Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West (Review)

August 6, 2011

Book cover for "Reconciliation" by Benazir Bhutto.Title: Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West

Author: Benazir Bhutto

Narrator: Rita Wolf

Publication Year: 2008

Pages: 352 (audio length: 12 hours 34 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Review copy from the publisher

From the cover:

Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007, after eight years of exile, hopeful that she could be a catalyst for change. Upon a tumultuous reception, she survived a suicide-bomb attack that killed nearly two hundred of her countrymen. But she continued to forge ahead, with more courage and conviction than ever, since she knew that time was running out — for the future of her nation, and for her life.

In Reconciliation, Bhutto recounts in gripping detail her final months in Pakistan and offers a bold new agenda for how to stem the tide of Islamic radicalism and to rediscover the values of tolerance and justice that lie at the heart of her religion. With extremist Islam on the rise throughout the world, the peaceful, pluralistic message of Islam has been exploited and manipulated by fanatics. Bhutto persuasively argues that America and Britain are fueling this turn toward radicalization by supporting groups that serve only short-term interests. She believed that by enabling dictators, the West was actually contributing to the frustration and extremism that lead to terrorism. With her experience governing Pakistan and living and studying in the West, Benazir Bhutto was versed in the complexities of the conflict from both sides. She was a renaissance woman who offered a way out.

In this riveting and deeply insightful book, Bhutto explores the complicated history between the Middle East and the West. She traces the roots of international terrorism across the world, including American support for Pakistani general Zia-ul-Haq, who destroyed political parties, eliminated an independent judiciary, marginalized NGOs, suspended the protection of human rights, and aligned Pakistani intelligence agencies with the most radical elements of the Afghan mujahideen. She speaks out not just to the West, but to the Muslims across the globe who are at a crossroads between the past and the future, between education and ignorance, between peace and terrorism, and between dictatorship and democracy. Democracy and Islam are not incompatible, and the clash between Islam and the West is not inevitable. Bhutto presents an image of modern Islam that defies the negative caricatures often seen in the West. After reading this book, it will become even clearer what the world has lost by her assassination.

I wish that I had known more about Benazir Bhutto while she was still alive.

A few years ago, I was driving to my parents’ house for Christmas, with my (then new) boyfriend Zaid sitting beside me. We had just left his neighbourhood when the news came on the radio that Bhutto had been assassinated. I knew vaguely who she was, and I knew that her assassination was a sign that things wouldn’t be progressing as well or as quickly as they had been, but that was about it.

Picking up this book and listening was sort of like being able to listen to Bhutto’s voice from beyond the grave. Reconciliation touches on issues and events that were taking place right up until the month or two before her death. It really was timely and, I think, very necessary for people to be able to really understand what she stood for. Unfortunately, I don’t think that her views are necessarily going to be pursued by the people currently in charge in Pakistan, though I have hope that someone will step up to take her place.

In the meantime, here’s what I think about this book: it was good, but more in a “book about the politics of Pakistan” way than it really was about “Islam, democracy, and the West”. Yes, it touched on all of those things, but it wasn’t quite the pinpoint focus that I had gotten the impression it would be. Amongst the suggestions that Bhutto put forward in this book were quite a few that dealt with the democratization of Islamic states, and most particularly regarding Pakistan. In fact, a lot of the book was really more about Pakistan than anything else – there would be brief mentions of other countries, for example, but by and large she was talking about was has happened specifically in Pakistan and what the world (including the West) can and should do to fix the situation, mostly in Pakistan.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t a good book – in fact, I rather enjoyed it, and think that she made some fabulous points. Rather, it’s just to say that you shouldn’t be mislead by the subtitle.

I would also recommend that you read Reconciliation in print rather than listening to it as an audiobook. The narrator had a clear, soothing voice … but it sounded, at times, as if she was too much into the character of Bhutto and she started coming across as stuck up and as though she was talking down to the reader about her life and achievements. I’m not sure that I would have felt that way if I had been reading the book on paper and not listening to a narrator’s voice.

All in all – read this book if you’re interested in the politics of Pakistan or about Benazir Bhutto’s life. But don’t go for it if you’re looking for a broad survey of the situation between “Islam” and “the West”.

Rating:


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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