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Books this Season: Politics

Winter 2004/2005

Fiction / Arabic Literature / Memoirs and Biographies / Politics / Nonfiction

In "Chinas Rebellen" ("Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing"), Ian Buruma tells of exiled Chinese dissidents in the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. On his travels, Buruma met the legendary Wei Jingshen, student leaders from the Tien An Men protests in 1989, labour organisers in the Shenzhen free trade zone, underground Christians in provincial backwaters ("Jesus was a democrat") and opposition politicians in Hong Kong and Singapore. Courageous, intelligent if not brilliant people, they have paid a high price for their courage. Their problem is that they are often hopelessly at loggerheads and overly suspicious of one another. Admitting he sometimes wished they would all go to the devil, Buruma shows a healthy scepticism for the achievements of the "children of the dragon". Die Zeit and Der Spiegel praise the book, while the FAZ regrets a lack of understanding for China's cultural specificity.

Seymour Hersh's
"Die Befehlskette" ("Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib") receives almost reverential reviews in the German Feuilletons. Hersh collects and expands on the pieces he wrote on Abu Ghraib for the New Yorker, showing in detail how the liberty to mete out torture was granted by the senior level in Washington. The FR has nothing but admiration for Hersh's exhaustive research and serious use of sources, while Ulrich Greiner in Die Zeit calls "Chain of Command" the best book available on life behind the scenes in the Bush administration. The texts are thoroughly researched, and rechecked in detail by the New Yorker's editors. Greiner is astounded by the extent to which Hersh has access to information and appraisals from within the White House. Hersch shows in harrowing detail how the "carte blanche" for torture in Abu Ghraib came from on high.

Things take a theoretical turn with Francis Fukuyama's "Staaten bauen" ("State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century"). In the Taz, Warnfried Dettling calls the book a "political event of the first order". For Fukuyama, building strong states is the most important political challenge of the 21st century. But these states can't be allowed to get fat. Social expenditures must be cut back, and administrations streamlined. Educational systems must be made more effective, and judiciaries more reliable. In Die Zeit, Herfried Münkler links the boom in interest in the state as institution to widespread fears of international terror and the prevailing will to overcome chaos and adversity.

America's number two conservative thinker also draws much acclaim. In "Who Are We" ("Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity"), Samuel Huntington inquires into the American identity, concluding that the protestant, Anglo-Saxon roots of the United States are threatened by America's growing Hispanic population. The FAZ writes that despite a somewhat bullheaded approach, Huntington is addressing an important set of questions with the book. Claus Leggewie in Die Zeit decries the work as an anti-immigration manifesto, but aggrees with the FAZ that the problems Huntington deals with are very real.

Among the non-American political works to receive positive reviews in the German press is Gilles Kepel's "Die neuen Kreuzzüge" ("The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West"). Across the board, critics commend Kepel's profound knowledge of Islamic culture. While Alexandra Senfft in the SZ finds Kepel's theses on the emergence of Islamic terrorism not entirely new, she nevertheless praises his mastery at compressing considerable detail into a readable account. Among the many causes that led militant Islamism to become an "integral component of the West", Kepel has isolated "American neoconservatives, pro-occupation Israeli politicians, reactionary Arab leaders and international networks of militant Islamists." All of them are linked in a "baneful cooperation", to which the Americans, of all people, seek to turn a blind eye. Rather than accepting the unpleasant fact that responsibility for terror cells like al-Qaida can be traced back to Cold War policies, America continues to wage war against its own creation, and thereby worsens the situation. For the author, the solution lies in the modernisation of Islam, for example by integrating modern Muslims in Western democracies. A good-minded thought, but as Senfft comments, an end to the terror threat does not seem to be in the cards for the foreseeable future.

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