Most of the books that I’ve read recently have been of the mindless, for-entertainment-only variety. Completely enjoyable and filled with unreal torrid sex, death-defying drug usage, flagrant murder and spies that would put James Bond to shame. While I thoroughly enjoyed these novels while I read them, not a single one of them is worthy of consuming space in my memory or reliving on this blog. The last two books I’ve read, though, represent an intentional return to reality or, at least, to politics, politicians and world affairs. As much as that represents reality.
The first, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama is his treatise on who he is and what he believes in. Of course, it’s the introductory book for his run for the presidency, but I liked it more than most of books of this kind. I enjoyed his writing thoroughly and his folksy style makes it a pleasant read. Whether you like his policies and beliefs or not, his point of view on the current state of American society is interesting and his pragmatic viewpoint is refreshing. He’s a little short on the detail of his solutions, but he does paint a picture of what he believes is wrong and the direction he would take the country if he were in charge fairly well.
The second, Jimmy Carter’s, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid had a far greater impact on me and I can’t say it was entirely pleasant. If you strip away Carter’s promotion of the work of the Carter Center and his references to international trips with his wife Rosalynn, you expose his indictment of Israel and the country’s responsibility, in Carter’s view, of being the biggest issue in Middle-Eastern peace.
As I started reading this book, I found I was incredibly defensive. Having consumed the pro-Israel Kool-Ade my entire life. But, as the I made it further into the book, I realized how much propaganda I’ve been subject to over time about the state of things in the region and about who’s responsible. Carter’s arguments certainly are flavored by his personal involvement with peace in the region and are a bit self-aggrandizing, but in general, they are factual and indicate more than just his own views.
I think that Carter could have done a better job presenting both sides of the story in this book. While he describes the Israeli side of things, he doesn’t do so in a balanced fashion. In most cases, he spends a chapter describing the problem and how the Israeli’s exacerbate it, then wraps up the section with a brief statement on why Israel is compelled to act the way it does in the particular circumstance. By writing this way, he ignores a zillion years of history and only does justice to the pain felt in one camp. Then again, this may be my defensiveness showing . . .
In the end, though, Carter’s argument is compelling. Both sides need to make compromises in their positions, of course, but Carter shows how, outside of its concessions to Egypt (for which he gives Sadat the most credit), Israel hasn’t given up much since the 1967 war, including any of its gains from that war. Carter never ignores the complexity of the issue, but boils down the solution to simple terms; there must be two states – Israel and Palestine – that mutually recognize one another; Israel is going to have to give back some land to create a real Palestinian state out of the land it took in the 1967 war; and some international cross-religious group is going to have to broker access to the holy places in the region including, of course, Jerusalem.
Painful but compelling book. A must read.