization. “Compromise on each side has been driven less by the promise of peace than the aversion of pain…not limited to bloodshed. Economic sanctions, boycotts, threats, unarmed protests, and other forms of confrontation have been just as important in bringing about ideological concessions and territorial withdrawals. “Force” in this broader sense has, sadly, proved the only language “they” understand” (2).

Mr. Thrall explained the suppressive aspect(s) of the Oslo Accords, despite not being viewed that way by international courts because “the agreements” maintained a status quo. He made the reader think differently about the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, Madrid Conference of 1991 and other related conference outcomes. I had viewed them as a tremendous amount of beneficial progress toward peace in the Middle East–especially after reading “The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Solution, 1996-2003,” by Yossi Beilin. At the time of Beilin’s work, great achievements were made; but, in the long-run, it looked like situations eroded. To truly understand the making of each stage of agreements, readers needed more knowledge of the context, language, and time-frame in which the agreements were reached, and Nathan Thrall did an excellent job of covering those details along with some over-arching themes in support of his thesis:

*Intifadas, wars, terrorism, and other aggressions.
*Exporting the Holocaust to the Palestine Mandate.
*Zionism and the diaspora.
*Revisionist history and racism.
*Corruption.
*Frameworks for peace and statehood.
*Foreign powers and positioning.
*Decision making processes: short-term versus long-term reality.
*Periphery Doctrine effectivity.
*Collaborations between Palestinians and Israelis.
*America’s role the in the peace process: mediator or trouble-maker?

The author made it easy to recognize how themes played out repeatedly and ultimately existed as a form of force. He also made the reader ponder intelligent, though likely unpopular and uncomfortable, questions: Would the diaspora have survived without a separate Jewish state? Who truly had the right to promise Palestine to the Jewish people? Did America need to be involved in this peace process? Did the parties squander their opportunities to reach a two-state solution? Did some of the Palestinian leadership carry responsibility for continued nationlessness and some of the harm to their people? Was the author pro-Israel or in favor of the Palestinians? Ultimately, there was no denying that the author did a phenomenal job in supporting his thesis while writing a very interesting, fact-filled, thought-provoking book. Nathan Thrall’s “ The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine ” enveloped a highly-recommendable read that earned a well-deserved five-star rating.

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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.

Book Giveaway (CLOSED): Jihad Academy: The Rise of Islamic State

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Review: Jihad Academy: The Rise of Islamic State

cvr_jihad-academy_the-rise-of-islamic-state-by-nicolas-heninJihad Academy: The Rise of Islamic State, by Nicolas Hénin, Martin Makinson (Translation)

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Book

REVIEW: (Spoiler Alert) I admit it—I judged this book by its cover! Its title “Jihad Academy” in bold, all capital letters piqued my interest. The top section of the front cover read, “A former ISIS hostage and veteran Middle East journalist explores misperceptions of Islamic State and their consequences.” This work’s synopsis compelled me to want to read it, and my local library system did not have it at the time; but, I was hooked, so I purchased it.

Jihad Academy: The Rise of Islamic State,” by Nicolas Hénin (a freelance journalist known for reporting from the Middle East), arrived with great anticipation; so, I immediately studied the back cover and became even more “hooked” by the piece. I moved it closer to the front of my bookcase’s “to read” line. Some statements on the back cover encouraged the heightened reading priority: “He witnessed the events leading to the rise of Islamic State, and in June 2013, he was himself captured by ISIS and spent ten months in captivity with James Foley and others who were beheaded soon after Hénin was released. Those barbarities, and the first strikes against Islamic State, prompted Hénin to present in “Jihad Academy” what he knows IS to be, in contrast to the misperceptions he sees perpetuated on an ongoing basis” (back cover).

My expectations were set (with continued building excitement); then, I began reading and immediately identified an unadvertised misperception. The first page (and sentence) of the “Forward” read as follows: The reader may be surprised not to discover in the following pages the story of my captivity. Of course, I could have written the usual book describing my capture by masked Islamic State militants in a street of Raqqa, Syria, on 22June2013…I could have recounted the boredom, the fear and the suffering during the months I was deprived of my freedom, and finally my release in April 2014, after the negotiation conducted by my government. But the truth of the matter is that during these months…”(vii) and so on. Please allow me to repeat some key words: “IS…misperceptions…surprised not to discover…the story of my captivity” (vii).

It was a surprise to immediately feel a little betrayed and be put into a position to ponder whether or not to continue reading “Jihad Academy”. I opted to read it and found that Hénin, to a certain extent, vindicated himself. He stated “history is cruel; it is more likely to remember the names of the villains than the heroes. Our security fixation has led us to make shameful compromises” (138). The entire book supported those statements and provided solid context, causing the reader to want to learn more about the conflict(s). The author educated the reader as to how Islamic State inadvertently developed as a by-product of the American invasion of Iraq, why our understanding of Islamic State’s organization became flawed, who became ISIS’ direct and indirect supporters, which groups utilized secularism, tribalism and sectarianism, and what needed to be done to increase knowledge of human rights abuses and to get the region stabilized.

While I originally felt a little bit betrayed by the book’s cover and synopsis because I expected to read about Nicolas Hénin’s ordeal as an ISIS hostage as a component of the overall story, the reality was that “Jihad Academy” did reveal some misperception and very important information. While the author intended for those misperceptions be be specific to IS, I found that he revealed more to me about how Syria’s current regime operated counter to what one would think. I appreciated his strong positions against human rights violations combined with his eagerness to increase global awareness of them. The author demonstrated a deep-level, multi-faceted knowledge of the region and the subject matter conflict while communicating in an easy-to-read, conversational manner.

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.