What happened to our disaster management?


December 29, 2014

MY COMMENT: 2014 has been a horrible year for ourDin N Kamsiah country. Lahad Datu and security breaches in Sabah remember? Then came MH370, MH17, Cameron Highland landslides, and now the AirAsia 8501 tragedy (One Malaysian presumed dead).

In Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu, we have terrible floods at a cost to the nation yet be ascertained. Given persistent rain in and around Kuala Lumpur in recent days, we in the commercial hub of our nation could be in danger of  flooding on a scale possibly larger than the 1971 floods. Is the City Hall and The Federal Territory Minister prepared for this?

It gives me no comfort to read Nawawi’s article which tells us that we have not learned the lessons of our past tragedies. Why have we become so arrogant that we cannot document our experiences, and use the information we have gathered to develop a national disaster management system which can be deployed to deal with emergencies in any part of our country?

What is happening in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang is a disgrace. Our leaders have failed to take control. They have shown that they are ineffective in mobilising our assets and coordinating efforts to deliver relief to thousands of Malaysians who are directly affected by the floods.

Floods, Obama and NajbGolf Diplomacy and Floods

Najib’s “Rakyat didahulukan pencapaian diutamakan” is a meaningless slogan. In fact, it is shocking to learn that key ministers were on leave during this period and had to be asked to return home by our Prime Minister, who himself was on a working holiday in Hawaii to conduct golf diplomacy with US President Barack Obama. How can they all be uncaring and self-centered.

I also find it embarrassing that government agencies including the Military and Police have not acted as they used to when our country is in a crisis. Something is really wrong when our disaster management is performing below par. It makes me worry to think whether we are ready to face external enemies when they threaten our sovereignty and territorial integrity, given our level of preparedness.–Din Merican

What happened to our disaster management?

by Nawawi Mohamed@www.themalaysianinsider.com

Malaysia has experienced several natural disasters which resulted in loss of lives and properties starting back in December 1993 with the collapse of two blocks of the Highland Towers, then the tsunami in 2004, the recent Cameron Highlands landslides and the latest being the unprecedented floods in Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu.

By the way, with so frequent flooding, we ought to be professional in facing them by now. Unfortunately, we are never ready and never prepared.

In the Highland Towers tragedy, we lacked experience such that the Japanese Civil Defence sent a team to help in the search and rescue effort. Search and rescue teams from Singapore, France, United Kingdom and the United States also came to help.

Besides helping, they also showed us the relevant techniques and the equipment they used in disasters. In fact, at the end of the search, the Japanese left their equipment and donated them to Malaysia.

From that incident, Malaysia formed its own Search and Rescue Team under the Fire Department. Our team had also been sent overseas to help disaster victims, like in Aceh during the tsunami in 2004. Naturally, every Malaysian should feel proud that we have our own reliable team and managed to help others in foreign countries as well.

Besides the elite team mentioned above, we also have several non-governmental organisations that play significant roles both at home and overseas. We have other agencies like JKR, JPA, PDRM, military and volunteers who at times have been at the forefront in the rescue efforts.

Malaysians are generally generous and we are all proud to be Malaysians in that sense. We also have the means: the equipment, machinery, resources and manpower to undertake the search, rescue and help victims in almost any natural disaster. We can do it.

But at the government and political levels, our ministers and politicians have not shown their will to improve themselves. Despite having declared that they work for the people since it is the people who put them into power anyway, at these times of need they seem to be lost and preoccupied with their own personal world.

We all know that Datuk Seri Najib Razak was holidaying and golfing in Hawaii, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was said to be in London, loud-mouth Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quiet as a mouse, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was also said to be in Australia and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin was not in control.

An aerial view of flooded streets of the National Park in Kuala Tahan, Pahang

Never mind the politicians but even if they want to have fun while the people are facing hardship, make sure that there is a system established and could run on auto-pilot.

