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Book Reviews

DUKAWALLA and other stories

Volume 15, Issue 2 | Published 18/11/2018  

Author: Pheroze Nowrojee

Published by: Manqa Books. Pps.130

ISBN: 978-9966-7360-1-7

Reviewed by: John Sibi-Okumu

 

OVER THE PAST two centuries in the Diaspora, without any worldly success or wealth or influence, with nothing other than their quality of warmth and industry, the millions who took off from the Subcontinent became a gift to the faraway countries that had become their new homes.

That how-to bending, expository first line from Gift Taken Back, an offering in DUKAWALLA and other stories could serve as a suitable summary of the thematic concerns for all but three of the fourteen, separate reads within it. The stories are also an act of memory. In this regard, it is significant to note that, on the Acknowledgements’ page, their author, Pheroze Nowrojee, expresses his indebtedness to ‘….Villoo Nowrojee, who, as before, edited many drafts of these stories into what we remember living.’

A Novel Based on Real Events, 

 

Author: Braz Menezes

Publ: Matata Books, Toronto, 2018,

ISBN-13: 978-1724274847 (USA);

SBN: 978-0-9877963-7-0, Paperback (Canada).

Reviewer: Gerhard A Fuerst

This is the long anticipated sequel to two previous novels by Braz, to complete the trilogy.  It is like a longed-for and missing part of a trip-tic image to complete a painting on one's literary wall. We are being treated to the author's style of taking the reader on another fascinating journey consisting, in fact, of many travels through life in a personal, cultural, historical, and geographic sense.

Lando, who we have had a chance to get to know in considerable detail in the preceding two accounts, has decided to return to London to further his education, and to complete his studies as a future urban planner. He does so with the blessings of his parents, and with a granted scholarship to facilitate the completion of his plans, hopes, and ambitions, and the fulfillment of his dreams.  We are being introduced to his new-found friends, and accompany them on their exciting vacation trips in Europe.

A Simple Man

Volume 15, Issue 2 | Published 18/11/2018  

Author:  Colm Bryce

Publ: Jacana Media

Reviewer: Ronnie Kasrils

 

This is a devastating account of the rise of Jacob Zuma to the presidency of South Africa, despite the obvious evidence of Zuma’s political corruption. More than this, it is a book which is an extended reflection on what has happened to the promise of the African National Congress (ANC) after the fall of apartheid; on how and why so little has changed for the majority of black South Africans and how characters like Zuma have come to dominate.

Kasrils is well placed to write about this. A veteran of Ukumto we Siswe (MK), the ANC’s armed wing, since the early 1960s and a leading member of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Ronnie ended up a minister in the ANC government, eventually becoming Minister for Intelligence.

Kasrils had doubts about Zuma, even in his early years of exile when they were both MK soldiers. The book opens with Kasrils’ recollection of a mission with Zuma during which he overhears Zuma criticise him for ruining the mission. It is something he puts out of his mind, for the sake of party unity and military discipline, a theme Kasrils returns to throughout the book. But it returns to haunt him as Zuma begins his rise to prominence in the ANC.

Zuma established a base for himself as a tribal leader of the Zulu people within the ANC, playing a crucial role in heading off the danger of the Inkatha rebellion against the ANC during the transition years. But it was also a dangerous precedent. As he manoeuvered for power, and battled accusations of corruption, he presented himself as a ’simple man’‘, hiding behind a mask of Zulu tribalism.

Author: Mike Simons

Publ: Haymarket

Reviewer:  Martyn Ives

 

This is a very long overdue book. It reveals a period of the most extraordinary militancy by the largest group of organised workers in Britain, a phenomenon which has largely been ignored. In 1919, as a revolutionary wave swept Europe, mass strikes gripped British coalfields waged against the coal owners, the government and the miners’ own national and regional union officials.

One reason these events have been so undocumented is because it was led by revolutionaries fighting for an alternative road to socialism to the parliamentary path espoused by the relatively new Labour Party. Martyn Ives has done a marvellous job trawling the archives to give us a detailed, clear-sighted and above all, exciting, view of a mass movement based on the organised power of the working class. This book brings the miners’ struggle to life and anyone involved in socialist or trade union struggle today will be able to draw lessons and gain insights from it — not least on the dangers of calling off action for a ’review’ or inquiry when victory is within your grasp.

Revolutionaries writing on 1919 have argued that Britain was on the brink of revolution or that the lack of a ’British Lenin’ or the failure to develop a mass communist party before 1919 was the key factor limiting the outcome of the unrest which swept the country. The detail Ives has unearthed, from union archives, government documents and most importantly amazing local newspaper reports of the time, gives us a much more nuanced picture than was previously available of how the ruling class was able to survive.

While reaffirming the possibility of revolution in Britain, Ives looks at the complex interaction of the political skills of the prime minister Lloyd George, the determination of right wing Labour and trade union leaders to face down the notion of direct action as a mechanism to deliver social change, as well as the limitations of building enduring rank and file organisation in the heat of explosive struggle.

Republic of Islamophobia

Volume 15, Issue 2 | Published 18/11/2018  

Author: Jim Wolfreys

Publ: Hurst

Reviewer: Naima Omar

 

French media and politicians are lining up to attack Maryam Pougetoux, president of the student union at the Sorbonne in Paris after she appeared in a documentary about student protests. Maryam is Muslim, and wears the headscarf. It is a dark tale and one that truly highlights the extent of Islamophobia across the Channel.

Jim Wolfreys’ new book, Republic of Islamophobia, subtitled the rise of respectable racism in France, goes beyond listing Islamophobic events and gets to the roots of anti-Muslim racism in the country. It explains why Islamophobia in France differs from its manifestation in countries across the world, why nasty groups such as the Front National can win millions of votes and how the right’s positions and the high level of racism have shaped the country.

