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I BB ow= L AW us, all others are apostates and deserve to die,” he could have been speaking for mega-church pastor John Hagee, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, or George \(“You’re either with us or with the How can we win this cosmic war? In Asian’s view, grievance is the key, both to understanding the mindset of jihadists and to finding ways to end our fight with them. As an Iranian-American born in Tehran, Asian understands and empathizes with both sides of an intractable and destructive argument. He recognizes both the religious and secular motivations behind all the East-West anger. And by dissecting the language of cosmic warfare that has defined this issue for eight years, he is able to shed light on the actual social and political roots of the conflict, bringing some much-needed sanity to a discussion that for years has been bogged down in madness. Shaking free from deluded and stereotypical Western beliefs that Islamic jihadism is born out of willful ignorance in the madrassas of theocratic Middle Eastern nations, he takes us instead to Western Europe, where recruiters for Islamic jihad prey on the fears, anger and sense of displacement of a generation of young firstand second-generation Muslims to populate their army of martyrs. Far from being an offspring of the Dark Ages, as we would like to believe, these Europeans Muslims are children of modernism, multiculturalism, capitalism and globalization, much more like their Christian, Jewish and nonreligious neighbors than the tribal fundamentalists in their ancestral homelands. Recruiters take the personal grievances of these young menthe anger resulting from their experience with racism, poverty, religious intolerance, identity confusion or simple adolescent rageand weave them into a tapestry of global and historical victimhood until their students begin to view their own stories as part of a larger narrative of East against West, of good versus evil. In Al Qaeda recruitment propaganda, there’s a direct connection between economic and social isolation in the suburbs of Paris and oppression in Palestine, the killing of children in Afghanistan, the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo, and the theft of oil by American corporations in Iraq. Grievance is the fuel that powers religious extremism. When accumulated grievances and theological extremism replace humanism and a belief in the value of democracy and religious tolerance you get a world of \(\(negative poles” where brutality against one group leads to brutality against another group by the group once brutalized, where willful misunderstanding and violent disdain become lingua franca and the tragic play of human aggression plays out unceasingly into the futurewhere groups rationalize their cruelty and the cruelty visited upon them through the lens of cosmic contention, sanctioned by and agreeable to God. To demonstrate his point, Aslan takes us through the whole sordid, irony-soaked history of Christian/Islamic/Jewish relations, from the Crusades to the Christian oppression of Jews in nation-state Europe to Zionist oppression of Palestinians in the Holy Land, from the rise of global jihad during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan to the attacks of 9/11, from the streets of Cairo and Tehran to the cells of Abu Ghraib. Grievance piled upon grievance. Negative poles creating new negative poles. An endless cycle of good vs. evil. Sanctified by religion and enacted in the name of God. Cosmic dualisms wreaking nothing but havoc. To Aslan, the worst thing we could have done after the events of 9/11 is the exact thing we did: responding to a call for cosmic war by declaring a cosmic war of our own. Like marks falling for an elaborate con, we were goaded into a war we never should have been fighting. But off we went to fight anyway, with flags waving, country songs in our ears, and hatred for “the other” in our hearts, just like Al Qaeda hoped we would. Asian’s achievement in How to Win a Cosmic War is working his way through all that white noisethrough the apocalyptic religious rhetoric, through the patriotic cant and cliches, through the racism both implied and explicit, through the self-serving theological justifications of the imams, pastors, nationalists and politiciansto get at the underlying economic, social, and political roots of our never-ending war. An academic with the voice of a novelist, he’s able to bring unprejudiced clarity to a seemingly impassable quandary and a sense of optimism to the bleakest of realities. In our cynical age, his educated faith in the possibilities of progress, humanism and democracy is nothing short of miraculous. Josh Rosenblatt is a freelance arts writer and critic living in Austin. Sex, Murder, and the Unwritten Law Courting Judicial Mayhem, Texas Style The “honor defense” in six celebrated murder trials, 1896-1 977 Foreword by Gordon Morris Bakken $29.95 cloth I 978-0-89672-662-8 Available in September ALSO BY BILL NEAL From Guns to Gavels How Justice Grew Up in the Outlaw West TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY PRESS NEW THIS FALL FROM AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR BILL NEAL The evolution of justice in a “land beyond the law” 2008 Rupert N. Richardson Award $29.95 hardcover I 978-0-89672-637-6 Getting Away with Murder on the Texas Frontier Notorious Killings and Celebrated Trials 2007 Rupert N. Richardson Award; Book of the Year, National Association for Outlaw and Lawmen History Foreword by Gordon Morris Bakken $18.95 papery 978-0-89672-651-2 800.832.4042 I JULY 10, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29