The UMNO/Barisan Nasional government should set up a central command at the federal level with branches in every state to coordinate the various NGOs, volunteers, government agencies and above all the control of correct information should be given to the public.

Coordination is important so that every area is covered by the various teams and overlapping of efforts could be avoided. The disaster command centre will also be able to know the exact amount of resources at hand, and what kind of help is needed most.

Just look at the recent blunder as reported in the papers when TNB managed to send 45 gensets to Pahang and only 1 genset to Kelantan despite the latter being affected most.

TNB has limited logistics resources and they are not a logistics specialist either. If there had been a proper disaster management, some form of transport could be provided, may be by the military to help send the gensets where they are most needed.

The centre should only have one contact number, which will be connected to several help and information lines. Do not give the individual contact numbers of the NGOs, government departments and agencies because the central command must be the reference point. None of them should act alone, all should be under the central command and be coordinated efficiently.

Manek_Urai_floods_Bomba_251214

There must also be a website meant to cater for any disaster where everybody can reach and not depend on the social media which most of the time spread false or half-truths. The website should be interactive where applicable so that those who need to know feel more comfortable.

The UMNO/BN government must also educate the people in the flood-prone areas to be ready with survival supplies: food, drinking water, clothes, medicines, toiletries and other necessities should be carried along during evacuation.

The whole supply could be in the form of standard ration placed in a lightweight bag which could have multiple uses. For instance, it could be used as a life buoy if the victims are swept away. Add in an identification beacon for easy searching.

What we have now is the National Security Council (MKN) which is lousy but we do not feel secure. They have done nothing much except simply to exist and may be just to get paid. And nothing else except blunders in every disaster that we faced.

It seems the UMNO/BN government has not learned much, if not nothing, from the disasters that we have had. Now if Najib and all the politicians want to go elsewhere during any disaster, please do something about it.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/what-has-umno-bn-government-learned-from-natural-disasters-nawawi-mohamad#sthash.GGZdafs0.7JLW6JAa.dpuf

Ha-Joon Chang: “Economics can never be a science in the way that physics is”.


December 28, 2014

Economics: The User’s Guide by Ha-Joon Chang

Ha-Joon Chang: “Economics can never be a science in the way that physics is”.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/29/economics-the-users-guide-ha-joon-chang-review

Reviewed by Zoe Williams

User's Guide on EconomicsIt is a mark of where we are in our political discourse that even to say “neoclassical economics is not the only school” seems radical. This is where Ha-Joon Chang starts, in a book that is more sober and less effervescent than his bestselling 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, but is just as page-turning.

Since no single economic theory has beaten the others, it follows, Chang writes, that there is no objective truth on which every economist is agreed. Economics can never be a science in the way that physics is; it cannot reach a consensus on its fundamental questions, let alone what the answers are. This isn’t some extended hand wringing, a trashing of his discipline dressed up as a mea culpa. Chang isn’t looking for a formula: fundamentally, he argues, economics is politics. As such, we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of an ideal answer – the discussion should never close.

If there is a sense in which economics has “failed”, Chang argues, it is not because it should have “predicted” the crash and the disasters of the last seven years, nor for those Krugmanian reasons that range the state against the market, regulation against self-interest, cooperation against moral hazard. Rather, we are witnessing a failure of plurality. Our current landscape has been created by the acceptance of a few core principles – the individual as perfectly selfish, perfectly rational, able to create perfect markets by acting in her own interests; we have ignored plausible competing theories and have suffered for it.

But first, go back to Adam Smith’s pin, the implement from which he derived his theories of productivity, division of labour, transition costs (money wasted by workers moving from one place to another) – the fundamentals he explored in order to write An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776.

