Bookshelves: Fall 2013
Playing Not to Win in the Middle East
In When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics (Cornell University Press, 2012), Nathan Brown, a political science and international affairs professor, examines Islamist political movements in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Palestine as they navigate free—yet unfair—elections and other complicated aspects of the political landscape.
When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics
Nathan J. Brown
Some Islamist political movements in the Middle East have participated in elections in which the deck was so stacked against them that they had no chance of winning. And yet, as Nathan Brown observes in When Victory Is Not an Option, those movements may have benefited from playing the election games that were orchestrated by semiauthoritarian regimes.
By studying movements in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Palestine, Dr. Brown teases out some of the advantages that Islamist movements gained under show elections, including unprecedented freedom of assembly and a platform to disseminate their messages to international audiences through the foreign press.
Casual students of current events may carry misconceptions about some of the organizations that Dr. Brown has studied, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which made strategic commitments a generation ago to emphasize political action. He says Islamist movements that are violent are the groups that tend to make front-page news— at least until the uprisings of 2011 in the Arab world.
“Domestically, in many Arab countries these movements never completely lived down their reputation for involvement in violent action, sometimes half a century ago,” he says of the political movements he writes about. “And authoritarian regimes had no interest in portraying their Islamist opposition as a political challenge rather than a security threat.”
Dr. Brown admits the challenges of tracking Arab Spring events and the quickly evolving region, and at one point in the book says, “In short, our findings about Islamist behavior under semiauthoritarian regimes might actually outlast those regimes.” Since he submitted the manuscript, there have been further changes.
“In 2013, I think the move by the new Egyptian regime to suppress the Brotherhood goes farther than anything it has seen for half a century,” he says. “I do not know how it will react, and since the top leadership is now mostly in jail, they may not yet have had the opportunity to decide.”
Early on in the book, Dr. Brown is clear that readers seeking immediate policy solutions will be disappointed. The book, which follows the scholarly approach to Islamist ideology as an effect—rather than a cause, as policymakers are wont to view it—follows what is often a cat-and-mouse game. One of the counterintuitive lessons of that sport that emerges in the book is that “working too hard to win an election is the best guarantee of losing it particularly badly.”
In the book’s preface, Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, BA ’66, MA ’68, Kuwait Professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Affairs, is among the colleagues whom Dr. Brown thanks, and he adds that he has “some wonderful colleagues, especially at the Institute for Middle East Studies, which was established right about when I began writing.”
Images of America: Fort Missoula (Arcadia Publishing, 2013)
Tate Jones, MA ’96
There are two ways to thumb through this pictorial history of Fort Missoula with more than 200 images by Tate Jones, who earned a master’s in history from GW. Just studying the photographs of the 19th- century Montana fort yields a fascinating prism through which to view the development of photography—from a stunning c. 1910 landscape of the fort’s approximate location and an August 1895 portrait of Mark Twain with a trademark cigar at the fort to a more contemporary image of a helicopter parked beside the fort’s Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History in 2009. The art is compelling, and the research articulated in the text is also fascinating. The fort, after all, has seen a lot—from the arrival of so- called Buffalo Soldiers in the late 1880s to the presence of an auto mechanic school for the Army during World War I to the Italian nationals docked at the Alien Detention Center during the Roosevelt administration. Of course, the walls of the fort, which still houses part-time garrisons, can’t talk, but if they could, one assumes they would sound a whole lot like this book.
Cached: Decoding the Internet in Global Popular Culture (New York University Press, 2013)
Stephanie Ricker Schulte, MA ’02, PhD ’08
What is the Internet? That’s a tough question for Web surfers—casual or hooked—to answer, particularly given their simultaneous roles as spectators to and shapers of the Internet. “Comprised of so many competing dreams and investments, the Internet was, and continues to be, a major transforming component of life for much of the United States and, increasingly, the world,” writes Stephanie Ricker Schulte, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Arkansas, in Cached. Early on, Dr. Ricker Schulte, who holds a master’s in media and public affairs and a doctorate in American studies from GW, credits a single class of GW Associate Professor Melani McAlister’s with inspiring her to pursue a PhD. “She’s that good,” she writes. The book examines the cultural and political ways that the Web has shaped viewers, and perhaps more important, how users—including the news media and policymakers—have shaped the Internet.
Headhunters on My Doorstep (Gotham Books, 2013)
J. Maarten Troost, MA ’95
One of the best ways to describe the prose in Headhunters by J. Maarten Troost, who earned a master’s in international affairs from GW, might be to compare it with Dave Barry’s writings. Like Mr. Barry, Mr. Troost writes in a hilarious fashion about often sobering topics. “If something could go wrong, it usually did. The only law that seemed to apply to me was Mr. Murphy’s,” he writes early in the book. Among the factors responsible for his descent was alcoholism, which led Mr. Troost to decide—and here comes the deadpan humor—that the common denominator to his woes was continents. “Bad things happened to me on large land masses,” he writes. It might sound like a cop-out, but his subsequent decision to island- hop in the South Seas along the route that novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, of Treasure Island fame, had taken makes for some great tales.
Darkening Mirrors: Imperial Representation in Depression-Era African American Performance (Duke University Press, 2012)
Stephanie Leigh Batiste, MPhil ’99, PhD ’08
Not only have some of the most desperate times and situations fostered the development of some of the greatest art, but art has also provided an escape for people to imagine better times. In the 1930s, African- American performers imagined happier lives for themselves than their status as second-class citizens in America during the Depression. “In instance after instance Depression-era black performance appropriates and manifests modern imperialist representation,” writes Stephanie Leigh Batiste in Darkening Mirrors. The period’s “virtual explosion of black film production and theatrical activity” provided “black Americans with an opportunity for creative negotiation of national identity and belonging.” The study also afforded Dr. Batiste, an associate professor of English and of black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the chance to reimagine a childhood memory at an amusement park hall of reflections, which is where the metaphor of a darkening mirror comes from.