Book Reviews

Middle East Journal, Winter 2021

China and Middle East Conflicts: Responding to War and Rivalry from the Cold War to the Present by Guy Burton, and:

China’s Middle East Diplomacy: The Belt and Road Strategic Partnership by Mordechai Chaziza

Reviewed by Robert R. Bianchi

Scholars of the Middle East are moving quickly to chronicle and interpret China’s rise in world affairs, particularly in light of the grand aspirations of the New Silk Road, officially known as the Belt and Road initiative. As the China Dream unfolds across Eurasia and Africa, area specialists are pondering the profound implications for transforming the Middle East as they know it, for enriching transregional exchanges, and for scrambling power relations between continents and hemispheres.

            The growing literature in this field has made many strides in a short period. In addition to highlighting the magnitude and ramifications of the New Silk Road, it has compiled a rich base of data and commentary on specific projects and countries. Many writers have traced the twists and turns of official relations and some are investigating the conflicting social and popular responses across the region. At a broader level, there is more focused speculation about new possibilities for diplomatic and geopolitical maneuvering in a post-American world where China and other non-Western countries will exert greater influence.            

The recent books of Guy Burton and Mordechai Chaziza exemplify these achievements—and their limits. Building upon the advances in this field, it might be helpful to consider some of the more challenging questions that researchers can address in the future, realizing that agendas will vary depending on scholarly tastes and political predispositions.

Mevlevi dervish

International Journal of Turkish Studies, 2021

Bureaucratic Intimacies: Translating Human Rights in Turkey by Elif M. Babul (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017), Pp. 230 Paper, and:

The Politics of Secularism: Religion, Diversity, and Institutional Change in France and Turkey by Murat Akan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), Pp. 357 Cloth

Reviewed by Robert R. Bianchi

Two recent books by Elif M. Babül and Murat Akan give us wonderful descriptions of how debates over human rights and secularism spark fierce competition between an ever-widening spectrum of social groups that form shifting and frequently surprising alliances. Young Muslim women in the Directorate of Religious Affairs now use Amnesty International training sessions to combat patriarchy in government workplaces, but about the time that many of these women were born, a supposedly Kemalist junta had charged the same directorate to develop mandatory religious education to inoculate the country against left-wing challenges to authority. Thus, an unlikely army-ulema coalition paved the way for an equally improbable counter-coalition between European liberals and pious women from the provinces.

Taken together, Babül and Akan remind us that Turkish society is too complex, well-organized, and highly educated to be dominated by a single power center whether public, private or a combination of the two. In deconstructing the imaginary monoliths of secularism and human rights, these scholars also demolish the notion that any culture or institution can monopolize the symbolic and moral power that flows from such ideals. Ongoing struggles to define and embody political principles take on a force of their own that transcends doctrinaire efforts to freeze them around particular times—modern or post-modern—and places—Western or non-Western.

Sultan Mehmet II
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