Since that time, production has changed, capital has changed, capitalists have changed, workers have changed, markets have changed; even Smith isn’t quite the efficiency-driven automaton his neoclassical disciples make him out to be: he worried about what would happen to the human spirit if you just sat making the same bit of a pin for your entire working life. But Chang doesn’t try to dragoon the fathers of the free market into arguments for its opposite. Rather, he opens with the point that all thinkers are of their time, and to apply their ideas “fruitfully, we require a good knowledge of the technological and institutional forces that characterise the particular markets, industries and countries that we are trying to analyse with the help of the theory”. This is the first body blow to economics as a science; never mind the competing theories, each theory has more complexity in its incipience than its followers will usually allow because they are following it as part of a wider political purpose.
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The chapter “How Have We Got Here?” rattles through centuries, Ha-Joon Changdividing the history of the developed world into different eras: the industrial revolution, High Noon (1870 to 1913), the Turmoil (1914 to 1945), the Golden Age (1945 to 1973), the Interregnum (1973 to 1979), then 1980 to the present. This is a fascinating, hurtling explanation of everything, taking in growth (painfully slow for the first few centuries); the conditions for successful free trade (and what free actually means – usually “raked towards the strongest”); the inevitability of some kind of first world war (since the growth of the period preceding it was based on imperialism, not production); and what the Great Depression did for thought and for policy.

What did high unemployment mean? What are the Bretton Woods institutions, and why were they founded? What are the successes of free trade and the free market, and what are their limitations? Why is liberal such a confusing word? What actually happened to the Soviet countries at the end of the regime? From the small hillock of the unpacked acronym to the mighty glacier of some accepted evil such as protectionism, from the things you didn’t realise you didn’t know to the things you would never be seen dead admitting you didn’t understand … Chang maps the territory legibly, but more: he turns it into terrain that you enjoy exploring.

I think his favourite section is “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom” – to judge, anyway, from his endearing pick’n’mix approach, in which he describes the nine key schools of thought, then makes up fresh labels, which you can use, if you wish, to describe yourself. The author’s references from culture proliferate: perhaps the best example is when he tries to explain, later, that the market isn’t logical, any more than is any other human behaviour, and that the things we can trade on the open market (carbon usage) and can’t (people, organs) come from beliefs, impulses and feelings that are deeper than money. “So politics is creating, shaping and reshaping markets before any transaction can begin. It is like the ‘Deeper Magic’ that had existed before the dawn of time, which is known to Aslan (the lion) but not to the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” This is a man, I thought, who doesn’t let up with the economics even when he is reading a bedtime story. I bet he could come up with some pretty good stuff on tax havens from Harry Potter.

Those nine schools are Austrian, Behaviourist, Classical, Developmentalist, Institutionalist, Keynesian, Marxist, Neoclassical and Schumpeterian. At the end of the chapter, he devises a handy chart; if you like your economy divided into classes, and think its most important domain is production, yet at the same time think the world is complex and uncertain and economies change through technological innovation (rather than, say, exchange or consumption or production), then you are a Marxist/Keynesian/Schumpeterian (you may have Behaviourist properties: I know I do).

His ideal is that we recognise that none of these ideas is sacred, but nor is any worthless; hence the insistence that you can pick and choose from each, which may look like fun acronymising to the layperson but is, one would imagine, quite heretical, both to economists (many of whom are so used to accepting the neoclassical way) and to an academic framework that generally searches for a purity of ideas, rather than the muddy acceptance that everybody is right sometimes.

I found some ideas rang out immediately, and knocked around my head for days; one of the flaws in neoclassical economics is that they see everyone as a consumer (occasionally we might be a buyer or seller). Other schools put the onus on our identities as workers and put the spotlight on what an economy produces. The modern understanding of economies as giant shops and people as just wallets is so empty. As modish as it is to look for answers beyond numbers – in yoga or whatever – it is also a profound relief to find economic explanations and hypotheses that reject the human-as-consumer, too. Besides, you don’t hear often enough the fact that for many work is not merely a pain (or a disutility) but a cornerstone of their lives: not just skilled work, all work. Other ideas – why government transfers are counted out of GDP, what proportion of corporate profits is invested in research and development – will only leave their outline in my head, and I’ll be looking up the details for ever.

