Tuesday, April 19th, 2016
Author: John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2016
Reviewed by: Jack Anderson
Practically any educated European from 1480 to 1680 understood that civilization was besieged by a vast and malevolent hidden society of witches literally hell bent on destroying it. “The reality,” says sociologist Rodney Stark, “of these malefactors was beyond question.” Thousands had confessed to their crimes once apprehended. Faced with such a terrifying and indisputable threat, the only “reasonable and decent” thing to do, says Stark, was “stamp it out”–which he notes is tragically just what reasonable and decent people did. Historian Hugh-Trevor Roper observed that the “most ferocious of witch-burning princes, we often find, are also the most cultured patrons of contemporary learning.” Tens of thousands of “witches” were hunted, tried, and killed during this period.
Early in Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism, John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart compare the contemporary struggle against terrorism to medieval witch hunts. While often painted as genocide or gynocide, the extermination of witches was not an act of prejudice or ignorance, but rather the terrible application of reason and capability to a false premise. Mueller and Stewart are not arguing that terrorists don’t exist, rather that we exaggerate their capabilities, and in doing so justify actions and expenses that are out of proportion to the actual threat.
Thursday, March 10th, 2016
Author: Sheri Fink
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group, 2013
Reviewed by: Tammy Chamblee, RN, BSN, MA Homeland Security
Over the period of five days during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, people made choices we might think wouldn’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t be made in twenty-first century, modern America. Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial shows that given the right set of circumstances, the same decisions and consequences could face America again unless we learn necessary lessons and make necessary changes.
Five Day at Memorial details the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 at the Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. It is an expansion of the Pulitzer Prize-winning article that was written by Fink and published in 2009 in The New York Times Magazine and describes the events that occurred at Memorial Medical Center during the five days after the hurricane as thousands of people found themselves trapped at the hospital without power. The system of triage that was put into effect deprioritized the critically ill patients for evacuation. Ultimately, a number of these patients were later euthanized by the nursing and medical staff. These acts occurred just shortly before the hospital was evacuated on the fifth day of the crisis. Fink examines the political and legal ramifications of the decision to euthanize these patients and then the ethical issues that surrounded health care in disaster scenarios.
The book went on to win three awards, one of which was a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Thursday, March 10th, 2016
Authors: Anders Strindberg and Mats Wärn
Published by: Polity Press, 2011
Reviewed by: Randy Brawley
Seeing Islamism Clearly for the First Time
Reading, Islamism: Religion, Radicalization, and Resistance, reminded me of the first time I was fitted for glasses. I knew I wasn’t seeing clearly, but had no idea just how distorted my view of the world was until the optometrist let me see through the proper lens. Similarly, “Islamism,” provides the reader with a new hermeneutic lens with which to understand Islamism. Specifically, Anders Strindberg and Mats Wärn contrast the work of renowned ‘terrorism experts’ who have only looked at Islamism based on the “Etic (the researcher’s perspective),” rather than the “Emic (the research subject’s perspective) …” I acquired a distorted view of Islam from similar ‘experts’ that spoke at a terrorism conference I hosted at the Pentagon almost a decade ago. At that conference, I “learned of the pathology of Islam that leads Muslims to be more violent and prone to terrorism than peace-loving Christians.” Now, after reading Islamism, I see Islamism for what it is. At its most basic, Islamism is the application of a religion’s morals over the particular local conditions. However, Strindberg and Wärn aptly establish that Islamism is much more. For example, Islamism has been a rallying point for post-colonial subjects as they revolt from the violent and corrupt repression of their colonial masters, who have typically been from Western, ‘Christian’ countries. Islamism, provides insight into what Islamism is, what it isn’t, and what might be real vs. mythical threats.
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
Author: Joby Warrick
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015
Reviewed by Jack Sheldon Anderson
Reflecting on the question what is history?–the English historian E.H. Carr wryly argued that to “praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using well-seasoned timber.” In other words, interpretation matters. Interpretation is central to Joby Warrick’s Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, a spellbinding and thoroughly readable account of the origins of the brutal Islamic State. Warrick explains the terrible drama unfolding in the present in light of the scarcely cool facts of terrorism, collapsing regimes, and U.S. invasion only a decade or two old. Here we can paraphrase Carr–to praise Warrick for his accuracy is to miss what he’s accomplishing with a book that makes use of both the tools of the historian and the novelist. Warrick is an able and enthralling guide through recent events, but he is also making a case for what certain facts mean, and it pays to be aware of the effect of his style and selection of detail.