Mahmood Mamdani, Professor of Government and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, is widely acknowledged as one of the foremost analysts of the history and politics of the nation state in the developing world. Mamdani’s area of expertise is the constraints imposed by Western colonial and post-colonial powers on the prospects for popular non-Western nationalist movements to create viable states, and hitherto his work has focused on Africa.
Mamdani’s latest book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and The Roots of Terror, shifts focus from Africa to the Middle East. But in so doing, it sketches, with similar clarity and insight, the same themes that have bedeviled African national development: most crucially, the ways in which Great Powers, principally the United States, have treated the Middle East as subjugated territory on which to play out their geopolitical ambitions.
The results, as Mamdani shows, have been an unmitigated disaster for the populations of many Middle Eastern countries, notably Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. But because the US has couched its regional ambitions in the language of morality, Mamdani persuasively argues that the logic and propaganda it uses to facilitate such aggression will ultimately turn in on itself, and lead, not to a world dominated by a US Empire, but to a world with which the US will have to make accommodation.