A useful primer on political fascism, but less impressive as an introduction to Muslim thought.

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Islam: Religion or Fascism?

A contentious debut critique of Islamism.

In his debut book, Foltney makes the argument that Islam isn’t a religion at all, and that it’s better understood as a form of fascism. He discusses the history of fascism, which includes concise but illuminating accounts of Nazi ideology, North Korean Stalinism, Soviet Communism, and Japanese militarism, identifying the key features common to all iterations. One of the principal strengths of this study is the care with which he distinguishes fascism from totalitarianism: the former includes the latter, he says, but also emphasizes pervasive propaganda, a dogmatic monopoly on political orthodoxy, and a toxic combination of faux populism and jingoistic nationalism. He goes on to note that fascism is driven by appeals to alienation and disenfranchisement at the level of race and nationality, rather than economic class, primarily. Foltney assesses some of the failures and triumphs of American strategy in combating Islamist terrorism and says that mainstream media disseminates falsehoods out of deference to “political correctness.” The author details what he sees as the illiberalism of Islamist doctrine and is especially strong when discussing Islamism’s oppression of women and intolerance for dissent. Although Islamism is the central subject of his critique, he provocatively avers that Roman Catholicism during the Middle Ages counts as politically fascistic, too. However, Foltney is less rigorous when discussing the whole of the Muslim faith and the Koran, which he too facilely reduces to political barbarism without offering a deep, searching analysis of primary texts. Also, his interpretation of religion seems more postulated than argued; it’s not entirely clear why tolerant, apolitical Christianity is deemed the model for religion, for example. The author sometimes undermines his otherwise careful analysis with strident, ad hominem rhetoric about “willingly ignorant” people on the left of the American political spectrum. Fascism is a term that’s used too promiscuously in contemporary political debate, typically as an imprecise synonym for authoritarianism; Foltney is to be commended for parsing its meaning. However, his failure to distinguish the Muslim religion from its violently political appropriation, or even seriously entertain the possibility of a distinction between the two, is disappointing.

A useful primer on political fascism, but less impressive as an introduction to Muslim thought. 

Pub Date: April 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5307-4405-3

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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