Review: Ottoman Age of Exploration

Ottoman Age of Exploration

By Giancarlo Casale.

The Ottomans were very active throughout the Indian Ocean world during the 1500s despite having no access to or knowledge of the area at the beginning of the century.  The author shows their exploration of the Indian Ocean is closely analogous to the activities of the Portuguese in same period. The most remarkable aspect of the story is the way Muslim peoples from East Africa to Sumatra were all prepared to give their loyalty and even their sovereignty to the Osmani Khalifah simply for showing up once with a boat or two on their shores.  Aceh is described mostly just in the context of Ottoman diplomacy. I’d like to read more about the Sultanate of Aceh in that period next.


The Ottoman Age of Exploration Goodreads page.

Review: Going Postal

Going Postal

By Mark Ames

Why do they hate America? Because there is a lot there to hate, says Mark Ames. Going Postal connects a lot of far-flung points to show the creepy similarities that exist between school and workplace rage killings and early American slave rebellions. Among them is that each and every slave rebellion was led by a certifiable crazy person. When the cruelty and hatefulness of American society is invisible, you’d have to be a lunatic to see it. It may be that the rage killers were crazy *and also* that there is something very very ill about American society that they are reacting to, just like old John Brown. Not entirely convincing on every point, but a good read for an emigrant to remind himself why he left.

Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion, from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine

American Nations: Review

american_nationsColin Woodward traces the origins of settlement in the United States to demonstrate that American attitudes, values and politics are highly regional and perpetuate over time. This basis for this is the “Founder’s Effect”, a recognized phenomenon whereby the original settlers of an area have an outsize effect on culture across time. Looking at patterns of immigration and internal movement, Woodward shows the existence of 11 different regional cultural blocks. The unsurprising North vs South is certainly visible, as is the Red State vs Blue State divide of more recent times, but the book’s major revelation is that there exist multiple blocks within those broader divisions that are regional in nature, persist over time, contain their own political and cultural visions and agendas, and are capable of shifting allegiances in pursuit of those goals. It didn’t touch on race specifically or on more fine-grained immigrant contributions but in a way that allowed it to more starkly illustrate the differences among the multitude of white people that whiteness encourages us to gloss over. Regionally based, with different dominant churches, different dialects, different cultural values: It is not much of a stretch to say that America consists of 11 different emerging ethnicities that whiteness and other national myths render invisible.

Knowledge of Self

Invention of the White Race Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) told me where white people come from. We like to think we know who we are, and indeed many things about ourselves we can easily define: male, muslim, American. But I am white and I could not explain to myself what that meant. Any meaning I set was either too narrow, too broad, or defined by negation. The Invention of the White Race, newly republished in 2012, makes plain the nature and origins of whiteness over 2-volumes and 700 pages. Reader, I never read it. But on the internet is a synopsis written by Allen himself that condenses his argument down to a mere 146 paragraphs, and I read that. It was mindblowing. I summarize Allen’s summary:

  1. White People as a term, concept,  or social grouping did not exist in Europe before the 1600s. The English already practiced a system of severe race-based oppression against the Irish, only possible because they were not together a People called White.
  2. Slavery in the 1500s and 1600s was not chattel slavery but various forms of indentured servitude that affected both European- and African-origin peoples.
  3. European and African slaves fraternized extensively in this period, and African freedmen enjoyed social mobility on par with freed Europeans, such as it was.
  4. An armed rebellion of hundreds of European and African slaves and recently freed men burned down Jamestown in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676.
  5. In response to the prospect of unrest and rebellion among lower-class Europeans and Africans, colonial oligarchs enacted, consciously and with malice aforethought, a series of laws aimed at reducing Africans to hereditary slavery and granting immunity from enslavement to all Europeans, henceforth termed White People.
  6. By design, the invention of whiteness also deeply hurt the interests of poor whites by preventing them from making common cause with blacks and by psychologically allying them with their exploitative overlords, a situation that continues unaltered to the present day, cf. the Tea Party.

When the Nation of Islam said white people where created in a lab by evil black scientists, they were half right. White people where created in the American Colonies by evil white lawmakers.   There is so much more detail in Allen’s online summary: check it out if you don’t believe me.

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamed.

Untitled-1Changez’s personal journey of transformation and the conflicts driving it were believable enough I guess, but not particularly dramatic or striking (and lacking almost entirely in fundamentalism). His critique of American society/empire was also fairly tepid. I suppose that’s where the “Reluctant” comes from in the title, but it made the novel somewhat bland, like Confessions of an Economic Hitman Lite. On the other hand, the unusual narrative style worked well and kept me interested in the identity of the American agent till the end. I also liked the nuanced images of Lahore, Pakistani society and Changez’s position in it. So I think I’ll still pick up Moth Smoke or Rising Asia which play to RF’s strengths, taking place entirely in Pakistan and featuring experimental styles of narration.

Goodreads page.

No God But God

No God but God and Reza Aslan is the Author

… and Reza Aslan is the Author.


Tight composition, fast pacing, authoritative tone: it’s no surprise it was a bestseller.  Of politics and history it is a good introduction for the non-muslim.  But if the intent was to present a vision of how muslims should understand their faith under the challenge of modernity, it falls way short.  Even presuming the raft of hostile orientalists he draws from represented the most neutral and authoritative of western scholarship on Islam, the author’s own tone and framing make it needlessly more odious. We are informed the Prophet was “indecisive”, an “empty vessel”, a “hooked nose” Arab, that the Quran *was dictated by* its environment, that the 5 daily prayers are apocryphal, and for that matter the entire hadith corpus should be thrown out the window, etc. I’m not reverse Fox-News-ing him and saying he must be a staunch muslim to write a book on Islam.  I’m just saying this book is speaking to and from a position so far removed from the Islamic scholarly tradition that I can make no use of it.

Universalising Islam in Malaysia

iic1by Hew Wai Weng

in the Malay Mail [Full Text].

“In the past, ethnic Chinese who became Muslims were assumed to lose their Chinese cultural identity and become “Malay”. The recent emergence of Chinese Muslim cultural identities, which combine both Chinese cultural symbols and Islamic messages have challenged this widely held perception that “Chineseness” and Islam are incompatible.”

[Photo: Islamic Information Center, Kuching]