Ben Jelloun has chosen an Islam of harmony, tolerance, humility, and love of knowledge. Others have chosen a different...



My Islam Explained” might be a more apt title for these gleanings from Islam that have inspired Ben Jelloun (The Blinding Absence of Light, 2002, etc.).

The author’s ambitions here are unpretentious, hoping that his meditation “recalls historical facts, rectifies a few errors, explains a few rituals, defines essential words and concepts, and quashes any excuses for prejudice.” He also expects to “extract the essentials,” which, of course, gets him into more complexity. He purports to be fielding questions from a child, unveiling Islam’s past the better to appreciate its contemporary, and contentious, place on the world stage. He explains Islam’s origin; its precepts of humility, generosity, and dignity; and, most importantly for Ben Jelloun, its hunger for and openness to knowledge. Give him the Golden Age, when Haroun al-Rashid was in his Baghdad palace, Avicenna was recording the progress of medicine, and houses of wisdom were built and filled with translations and original works in Arabic. He acknowledges but downplays the violence inherent in proselytism—“no religion is totally pacifist or totally bent on war”—a ploy that only reveals a thicket of contradictions. If “God promises the martyr paradise” and a martyr is one who dies “to liberate his country from foreign occupation,” that goes a long way toward instigating war-like acts. Ben Jelloun, however, considers al-Qaeda to be “barbarics who have used a religion of peace to make war.” Something doesn’t mesh, but all may depend on the angle of approach. Ben Jelloun prefers to emphasize Islam’s moment as the center of the learned world, when it did its best to spread enlightenment, even if he rather feebly suggest that its decline was the result of madness for power, ignoring the power that made the Golden Age possible.

Ben Jelloun has chosen an Islam of harmony, tolerance, humility, and love of knowledge. Others have chosen a different interpretation. Ben Jelloun’s seems a good one to teach your children.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2002

ISBN: 1-56584-781-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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