You could use it as a primer, a reference book, a brief history; it is all these things, but isn’t contained by them. It reflects the urgent generosity of a thinker whose depth of understanding is matched by a desire to see us all understand. Ha-Joon Chang is himself the walking disproof of the neoclassical individual, the perfectly rational, perfectly selfish consumer; his wealth is in his knowledge, perceptiveness, insight and vision. And he can’t give it away fast enough. It flies off him like the seeds of a dandelion.

Question and Answer with Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in Kelantan


December 28, 2014

Question and Answer with Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in Kelantan

NAJIB / BANJIRPM Najib with Dato’ Seri Mustapha Mohamed

http://www.nst.com.my/node/66520

Excerpt of Q&A with Dato’ Seri Najib Razak at the press conference during his visit to Kelantan yesterday (December 27, 2014).

Question (Q): Why is a state of emergency not declared for the floods?

Prime Minister: There are many implications. Firstly, if we declare, insurance companies will be exempted from paying compensation for damages to properties and vehicles. When we declare (emergency), it means a “forced measure” category that insurance companies need not make settlements. Secondly, we are already moving within an emergency situation now as government machinery has been directed to perform at its maximum level.

Q: Will BR1M be paid in three stages?

PM: BR1M will still be in three stages but the (first) payment will be speeded up to the middle of January.

Q: Any help from outside?

PM: So far we have received none and we can manage this on our own.

Q: Has the government made any assessment of the damages caused by the flood?

PM: We have not done it as the flood is still here. If we make an estimation now, the damages will not be the overall value as we do not know how long more the flood will last.

Q: When will the RM500 million be disbursed to flood victims?

PM: Next year when the flood is over and the victims have returned home. They certainly need a sizable budget and that is why we will distribute the funds.

Q: How do we assist flood victims when the situation is very bad?

PM: We have decided that the committee which is chaired by Dato’ Seri Mustapa Mohamed will ascertain where there is a landing point, we will send help using helicopters. The Armed Forces have been carrying out such operations. Additional food supplies, seven days worth, are being flown via Charlie (transport aircraft) which is carrying out five, six sorties now.

Q: Could you tell us about your visit to meet US President Barack Obama?

PM: Actually, when President Barack Obama visited Malaysia, he had mentioned to me that if I was in Hawaii while he was there, he wanted me to play golf with him.

Golf Diplomacy

Playing golf is not something which is strange or out of the ordinary because from the time of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, playing golf with other world leaders is something that can be called golf diplomacy.

I played golf to build relationship with world leaders to benefit the country. It doesn’t mean we agree to everything, but only on things that benefit Malaysia. Such social ties will benefit Malaysia. I made the decision to do that (play golf) as I was invited by him (Obama) and it was difficult for me not to do so as it had been planned earlier. However, every day when I was overseas, I received latest updates on the flood situation.

 

May There Be Real Peace and Goodwill


December 27, 2014

May There Be Real Peace and Goodwill

by Ahmad Mustapha Hassan

1MalaysiaPeace and Goodwill to Malaysians in 2015?

2014 will soon come to an end. As usual, the year-end will see people proclaiming “peace on earth and goodwill to all men.” But this has become a mere platitude. The New Year will again begin with no goodwill or peace to all men. It is sad but that is the way of the world today.

Greed, religious bigotry, political domination and economic rivalry will overshadow the need for peace. The US will continue forcing itself to be the only superpower on earth. Ukraine, for example, had been made as an excuse by the US and its European lackeys to push Russia out of the sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

The Arab world will be mired in more chaos and killings and Malaysia will march into more religious bigotry, ethnic domination and intolerance by the Muslims against all those Muslims not professing the official government approved sect and also against other religious groups.