Wolfreys underlines the role of the French government in normalising racism. He points out how the imposition of neoliberalism in French society fell behind other leading, first-world countries, so the government merged neoliberal ideology with conservative and right wing views, resulting in racism becoming a respectable ideology, especially that of Islamophobia.

This mainstreaming of racism reached greater heights after the 2008 financial crisis. Wolfreys uses statistics and examples to clearly show the correlation between the rise of inequality and decrease in living standards on one hand, and the rise of Islamophobia on the other. This was window-dressed as a defence of the republic, secularism (laicite), a fight for women’s liberation and against communitarians, and a campaign against ‘the enemy within’.

Author: Mark Farmer,

Publ: Jacana Media

Reviewer: Dale T McKinley

 

A recent World Bank report, published in March 2018, showed South Africa to be the most unequal society on earth. Seventy five percent of the country’s aggregate wealth is held by the richest tenth of the population, while the poorest half hold a mere 2.5 percent. These 30 million people, in fact, have a total wealth equivalent to the two richest South Africans. The report points out, rightly, that much of this inequality is the responsibility of the racist apartheid regime that ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994. This privileged the minority white population at the expense of the non-white majority and forced people to live, learn and work apart, in areas determined by their ethnicity.

This is not a view disputed by Dale T McKinley in this book. However, he goes on to make two further points. The first is that the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled South Africa since the first free elections in 1994, could have done more to reduce this inequality. The second is that the failure of the ANC in this regard, in alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, is not solely due to the legacy of apartheid. Instead it is in large part down to the decision of successive ANC governments to support South African capitalism and, particularly, to embrace neoliberalism in recent years.

For McKinley, this is not a recent conversion. As early as 1985, leading business figures had sought talks with the ANC leadership in exile. Seeing that the days of the existing order were numbered, they wanted to press their view that ‘we dare not allow the baby of free enterprise to be thrown out with the bathwater of apartheid’. Their audience were generally open to the message then and became more open to it as they assumed control.

Author: Griselda Pollock

Publ: Yale University Press

Reviewer: Jeff Jackson

 

In his monumental work, Weimar in Exile, Jean-Michel Palmier powerfully evokes the huge sense of loss, displacement and trauma that artists, writers and intellectuals faced when they were forced into exile from Nazi Germany as the fascist regime tightened its grip and control of the German state during the 1930s, and then across Europe with the onset of war and occupation.

Both Palmier and Griselda Pollock quite rightly quote Hannah Arendt at length: ‘We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we were of some use in the world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of actions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentrations camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.’

Many who had been ‘someone’ in the exhilarating cultural whirlpool that marked the Weimar years, as the creative forces unleashed by the revolutionary overthrow of the Kaiser came into conflict with those who wished to crush the workers’ movement, now found themselves outsiders and ‘no-bodies’.

Others, still struggling to cope with the harsh realities of exile, used every opportunity they could to raise the threat posed by Nazi Germany, producing works of outstanding beauty and pathos in an attempt to raise the alarm. Most powerful perhaps the poems and plays of Bertolt Brecht or the writings of Walter Benjamin.

Understanding Sharia: Islamic Law in a Globalised World debunks myths. It tells us what sharia is not rather than just what it is. It speaks to Sunni, Shia and non-Muslim audiences as the two South-African born authors begin with the historical journey of Islamic law from its Qur’anic origins through the Islamic golden age to its present-day calls for reform. Raficq S. Abdulla read jurisprudence at Oxford University, is a founder member of the Advisory Panel of the Muslim Law Shariah Council (United Kingdom) and was awarded an MBE in 1999 for his interfaith work.  Mohamed M. Keshavjee, completed his PhD at SOAS with a focus on Islamic Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution and was awarded the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Peace Prize in 2016 for his work on peace and human rights education. In the early chapters, the book takes the reader on a journey from the inception of Islam in the seventh century to the end of the Abbasid era in the thirteenth century. Here the authors point out that the concept of the umma (community of believers) appears to contradict the post-Westphalian notion of nation states. They then explore the wider geographical expansion and cultural accommodation of Islam. Other chapters look at ethics, legal theory, sharia and human rights and criminal justice in Islam.

Although the authors claim that this is not an academic book, as it is easily accessible to read, it is an academic and timely piece of research. The authors offer theological, legal and philosophical reflections which serve to enrich and inform, and the reader is left to decide, based on their own interpretation, as contentious issues such as honour killings, conflicts with Western notions of human rights, and medical ethics, are discussed. Sharia Law, they argue, is a misunderstood concept, ‘The call for a return of sharia is often a formulation that is antithetical to the very principles that motivate people to call for it – woman, children minorities and non-Muslims become the victims of repressive readings of the holy text which, in effect, makes sharia, as thus understood, repressive and abusive.’

The notion of sharia as a call for draconian punishment is quashed by the authors. To Muslims, sharia is regarded as a catalyst for social justice where citizens can hold their governments to account and strive towards the shaping of a just society. The book speaks about ethics, such as caring and compassion as an obligation, not as a right. It also emphasizes the fact that less than 10% of the content of the Qur’an deals with strictly legal matters. Whether by hadith, based on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, a fatwa (a legal opinion handed down by an accredited scholar), or Sunna (an established custom or precedent), sharia has evolved from its origins. Islamic jurisprudence was also heterogeneous as local customs were observed and accommodated, particularly in the area of private law and much of what is considered to be sharia is derived from pre-Islamic pagan practices.