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Islam vs. Terrorism, by Firooz Zadah

Review by Martha Quillen

Islam – March 2003 – Colorado Central Magazine

Islam versus Terrorism
by Firooz Zadeh
Published in 2002
By Twin Lakes Publishing
ISBN 0-9674480-1-8

Here’s a novelty, a local, international book. Firooz Zadeh was born in Iran, grew up to be a soccer player, finished his education in the U.S., became a citizen here, taught, and eventually moved to Twin Lakes, Colorado. In Islam versus Terrorism he tries to use his unique perspective to convince readers that America’s current course on terrorism is wrong; war and threats aren’t the answer.

This is an interesting book, with passages that the reader is bound to agree with, disagree with, like, dislike, hate, and debate.

But it definitely could have benefited from some professional editing. Although the book is fairly free of misspellings, the author’s syntax reflects his early years speaking another language, and occasionally it’s a mite confusing. For instance: “Of the types of terrorism I have mentioned, all we hear about or recognize has been the least important in terms of cost to human lives and human property, which is political terrorism instigated by those who want their voices to be heard.”

And the book also has some serious problems with quotations, so sometimes it’s hard to tell whose ideas it’s presenting.

But on the whole Islam versus Terrorism is easily understandable, and also short and easy to read. A good editor, however, might have prodded the writer toward a more professional approach.

Although Zadeh is impassioned, he seems reluctant to be personal, so the book tries to be academic, and thereby includes numerous pages of definitions and lots of impersonal geographic information. And it doesn’t say anything about life in Iran until the very end — even though a little more about life (rather than about different countries’ population, size, and leading imports and exports) would have gone a long way toward humanizing both Zadeh’s book and the faraway land that he’s trying to illuminate.

But on the bright side, Zadeh wholly imparts his passion, anger, and befuddlement at America’s current policies toward his birth place, and the author is obviously very knowledgeable about the Middle East.

At times, however, he unwittingly sabotages his own cause.

Zadeh recounts political and historical information with such blatant bias that every reader who’s kept track of such things is bound to find information to dispute — about British colonialism, or Israeli transgressions, or American attitudes. To make his point, the author relies on highly selective, greatly abbreviated history, and often makes debatable remarks. Most historians, for example, probably wouldn’t cast Britain as quite so pro-Zionist.

BUT THAT’S WHAT MAKES this book fascinating. By turns you’ll probably like it and loathe it, but it sure tends to elicit an emotional response. Thus even if you totally support Zadeh’s view about our president’s war on terrorism, as I do, there are passages here that are likely to irritate you.

When Zadeh talks about Americans not understanding the world of Islam, I suspect that he’s a little more insulting than he intends. And when he tries to explain some of the things that Americans could do to improve our relationships with people in the Middle East, his arguments just may convert “Don’t Bomb Iraq, Impeach Bush” devotees into raging Bushites. For example, when he writes about Clinton’s attempts to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he says that Madeline Albright is an exceptional person, but complains:

“However, knowing the cultural differences, it is difficult to understand why President Clinton decided to send Ms. Albright to mediate in a region which is known as a ‘man’s world’… Ms. Albright in their mind set was not the right person for the position. Consequently, we had three strikes against possible success before the game started: 1) She is woman; 2) She is Jewish; and 3) She did not wear a head covering. I hope that American women will not be offended by these observations.”

And most women probably won’t be seriously offended, but when Zadeh goes on to justify the practice of marrying young daughters to elderly men; and to explain why it may be better to arrange marriages; and to say why it’s all right that parents send their sons and daughters away to be servants — “This practice, thoroughly misunderstood in the West, is no different than putting a child up for adoption in any other country” — it all starts to accumulate and convince the reader that there is something seriously creepy about their society.

The problem, I think, is that Zadeh is trying to justify Middle Eastern practices that many Americans find appalling when he should be showing us that there is more to life in the Middle East than these much-vilified customs. And to make matters worse, he tauntingly points out that at least their kids don’t drop out of school, have sexual diseases, and do drugs.

THUS ZADEH FOCUSES on the litany of foreign customs that Americans find objectionable. But if he really wanted Americans to understand people in the Middle East, he’d expand on what we know about their customs and everyday lives — which he really doesn’t do.

In a recent National Geographic documentary about Iran, film crews captured a bustling city full of vehicles, and exotic billboards and pedestrians; women gossiping; and boys hanging out; shy young girls; a festive wedding party; and all different kinds of people — some urban, some rural, some friendly, some hostile, women cooking, men herding, people praying, and families dining in a restaurant.

This book would have been considerably better if Zadeh had written more about what it was like growing up in Iran and less about how Americans have it all wrong. And far too much of the information in these spare 133 pages can be found in any encyclopedia or almanac. But the book does reflect the author’s passion, nonetheless.

Islam versus Terrorism is alternately maddening and touching; polemical and imploring; irritating and appealing, and readers are likely to refute half of the author’s arguments. But when Zadeh contends that American intervention in Islamic affairs has usually been disastrous — from U.S. support of the Shah of Iran; to the CIA training future Taliban members to fight Soviets; to recent attempts to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians — he is thoroughly convincing.

Although some of Zadeh’s arguments are annoying, by the end of this book, you can’t help but feel for this man who so passionately wants his adopted country to refrain from annihilating his former home.

I suspect that this is the proverbial book that many readers will “love to hate.” Though it’s unpolished, inconsistent, and extraordinarily irritating in places, it gets you thinking, and if you’re anything like me, it will no doubt send you to the library or internet to dispute some of the author’s contentions.

And conspiracy theorists will especially enjoy the end — even though I felt Zedah had veered off on a questionable course.

Thus I highly recommend it, but before you start, get out the encyclopedia and several books on the Middle East and get prepared to argue.

–Martha Quillen