A literate travelogue through troubled lands where the clash of civilizations is resounding loudly—and ever louder.
British journalist Burke (Al-Qaeda, 2004) logged time in Iraq in the 1990s as a soldier in the cause of Kurdish liberation. The experience gave him a distaste for carrying a gun, but not for traveling through parts of the Muslim world where bullets fly. The often violent travel reports he collects here range from Thailand to Tajikistan to Gaza to Algeria. In the last, he writes, homegrown Islamists recently mounted a failed rebellion. Burke favors the middle ground, and in Algeria, the ordinary people occupying it brushed the fundamentalists and their revolt aside: “It was their eventual disgust for the militants that had ended it.” Just so, Burke, reporting from Iraq, expresses the hope that even though they are hard-pressed on all sides, ordinary Iraqis will find a way to quell extremism and eventually live in peace, even though peace there is quite obviously far away. Burke allows that when the American invasion loomed in 2002, he “felt it was the right war for the wrong reasons, and at totally the wrong time.” Sure that it would reveal truths about modern Islam, however, he packed his notebook and went to Iraq; his accounts from both sides of the battle lines are the best parts here. The U.S. Marines he depicts are as much scared kids as stone killers, while the Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire serve to support his view that there are many kinds of Islam, few capable of being distilled in black-and-white terms. Says one old man at the Battle of Najaf, for instance, when instructed that the Jews are the enemy: “There aren’t any Jews here and anyway a good, honest Jew is better than a bad Muslim.”
A book of journeys at once personal and universal.