Review of and Questions for "In the Name of Identity" by Amin Maalouf

This weekend I read two books: Neither Shall the Sword: Conflict in the Years Ahead by Chet Richards and In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong by Amin Maalouf.The book is written by the Paris-based Lebanese author Amin Maalouf.

As an aside in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom Friedman mentioned that French-speaking Arabs are the least equipped to understand globalization. Yup.

Amin Maalouf is concerned with the same “globalization of symbols” that is the focus of French politician Dominque de Villepin . Which means that while Maalouf looks at the role of languages and religions a lot (even stating that freedom of language is more important than freedom of speech), he completely ignores the globalization’s economic implications.

This is like a ranching book which is eloquent on the symbolism of barbed wire, but accidentally leaves out that it stops cows from breaking through fences.

While Maalouf looks at political correctness and identity politics as they impact the middle east, he ignores economic growth. While he mentions the disaster of dictatorial socialism, he neglects socialism. And while he attacks all form of “hegemony” (did I mention he was French?), he never once raises the consequences of economic or security multipolarity.

Ultimately, as may befit a European intellectual, Maalouf approaches ideologies with a hauty unconcern. Ideas and identities effect people who let them, but more thoughtful men don’t. Ideas, in Maalouf’s world, aren’t evolutionarily-fit memes at all, but passive concepts one may pick and choose between at one’s leisure.

If you want a readable, fast, and facile introduction to the globalization, read this book. For a study of the real forces of globalization, try instead The World is Flat or Blueprint for Action.

This concludes the review. However, I listed questions that I never felt were answered while reading the book.

On page 16, Maalouf writes “I sometimes find myself ‘examining my identity’ as other people examine their conscience. As you may imagine, my object is not to discover within myself some ‘essential’ allegiance in which I may recognize myself.” Does Amin thus dismiss the primacy of territorially-developed State-allegiances in the modern context?

On page 47, Maalouf asks about the Arab world, “Why those veils, those chadors, those dreary beards, those calls for assassination? Why so many manifestations of conservatism and violence?” Is Maalouf conflating conservatism and fundamentalism? After all, is fundamentalism not a modern reaction against the world, while conservatism is a method of integration into the world?

On page 68, Maalouf writes “between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the West was making rapid advances, the Arab world marked time.” Would a better formulation be that the Arab world kept advancing, after jumping the rails? In his histories of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis has described the perverse effects of technologies in that context (for instance, telegraphs being used to increase despotism in the Ottoman Empire).

On page 73, Maalouf notes “For example, it wasn’t until the Bolshevik revolution that Russia managed at last to abandon the old Julian calendar. Changing to the Gregorian calendar made people feel that they were accepting the fact that in the almost immemorial war between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the latter had had the last word.” If we compare this to Mao’s campaigns against traditional Chinese writing, do we see a common theme of destructive radical identities trying to uproot their people even more — to increase the size of potential niche?

Maalouf beings page 101 with a quote from Marc Bloch, “Men are more the sons of their time than of their fathers.” How would this be operationalized within the context of educational psychology? Would the feature Bloch and Maalouf describe be effected by an authoritative parenting style, for example?

On page 122, Maalouf says “I am thinking not only of the danger of hegemony but also of its converse of negative image — the equally grave danger of pique and resentment that may be observed in various parts of the world.” Wouldn’t the opposite of hegemony (from “hegeisthai,” “to lead”) be leaderlessness? Would Maalouf consider this dialectical opposite to be “equally grave” in the avenues of security, culture, economics, etc?

On pages 138-142, Maalouf recommends trilingualism for Europeans. Specifically, he recommends all Europeans learn English, their home language, and a third language that they enjoy. First, doesn’t this assume that the English themselves are not true Europeans. Second, isn’t this “suggestion” already taking place in most of Europe?

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One thought on “Review of and Questions for "In the Name of Identity" by Amin Maalouf
  1. So what kind of connection, no pun intended, are you trying to make between globalization and the Arab world? With Arabs sitting on the biggest sh*t house full of oil, what do they need with globalization. While it is true that the Arabs in Lebanon, and else where, do not have oil, when dealing with Arabs don't you have to look towards the Arabs with the greatest potential for power in the world?

    Who is going to hold the greatest amount of oil in Iraq? Will it be Arab, Persians, or someone else? This is what is up for grabs. It kind of comes down to the question: can you deal with an non-oil-producing Arabs differently than a Oil producing Arab? If you can, does that mean it will be the non-oil producing Arabs that you can bring globalization to but not necessarily the oil producing ones?

    When these young Arabs look towards identity, do they look towards Lebanon or Mecca, or both? If they look towards both, then they look at the greatest holders of power (energy per second) in the world. Kind of hard to see where globalization fits in.

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