On the (book) shelf

Titles available at Books n Beans (Lahore) or through www.vanguardbooks.com

On the (book) shelf

Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State
Olivier Roy
Hurst Publishers (2014)

How has ISIS been able to muster support far beyond its initial constituency in the Arab world and attract tens of thousands of foreign volunteers, including converts to Islam, and seemingly countless supporters online? In this compelling intervention into the debate about ISIS’ origins and future prospects, the renowned French sociologist, Olivier Roy, argues that while terrorism and jihadism are familiar phenomena, the deliberate pursuit of death has produced a new kind of radical violence. In other words, we’re facing not a radicalization of Islam, but the Islamization of radicalism.

Jihad and Death is a concise dissection of the highly sophisticated narrative mobilised by ISIS: the myth of the Caliphate recast into a modern story of heroism and nihilism. According to Roy, this very contemporary aesthetic of violence is less rooted in the history of Islamic thought than it is entrenched in a youth culture that has turned global and violent.

‘Roy’s brisk work is full of imaginative leaps, and that is what gives it value. There has been too much circular writing about the “mind of the terrorist”, too many assumptions about their supposed brainwashing. By examining the significance of death for these jihadists, he can dismantle their manifold confusions,’ said The Times in its review.

Olivier Roy is one of the most distinguished analysts of and commentators on political Islam in the Middle East and Central Asia. The author of several highly acclaimed books, four of which are published by Hurst, he is Professor at the European University Institute in Florence.

Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit, and Fixing Global Finance
Adair Turner
Princeton University Press (2015), Rs3,733

Adair Turner became chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority just as the global financial crisis struck in 2008, and he played a leading role in redesigning global financial regulation. In this eye-opening book, he sets the record straight about what really caused the crisis. It didn’t happen because banks are too big to fail—our addiction to private debt is to blame.

Between Debt and the Devil challenges the belief that we need credit growth to fuel economic growth, and that rising debt is okay as long as inflation remains low. In fact, most credit is not needed for economic growth—but it drives real estate booms and busts and leads to financial crisis and depression. Turner explains why public policy needs to manage the growth and allocation of credit creation, and why debt needs to be taxed as a form of economic pollution. Banks need far more capital, real estate lending must be restricted, and we need to tackle inequality and mitigate the relentless rise of real estate prices. Turner also debunks the big myth about fiat money—the erroneous notion that printing money will lead to harmful inflation. To escape the mess created by past policy errors, we sometimes need to monetize government debt and finance fiscal deficits with central-bank money.

Between Debt and the Devil shows why we need to reject the assumptions that private credit is essential to growth and fiat money is inevitably dangerous. Each has its advantages, and each creates risks that public policy must consciously balance.

“Whether you agree with Turner’s proposal or not, [Between Debt and the Devil] represents an important challenge to economic orthodoxy, which, as he rightly notes, has already failed us once,” writes John Cassidy in a review for The New Yorker.

Adair Turner is chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking and the author of Economics after the Crisis. He lives in London.

Guardians of the Arab State: When Militaries Intervene in Politics, from Iraq to Mauritania
Florence Gaub
C Hurst & Co (2017), Rs4,805

Guardians of the Arab State explains clearly and concisely how and why military organisations become involved in politics across the Middle East and North Africa, identifying four key factors: a high degree of organisational capacity, clear institutional interest, a forgiving population and weak civilian control. Looking at numerous case studies ranging from Mauritania to Iraq, the book finds that these factors are common to all Arab countries to have experienced coups in the last century. It also finds that the opposite is true in cases like Jordan, where strong civilian control and the absence of capacity, interest, or a positive public image made coup attempts futile. Gaub also convincingly argues that the reasons are structural rather than cultural, thereby proving a counter-narrative to conventional explanations which look at Arab coups along religious or historical lines. In essence, the questions addressed herein lead back to issues of weak statehood, legitimacy, and resource constraints — all problems the Arab world has struggled with since independence. Guardians of the Arab State picks up where previous literature on Middle Eastern military forces dropped the debate, and provides an updated and insightful analysis into the soul of Arab armies.

