This book, Reconciliation: Isalm, Democracy, and the West, came into my house via my brother — or via his friend Z, rather, who gave the book to my brother in hopes that he might read it. But I yoinked the book from him before such a thing could happen, and so far my brother hasn’t read it, and I have. I grabbed it from him because I’m interested in the Islamic world, and the places women make for themselves in that world (or that they don’t). Bhutto’s book lived up to some of my expectations, and fell short of others.
The manuscript for this book was finished mere days before Bhutto’s assassination, and was published posthumously. It’s a look at Bhutto’s theories about (duh) Islam, democracy, and the Western world, and where she sees conflicts and solutions. A large middle section gives a compact history of democracy in the entire Islamic world, one country at a time. That section was interesting and informative. And her conclusions are stirring:
I appreciate that what I propose — from what the Muslim states must do to what the West must do — is huge and may seem daunting and even impossible. I make these recommendations because the times require something more than business as usual. Much of what is recommended is somewhat out of the box. But staying within the box has brought poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, violence, and dictatorship to far too many Muslims around the world. Staying within the box has set Islam and the West on a dangerous and unnecessary collision course. It is time for new ideas. It is time for creativity. It is time for bold commitment. And it is time for honesty, both among people and between people. That is what I have tried to do in these pages. There has been enough pain. It is time for reconciliation. (pp. 317-8)
I don’t take issue with Benazir Bhutto’s ideas, or not many of them, but I do take issue with her writing and some of her scholarship. She has lots of annoying habits, like quoting paragraphs and phrases with no attribution. They’re hanging quotations, too, just stuck places where they don’t necessarily belong. That irks me; it’s sloppy. I don’t write essays like that.
The other thing is her tone. A lot of the book is fairly neutral in its voice, but there are these huge swathes that are just blah, blah, blah, me, me, me. And I know that it must seem a little ridiculous to say something like that — this is Benazir Bhutto after all, she’s not some schmuck off the street, she was an incredibly important and influential public figure. But I think that we could stand to be told how awesome and amazing and important a little less. Praise is always less credible when it’s coming from the subject of the praise, right? And it’s seriously off-putting sometimes, like when she’s describing how a bunch of volunteers formed human chains to protect her, and died, and now she has to do her job to honour them — but there’s just this little bit of self-satisfaction in it, a bit of underlying “these men and women died for me, because I’m better than you“, and it’s really kind of prideful and icky. I don’t know if I’m reading things that aren’t there, but passages like that gave me serious pause.
Reconciliation is a fascinating book but still a very flawed one. Her analysis is clever, and her ideas are visionary, but her prose is off-putting and her scholarship is questionable. Ultimately, it didn’t hold my attention very well.