The US, as is its nature, will ensure that there will be no peace on earth. It was the biggest arms exporter in 2013 with total exports amounting to a colossal US$656 billion. The arms manufacturing lobby which has a big influence on US policies would naturally be against any move to create peace in the world. It would be totally against their interest.

The CIA will continue eavesdropping on all leaders of the countries allied to it. The US will want to know what the actual thinking of these leaders are towards them. The US never really has complete trust on all these leaders though they are allied to them. It simply practises guarded trust. That is the inherent US culture since the end of the Pacific war.

Closer to home, the Stalinist state of North Korea will rattle its saber to its arch-enemy South Korea like an upstart and spoilt child. In the meantime, its people will suffer more hardship with poverty and hunger being the order of the day. Its infantile leader never ever thinks of changing the stance to be more humane to its people.

At home, it is again a very uncertain 2015. The Najib Administration has been keeping mum to all the negative developments in the country. They seem to want everything to be Malay and Muslim. There has been no pulling back as to what has been taking place the past year.

Recently, a church service was rudely disrupted by the Police on complaints that it was too loud. This had never happened before. Thus it seems to look like the intolerance is mounting.

Najib and his gangThe bankruptcy of the UMNO leadership is pushing this country into uncertainty and this will be worse in 2015. Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has shown no inclination to put an end to this dangerous and harmful trend.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has been actively promoting peace and understanding among Muslims and Christians which sadly enough, has had no positive response from the higher echelon of the Muslim clergy. He even prayed at the Blue Mosque in Turkey to show his deep desire to bring about understanding between the Muslims and Christians.

In Malaysia, non-Muslims are not encouraged to visit mosques for illogical reasons best known only to those in charge of Islamic affairs.

The Malay-Muslim ethnic group is against non-Islamic religious houses of worship being built-in what they consider as being Malay-Muslim majority areas. It seems that the dominance of Islam has to be maintained whatever the cost.

Even efforts to foster religious understanding are shunned officially. Thus the interfaith group is only patronised by other non-Muslim religious groups. Such is the religious bigotry.

It is so very different in the West. In the UK alone there are 1743 mosques to serve its 2.7 million Muslim populations. This shows how liberal and understanding their attitude is.

But the problem is, Muslims are never able to reconcile that there exists other religious groups apart from Islam. This is the core cause of conflicts and misunderstandings especially in Malaysia.

It has been deemed forbidden by some Muslim clerics in Malaysia to wish Merry Christmas for example. There are many other intolerant attitude whereby Muslims had been barred through religious fatwas to participate in anything considered to be Christian in nature.

However, it is heartening that such open acts of intolerance is only visible in Malaya and not in Sarawak and Sabah. The leaders of these two territories must do their utmost to halt this undesirable culture from creeping into their space. They have to stand firm that Sabah and Sarawak are equal partners in Malaysia and they have the right to stop this evil element from entering their areas.

The different ethnic groups in these two territories have been living in peace and harmony for generations. Let that not be put asunder.

I wish all Malaysians Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. All the best for 2015.

ahmad-mustapha-hassanAhmad Mustapha Hassan is a former Press Secretary to Second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and the writer of the book, “The Unmaking of Malaysia”.

–www.theantdaily.com

 

Message of Moderation for 2015


December 27, 2014

Message of Moderation to Najib, PERKASA and ISMA for 2015

by Azmi Sharom@www.thestar.com.my (12-24-14)

When facing the challenges of a nation, one can approach it through a crude and hateful ideology determined that it is the only valid viewpoint and filled with the malicious intent of the bigoted. Or we can choose rationality, compassion, fairness, justice and inclusiveness.–Azmi Sharom

Azmi Sharom 3WHAT do the IS, Taliban and Boko Haram have in common?Firstly, they all describe themselves as Islamic.Secondly they all have carried out acts of despicable brutality.Finally, they are convinced that they are absolutely correct in what they do.

