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: Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War

cvr_who-lost-russia-how-the-world-entered-a-new-cold-war-by-peter-conradiWho Lost Russia?  How the World Entered a New Cold War by Peter Conradi

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

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

REVIEW: Have you seen a film called, “The King’s Speech” (starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush)? It delved into how the grandfather of England’s Prince Charles became king while building his nation’s confidence in him via a set of inspirational war-time speeches that reflected that he had overcome a stuttering issue and that the originally-intended king’s abdication would not adversely affect the nation. This film was based upon a book by the same name and was written by co-authored by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (with the latter also serving as author of another book, “Hitler’s Piano Player”).

So, what lead me to read my first Peter Conradi book? At first glance, it was the book’s title, “Who Lost Russia?: How the World Entered a New Cold War.” It was written in large and bright, Russian-red, Cyrillic-like block-style letters.  The cover art intrigued me, so I had to read the work’s synopsis.  The paragraphs included some teasers that dealt with the reality of what happened after former U.S. President Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”  “In reality, Russia emerged from the 1990s battered and humiliated, a latter-day Weimar Germany, its protests ignored as NATO expanded eastwards to take in ex-Soviet republics.  Determined to restore his country’s bruised pride, President Vladimir Putin has overseen rapid economic growth and made incursions into Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, leaving the Western powers at a loss.  Now a cold war threatens to turn hot once again” (back cover).  What a tease for someone, like me, who has an interest in modern Russian history, the aforementioned countries, and the enigmatic Putin–I had to read Conradi’s newest book!

Nobody could have chosen a better writing sample as my introduction to Mr. Conradi’s work. “Who Lost Russia?” did not disappoint!  The story-telling (which included the author being an actor in some parts of the text, too) made the Russian-to-Soviet-to-Russian Federation backgrounds so much more enthralling than any of those found in the average college textbook and many competing works. I greatly enjoyed reading about the Tsars and Lenin, tribalism, ethnic Russians and how they managed their colonies, Russification, unifying propaganda and other themes, with a few of my favorites as follows:

*US permissions and Russian leadership: Who’s your daddy?
*NATO’s changing size: Is bigger always better?.
*Russia’s propaganda portfolio: Serving trolls with a side of catfish.
*Gerasimov:  Just what the doctrine ordered.
*Russia’s former republics:  Relationship status–“Its complicated.”

Peter Conradi demonstrated his ability to take complicated histories and weave them into an easy-to-follow storyline; the enigmatic Vladimir Putin repeatedly became the core of those stories in this up-to-date epic.  When most people heard about “Russia,” didn’t they instantly think about “Putin?” The United States found his rise to Russia’s most coveted leadership position to be a mysterious one. “IF WASHINGTON INITIALLY STRUGGLED TO GET the measure of Putin, it was understandable. His path to the Kremlin had been extraordinary for both its speed and its unexpectedness. At the end of 1991, as the Soviet Union broke up, Putin had been in his native St. Petersburg, where he held a relatively minor post in the Mayor’s office as head of the committee for external relations. It was not until June 1996 that he had come to Moscow to become a deputy chief of the presidential property management department. Yet by July 1998 he was head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the successor services of the KGB. In August 1999 he was named prime minister” (108).

Putin’s ascension to prime minister revealed a great dichotomy when comparing his present life with that of his past one; and, it was something in his childhood that aided me in connecting with this book. Conradi shared the following about Putin’s upbringing: “A flurry of biographies has been written about Putin, starting with is poor upbringing in Leningrad, as his home city was then known. The only child of a stern father, who was the Communist Party representative in a factory making railway carriages, he grew up in a run-down communal apartment in a once-elegant nineteenth-century apartment building in the centre of town. Amusement came from chasing rats around the courtyard. Accounts of his childhood have undoubtedly been coloured by his later career, yet he seems to have been an unremarkable boy and young man, who briefly went off the rails before finding redemption in martial arts” (108).

This story about Putin’s life reminded me of some stories my father (of Russian, English and Austrian descent) shared about his young years. Like Russia’s current prime minister, my father claimed to have had a poor childhood with a stern father; the family supposedly went from riches down to rags when they lost almost everything due to America’s 1929 “Great Depression,” which started a few months after my father’s birth. During my dad’s third year of life, his parents decided to move from Buffalo, New York, to Boyle Heights, CA for new opportunities. The new place boasted a large Russian-Orthodox Jewish community. In fact, in the early 1930s, advertisements labelled Boyle Heights as the largest Orthodox Jewish community west of the Mississippi River. The community seemed close-knit and my father shared some great memories of living there; but, what made me connect most with Putin’s childhood story came from stories of my own father finding dead rats in the streets. He claimed that he used to pick them up by their tails, swing the critters around and throw them at other kids. I remember simultaneously feeling disgusted and also laughing at the idea of my father doing something like that “back in the day.” He called those rats, “Depression Era Toys.” Thankfully he eventually grew out of (or became bored with) those toys, moved out of the neighborhood, and achieved his own successes.

Vladimir Putin moved outward and upward as well; and Peter Conradi expertly explained the reasons why Russia’s current Prime Minister ordered his military into Ukraine.  This specific area became another connection I experienced with the book, because Ukraine was not always “just Ukraine.”

My grandmother and her parents left a city specifically known as “Dolyna,” in order to the United States circa 1903. Their hometown sat within the confines of the province of Galicia, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. This territory later became part of modern day Ukraine; and, it could eventually become part of Russia, again.

Peter Conradi’s approachable writing style took complex histories and converted them into a modern compendium for multiple audiences. I found his book to be a highly recommendable read for every individual who would want to understand personalities of world leaders, complications created by colonization and empire, complexities of geo-politics, and dynamics of international relations (emphasizing those between the United States and Russia). The author made it possible for me to re-connect with my own personal experiences and family history. While the connections I found in this book may be rather unusual, other readers may relate to facets of the book as well, embedding this highly memorable piece of literature within them (and me) for many years to come. In the meantime, as to the question of “Who Lost Russia?” future readers need to read the book and decide for themselves.

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.