A timely, important topic, but this weakly supported polemic fails to adequately explain the many pressing problems in...


Perils of Self-Righteousness


Debut author Sein, a Muslim, accuses his fellow Muslims worldwide of corruption, intolerance and cruelty.

“Deeply shaken” by 9/11, Sein, a well-traveled engineer from Pakistan, takes a “critical look” at the Muslim psyche, and from his perspective, the view isn’t pretty. Among the problems in the Muslim world: brutality, corruption, human rights abuses, intolerance and a sense of victimhood. The book traces these supposed universal attributes of Muslims to two main sources: a high self-regard as “God’s pampered followers” and envy of Westerners, “better and smarter than us.” Giving ample evidence of corruption in Muslim countries, ranging from small bribes for cops and petty bureaucrats to rigged elections at government’s highest levels, Sein wonders why suicide bombers don’t target corrupt Muslim officials. Written as short essays in a kind of journal format dating back to 2005, most of Sein’s points develop either anecdotally, based on conversations with friends and acquaintances, or as commentary upon what’s by now become old news. In addition, the anecdotal evidence isn’t well-supported. For instance, the author attributes to “many an elderly person” his claim that Muslim freedom has declined since the end of British rule in Pakistan; off-the-cuff asides—“I don’t know how true this is”; “if I remember correctly”; and “I cannot say with certainty”—won’t inspire confidence. Though Sein shows courage in even attempting this healthy act of self-criticism, especially of a religion whose fundamentalist followers are notoriously intolerant, he paints with too broad a brush. And even if he limited his criticism to fundamentalist factions, it could easily apply to many other religious and nationalist zealots. In fact, he shows a stunning naïveté regarding the reasons for the United States’ foreign adventures, though he does at least concede its failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim nations—though he blames the victims by pinning the continuing turmoil on the invaded rather than the invaders. Like many such works, the book’s long on critique but short on solutions, offering only vague, mysterious nostrums, such as encouraging freedom and opportunity in Muslim countries “through silent and invisible means.”

A timely, important topic, but this weakly supported polemic fails to adequately explain the many pressing problems in Muslim countries or to offer any likely solutions.

Pub Date: March 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456700911

Page Count: 252

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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