I think there is a lesson to be learnt from these three groups for us in Malaysia. I don’t think we in Malaysia can truly comprehend the horrors felt by those who are the victims of these three organisations.

Mass kidnappings, forced conversions, the murder of schoolchildren, the beheadings of innocents, out-and-out war; these are things which are so grotesque that, to me at least, they seem almost unreal. But they are real and we are blessed that we do not have to experience them first hand. But we must not be complacent.

I am not here to be a cheerleader for the anti-terrorism law now in the works. I have my doubts about this new law, but more importantly, the need for such laws indicate a failure to deal with a problem before it becomes a problem.

Desmond Tutu

Now it would be naïve and foolish to think that the IS, Boko Haram and Taliban, for all their pious posturing, are purely about religion. I am certain that any in-depth study of them will show that their roots are economic, political and social in nature. However, religion is a very useful tool and these people know how to use them.

Malala

How much easier is it to convince your followers that killing people is all right if is clothed in the language of a holy war. It is much simpler to deal with economic problems by making the cause of these problems the infidels and the answer is to eliminate them. And controlling society becomes a breeze when you can convince people that you are doing God’s work and only you are correct (coupled with a vicious system of law of course).

What does this have to do with us? Frankly folks, I do not know what our future holds. I do not know if our economy is going to be strong or whether it will collapse. What I do know is that if things get bad, then people will become desperate and they will turn to something to give them hope. The language of the extremist is one such place

It is absolutely vital therefore that we must have many voices and views out there. There has to be opinions which are not reactionary but measured, thoughtful and just. We must dilute the potency of the extreme with a variety of alternative thought.

There are extremists amongst us, and make no mistake they are there, if not in out and out terrorist mode their language and stance is but a few steps away. If we allow only their voices to be heard, then what we are doing is preparing the soil for extremist behaviour to seed and take root the moment things get bad.

inclusivenessOne Choice: Inclusiveness with Compassion

It is therefore of utmost importance to place into the consciousness of the nation a choice. The choice is a clear one. When facing the challenges of a nation, one can approach it through a crude and hateful ideology determined that it is the only valid viewpoint and filled with the malicious intent of the bigoted. Or we can choose rationality, compassion, fairness, justice and inclusiveness.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone.

 

The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Volume II


December 26, 2014

NY TIMES: Sunday Book Review

‘The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Volume II’–To be Read with Volume 1

First, the selected Jewish writings show that contrary to some popular Karen Armstrongassumptions, religion does not offer unsustainable certainty. The biblical story of the binding of Isaac leaves us with hard questions about Abraham’s God, and later, when Moses asks this baffling deity for his name, he simply answers: “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh”, which can be roughly translated: “Never mind who I am!” The Book of Job finds no answer to the problem of human suffering, and Ecclesiastes dismisses human life as “utter futility.” This bleak honesty finds its ultimate expression in Elie Wiesel’s proclamation of the death of God in Auschwitz.

At its best, religion helps people to live creatively and kindly with the inescapable sorrow and perplexity of human existence. Jack Miles, the general editor of the series, compares faith to the human propensity to “play,” a disciplined make-believe that leads to ekstasis, a “stepping outside” of normal perception, which, when translated into action, has also helped to develop law, commerce, art and science. Today, believers and nonbelievers alike tend to read Scripture with a dogged literalness, but in the premodern period traditional exegesis in all three monotheisms was a form of intense creativity.

Thus the Talmudic rabbis developed an inventive form of exegesis that they called midrash (from darash: “to investigate”). They imagined Moses returning to earth in the second century B.C. as a yeshiva boy and, to his consternation, finding that he could not understand a word of Rabbi Akiba’s explication of his own Torah: “Matters that had not been disclosed to Moses were disclosed to Rabbi Akiba and his colleagues.” Sinai had been just the beginning. Revelation was an ongoing process and would continue every time a Jew confronted the sacred text; it was the responsibility of each generation to continue the process.

