ABC News senior foreign news correspondent Sciutto considers Muslim anger at America and offers muddled reflections.
That the United States suffers from a toxic reputation among many Muslims, especially since the Iraq war and occupation, should surprise no one. The author, who began covering the Middle East only after 9/11, finds that anti-American feeling is disturbingly mainstream and takes the problem personally. Calling it “demoralizing,” Sciutto admits, “the truth is that the hatred insults me. It may be an inherently American quality to believe our own hype, but I do.” Despite this self-limiting premise, the book pursues the roots of the hatred and makes familiar indictments of the Bush administration’s support for dictators, its diplomacy tailored to oil interests and its sanction of torture. Fresh insights and forward-looking prescriptions, however, are in scant supply. Sciutto does successfully explore an essential contradiction: Many Muslims view America as omnipotent, an ideal of sorts, but also as untrustworthy and disappointing, and that paradox breeds conspiracy theories. Looking at post-Iraq war security, reconstruction and political failures, they can’t believe America could be so incompetent, concluding that it’s all intentional. Well-cast thumbnail sketches of a “reformed” Saudi jihadist, an underground Iranian blogger, a disillusioned Iraqi trauma surgeon and an Afghan schoolgirl, among others, effectively humanize the problem. But profiling nine countries, Sciutto seems fully at ease in none. He clings to too few characters and renders their stories too thin. In the chapter on Lebanon, for example, his portrait of a 24-year-old Christian uncharacteristically sympathetic to Hezbollah overwhelms the narrative and gives a distorted picture of the nation’s intricate politics. When Sciutto was the only reporter embedded with U.S. Special Forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a prescient Green Beret predicted, “Today they’re giving us the thumbs-up. Tomorrow they’ll be giving us the finger.” Five years later, this book gives disappointingly short shrift to the events and attitudes that forged the crucible of U.S.-Muslim dissonance.
A missed opportunity.