I always get really excited when I buy a new book. I love the feeling of opening a new book, I love seeing it sitting there on my night-table, waiting for me to open it so it can teach me new things or tell me an exciting story. The three books I just bought promise exactly those things, even though all three of them are non-fiction.
The first is Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight against Imperialism by Cornel West. Although the title itself might not seem that exciting, West always is. Ever since I attended a lecture he gave at the American University in Cairo, I was hooked. He deals with cultural politics in a way that puts everyone on guard, taking our deepest darkest stereotypes and laying them out on the table for everyone to see, forcing us to acknowledge our biases and move past them. I’m interested to hear what he has to say about American democracy.
The second book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein. I decided to get this after hearing Klein speak about the theories presented in her book. Her research is really interesting. She exposes the way world leaders have exploited crises around the world to advance unpopular agendas on societies that are too busy dealing with the aftermath of these crises to notice or resist. She compares this to the use of shock with prisoners quoting CIA manuals that say prisoners must be kept in a constant state of shock so that they are unable to protect their own interests. Her thesis is really quite brilliant in its simplicity, and really hard to argue with. It applies to the American government’s constant search for an enemy to scare its population with (e.g. communism, now Islam), or Egypt’s constant state of socio-economic crisis which renders the population virtually unable to consider political change, and the book gives example after example of how this strategy is used around the world. It’s really not that different from Juvenal’s theory of bread and circuses.
… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties;
for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything,
now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses
The book is huge too, and really impressive it the wealth of statistics it provides. I can only imagine how much time and research she put into it. There aren’t a lot of women at the forefront of political thought, so it’s really refreshing that a book as important as this one is written by a woman.
The third book I bought is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. I was initially drawn by the name and automatically assumed it would be a novel about a Palestinian family or something, and when I saw it was written by a non-Arab I thought, it’s probably about an Arab family that flees to America or something along those lines. But then I read the back and found that it was actually about Hurricane Katrina. I was immediately intrigued because Katrina is such an American story and has became such a big part of American culture that to have an Arab family called Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun at the centre of it seemed almost provocative in a way. My interest peaked even more as I was leafing through the pages and saw “Kathy adjusted her hijab in the mirror…”. I knew from the name Abdulrahman that he was Muslim, but I thought maybe he would be a secular Muslim, and that Kathy might not even be Muslim, either way I expected the family’s Muslim identity to be marginal. But no, not only is Kathy Muslim, but she’s a hijabi too, which means there’s no escaping dealing with Islam in America in this book. Then I found out it’s actually a true story, and I was sold. A true story of a Muslim family rebuilding their community in New Orleans after Katrina…I can’t wait to start reading. I also came across another book by Eggers that sounds incredibly interesting, but I haven’t bought it yet. It’s called What is the What and is also based on a true story.