Scripture did not, therefore, imprison the faithful in outmoded habits of thought. In his selection of Christian texts, Lawrence S. Cunningham hints that some of the Gospel stories may also be a form of inventive midrash that drew on texts from the Hebrew Bible, but unfortunately he does not spell this out clearly to the reader. To counter our modern literalistic mind-set, it would have been helpful if he had also included Origen’s ruling that it was impossible to revere the Bible unless it was interpreted figuratively, and Augustine’s insistence that if the plain meaning of Scripture clashed with reliable scientific discovery, the interpreter must respect the integrity of science.

In the same way, the Quran was never read by itself but always in the context of an immense and intricate net of commentary that developed over the centuries — mystical, philosophical, legal and logical. The Arabic quran means “recitation,” and, Jane Dammen McAuliffe explains, the physical text was always secondary to its oral performance in the mosque. The beauty of the chant was an essential part of its meaning, enabling a Muslim to feel “bathed” in the blessing (baraka) of God’s verbal presence. God himself had insisted that the Quranic message must be understood as a whole and explicitly warned Muslims against drawing partial conclusions from the text. A far cry from the two British jihadis who ordered “Islam for Dummies” from Amazon when they traveled to Syria last May.

The habit of regarding the Bible as historically accurate dates only to the Protestant Reformation; that outlook has since passed to the Muslim world. In a 2003 essay, the South African scholar Ebrahim Moosa complained that the practice of reading the Quran like “an engineering manual” had created a “text fundamentalism” that distorted its message. The appearance of the printed page, an image of precision and exactitude, also symbolized the developing scientific and commercial outlook, and has, perhaps, helped to give birth to a distinctively “modern” view of religion as logical, unmediated and objective. But like art, the truths of faith rely on intuition rather than logic. Cunningham’s account of the development of the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation relies wholly on official conciliar documents that sound arbitrary and unconvincing; it would have been more illuminating to cite the writings of Maximus the Confessor, whose work is little known in the West but whose mystical, imaginative and humanitarian insights brought a peaceful resolution to these bitter theological-political disputes.

At a time when religion is often regarded as inherently violent, the anthology reminds us that it has also been a force for peace. The insights of Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr. and Desmond Tutu all show that a passion for justice, nonviolence and integrity have been just as important in the history of Christianity as any Crusade. This anthology will also challenge those who believe that Islam is irredeemably intolerant and fanatical. The classical account of the prophet’s ascension to heaven, the mythical paradigm of authentic Muslim spirituality, is also a story of pluralism, since the prophets of all three monotheisms greet one another as brothers and listen respectfully to each other’s insights. Hadiths record the prophet telling Muslims not to fight jihad but to stay home and care for their parents and to follow stringently the Jews and Christians, their predecessors in faith.

But, alas, religiously articulated violence is now a fact of life. McAuliffe includes the work of Sayyid Qutb, one of the Muslim thinkers responsible for the modern enthusiasm for jihad and Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war on the “Judaeo-Crusader alliance.” But when we also read Malcolm X explaining that his experience of the inclusiveness of the hajj inspired him to renounce his former racism; Fethullah Gülen, who insists that tolerance, forgiveness and love are central to Islam; and Tariq Ramadan, who instructs Western Muslims to embrace democracy, we gain a wider perspective. Unfortunately the Jewish and Christian editors have not included their own perpetrators of violence and intolerance in the anthology, leaving the reader, perhaps, with the misleading impression that Islam alone is guilty of this abuse of faith, even though Rabbi Meir Kahane and the Reconstructionist Gary North are also part of our modern story.

World ReligionsSocrates taught his disciples that a truly rational person understood how little he knew. This book will unsettle some current certainties about the nature of faith and, in so doing, may help its readers to arrive at a more nuanced and accurate perception of our predicament in this dangerously polarized world.

*Karen Armstrong’s latest book, “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence,” was published in October.