A good-news book, based on serious research, about how traditionally hostile groups can overcome differences to live in harmony.
Meyer and Brysac, a married couple, have written previous books together (Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East, 2008, etc.) and separately. By examining “neglected oases of civility,” they break from the conventional wisdom that ethnic and religious strife are inevitable when perceived enemies share geographic space. These oases include Flensburg, a northern German city emerging from the Schleswig-Holstein region, the longtime border area contested by the warriors of Denmark; the Republic of Tatarstan in the former Soviet Union, where the Muslim majority and the substantial Orthodox Christian minority coexist peacefully; Marseille, France, where a population that is about one-quarter Muslim, an unusually high percentage for a European nation, mingles successfully with sizable Orthodox Christian and Jewish populations; the state of Kerala in India, a densely populated entity bordering the Arabian Sea, where Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities have practiced mutual respect; and Queens, N.Y., where more than 2 million residents speak 138 languages. The authors' on-the-ground reporting is impressive, especially given the built-in language barriers. Near the end of the book, Meyer and Brysac share 11 guidelines "promoting civility in diverse societies,” which include public grappling by government and private authorities with stereotypes of unpopular minorities; free reign of minority languages within the larger society; constructing housing to integrate diverse populations rather than segregate them; developing public libraries as community centers to overcome language and other cultural differences; empowering women as well as men; and harnessing popular culture to cross societal barriers.
A skillful rendering of an inspiring message.