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Veteran journalist Irfan Husain provides a comprehensive look at attitudes in Pakistan and the rest of the Muslim world toward the U.S. and the West, presenting a clear narrative of vastly conflicting interests and perceptions.
WASHINGTON, DC — Aren’t Americans the good guys? Don’t they come to the aid of the poor and dislocated whenever there is a disaster in any part of the world? Americans, after all, saved millions of Muslims from slaughter in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s. It was Americans who rushed massive medical and financial aid to Pakistan in the wake of 2004’s devastating earthquake. And wasn’t it the United States who provided food and shelter to the millions of Muslims displaced when the Taliban took over Pakistan’s Swat Valley?
But, as veteran journalist Irfan Husain points out in his important new book, Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West (Arc Manor, paper, $19.95), there are two sides to every story. And whether or not you agree with the grievances of terrorists nursing fifteen-hundred year-old grudges, it’s always a good idea to know what someone who hates you is thinking. Because, as Husain so clearly points out, even though only the tiniest minority of Muslims may be terrorists, they have the hearts and minds of over a billion Muslims around the world who feel that Americans are decidedly not the “good guys” we see ourselves to be.
Husain, a Pakistani journalist who has worked for the Pakistani government and has cultivated extensive ties to Muslims around the world and Western journalists and academicians alike, is, in many ways, the perfect author to help bridge the gap and help us “understand” the other side. It’s not an easy task. But like some sort of international marriage counselor, Husain works hard—and for open-minded readers, is successful—to explain how we’re seen by the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims.
Husain offers a clear and compelling narrative that sheds much needed light on the vastly divergent interests and perceptions of Muslims and Westerners. And while the book looks at America specifically through the eyes of Pakistan, a country we have had a long and conflicted relationship with since its founding in 1947, Husain’s connections and experience as a lecturer, teacher, and diplomat, allow him to expand his explanation of Muslim grievances that transcend the different nationalist issues and concerns of the world’s Muslim countries. This is “a vivid, deeply moving and at the same time amusing portrayal of Pakistan, Pakistanis and their love-hate relationship with the United States and the West,” says Ahmed Rashid, the best-selling author of Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia, and Taliban: The Power of Militant Islam in Afghanistan and Beyond. He calls it “an important book at the riskiest of times when Americans and Pakistanis—two peoples who have held close for more than sixty years—see their relationship in peril. Hussain’s writing is a breath of fresh air amongst all the policy wonks trying to make sense of what is going on.”
What exactly is going on? Husain’s analysis suggests that today’s chasm between Muslims and the West is a modern-day continuation of a clash between faiths going on since at least the time of the Crusades, if not before. Events such as the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq that the West views in terms of sheer national interests are experienced by Muslims as assaults on all of Islam—an extension of the West’s ongoing struggle to prevent Islam from regaining the power and prestige it once enjoyed from Spain to Indonesia. Add America’s support for Israel and what Muslims view as U.S. hypocrisy vis-à-vis justice and democracy, and you have a rather potent recipe for grievance and the need to redress it. Husain presents an eye-opening explanation of the how history—past and recent— causes Muslims and Westerners to view events so very diametrically differently.
Will we ever be able to enjoy a meeting of the minds of Muslims and “infidels”? Not unless we can begin to understand how each sees the world. “Husain has been on both sides of the line,” says Stephen P. Cohen in his foreword. “He has been a civil servant and worked for several governments, but this book represents his unofficial side—as a long-standing contributor to Pakistan’s leading newspapers and magazines and as an acute but acerbic critic of the follies of several governments and other key players in the Pakistani drama. You can agree or disagree, but he has always been worth reading, for he represents the positive and creative side of Pakistan.”
Are you ready to hear why people hate Americans? Fatal Faultlines is a good place to start for gaining a foothold on what Muslims think, and why intelligent, educated people would hand out candy in the street at the news of the destruction of the World Trade Center.
“An important book at the riskiest of times…Husain’s writing is a breath of fresh air.” —Ahmed Rashid, New York Times bestselling author of Taliban.
Irfan Husain is an international journalist with more than thirty years experience. He has also worked for the Pakistani government, including as a diplomat at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C.
Having spent more than a quarter of a century talking to and reporting on people all across the Muslim world, he has interviewed political leaders, religious fundamentalists and ordinary citizens just struggling to survive.
Husain straddles the two worlds, commuting between England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with family ties in the United States, England (his wife is English), and Pakistan. This has given him a unique perspective on many of the major issues facing us today.