‘A must-read book for all those seeking to understand the critical role of armies in the rise and fall of states in the Arab world and the critical role that they have played historically and since the uprisings of 2011, written by one of the leading experts on the subject,’ writes Paul Salem, Vice President for Policy and Research, the Middle East Institute, Washington DC.

Florence Gaub is a senior analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, where she heads the Middle East programme. Her research focuses on conflict, war and armed forces in the Arab world.

Revolution and Authoritarianism in North Africa
Frédéric Volpi
Hurst Publishers (2014), Rs4,004

This book offers a much-needed corrective to dominant approaches to understanding political causality during episodes of intense social mobilisation in North Africa. Drawing on analyses of routine governance and of ‘revolutionary’ mobilisation in four countries of the Maghreb — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya — before, during and after the 2011 uprisings, Volpi explains the different trajectories of these uprisings by showing how specific acts of protest created new arenas of contention that provided actors with new rationales, practices and, ultimately, identities.

The book illustrates how the dynamics of revolutionary episodes are characterised by the social and political de-institutionalisation of routine mechanisms of (authoritarian) governance. It also details how post-uprising re-institutionalisation and/or conflict are shaped by reconstructed understandings of the uprisings by actors, who are themselves partially the products of these episodes of phenomena.

‘Revolution and Authoritarianism looks beyond the deterministic approaches that have characterised studies of the Arab Spring and offers a much more nuanced set of explanations for the way in which events in North Africa have occurred and developed. Theoretically sophisticated and empirically well grounded, this is a genuine must-read for all those interested in the politics of the Arab Spring,’ writes Francesco Cavatorta, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, in his review.

Frédéric Volpi is Senior Lecturer in International Politics in the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews. He is the author of Political Islam Observed, and has written for the Journal of Democracy, the Middle East Journal, Democratization, and International Studies Review, among others.

The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism
Dean Starkman
Columbia Journalism Review Books (2015)

In this sweeping, incisive post mortem, Dean Starkman exposes the critical shortcomings that softened coverage in the business press during the mortgage era and the years leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. He locates the roots of the problem in the origin of business news as a market messaging service for investors in the early twentieth century. This access-dependent strain of journalism was soon opposed by the grand, sweeping work of the muckrakers. Propelled by the innovations of Bernard Kilgore, the great postwar editor of the Wall Street Journal, these two genres merged when mainstream American news organizations institutionalized muckraking in the 1960s, creating a powerful guardian of the public interest. Yet as the mortgage era dawned, deep cultural and structural shifts?some unavoidable, some self-inflicted?eroded journalism’s appetite for its role as watchdog. The result was a deafening silence about systemic corruption in the financial industry. Tragically, this silence grew only more profound as the mortgage madness reached its terrible apogee from 2004 through 2006.

Starkman frames his analysis in a broad argument about journalism itself, dividing the profession into two competing approaches?access reporting and accountability reporting?which rely on entirely different sources and produce radically different representations of reality. As Starkman explains, access journalism came to dominate business reporting in the 1990s, a process he calls “CNBCization,” and rather than examining risky, even corrupt, corporate behavior, mainstream reporters focused on profiling executives and informing investors. Starkman concludes with a critique of the digital-news ideology and corporate influence, which threaten to further undermine investigative reporting, and he shows how financial coverage, and journalism as a whole, can reclaim its bite.

Dean Starkman previously covered Wall Street for the Los Angeles Times; he left in 2016. His is an award-winning journalist and media critic. Starkman most recently ran the Columbia Journalism Review’s business section, “The Audit,”  and was also an Investigative Fund fellow at the Nation Institute. He has been lead editor of “The Best Business Writing” series. His work has also appeared in the New Republic, the Nation, Mother Jones and Washington Monthly, among other publications. An investigative reporter for more than two decades, Starkman covered white-collar crime and real estate for the Wall Street Journal and helped lead the Providence Journal’s investigative team to a Pulitzer Prize in 1994.