You think your job is tough, try writing a book that’s relevant and up to date on the Islamic World. For decades the region was criticized as politically and socially stagnant. Yet over the last couple of years we’ve seen a cascade of tumultuous events sweep across that part of the world. From stolen elections in Iran to the uprisings of the Arab Spring, to civil warfare in Syria and Iraq, it’s been a crazy last few years. Heck, only a few months ago none of us had even heard of Boko Haram or ISIS. Nowadays they’re the lead stories on the evening news. My how things have changed.
With that in mind, foreign policy specialist and international journalist Robin Wright chose a thankless job when she decided to write Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World. To produce a book that’s insightful and intelligent enough to fully describe- let alone analyze-the many grassroots developments happening throughout such a diverse and expansive part of the world is a task almost Sisyphean in nature. But with much energy, optimism and a dash or two of honesty, she does a credible job.
I first came across her stuff back in 2010, when during one of my weekend library visits, I discovered a copy of her 2008 book Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East. After enjoying Dreams and Shadows I finally got off my duff three years later and read her 1986 book Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam. (Years ago an old mentor of mine gave me a copy and it had been sitting in my private library ignored and unread.) Therefore, when I found that Wright had written a book about this region I was understandably excited. After letting it sit on my desk for a few days I cracked it open and began reading. I must have liked it because it didn’t take me long to finish it. Just as she did with Dreams and Shadows, Wright did a fine job spending lots of time in the field interviewing the very people who are trying to bring about these sweeping changes. Almost always she let them speak for themselves, which I think is a good thing. She also provides analysis, and considering she’s no stranger to the politics of the area I found her insight valuable. (Unfortunately, the copy I read was an earlier one and therefore missing the updated chapter. Fortunately, what Wright had to say in last chapter of my copy I found very intelligent and honest.) I thought her chapter on art in the Islamic world, especially comedy was bar none my favorite of the book.
When it comes to the future of the Islamic world, Wright is an optimist. She has confidence in those who strive mightily seeking to change things for the better But she’s still a cautious optimist and definitely not a Pollyanna. I don’t think anyone has a magic crystal ball when it comes to predicting what the future holds for that part of the world. But if anyone can help show us where things are going, Robin Wright can.