Aslan writes in a clear, yet intelligent, voice. Though I often found myself pausing to fully comprehend ideas he put forth, Beyond Fundamentalism could be read quickly, even in a day or two. However, I would recommend reading the book only a chapter or two at a time to get the most of it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t able to do this for the entire book, but I wish I had. It's worth taking the time to think about what Aslan writes.
Though there were many aspects of Beyond Fundamentalism that made me think, one key issue was the feeling of group identity. Aslan points out that one such form is national identity—however, with the increasing globilization, this nationalism in becoming weaker, for better or worse. Some then turn to religion for the feeling of belonging, and, in the extreme, this religion can take the form of the incredibly fundamental groups that encourage terrorism.
Similar to the issue of group identity is the idea of unity and belonging, and the importance that this unity involves inclusion (which allows for differences), rather than assimilation (which emphasizes sameness). Though the creation of the European Union has increased unity of many European countries, it has also highlighted the “otherness” of those who do not belong. Until I read Beyond Fundamentalism, I was not aware of the struggles Muslims face in many European countries—that some school cafeterias in France won’t serve halal meat to Muslim students, that The Netherlands has legislation attempting to ban the Qur’an, and that “Islam Out of Britain” is a rallying cry of the British National Party. Though terrorism is never the way to fight back against these inequities (and, in itself, engenders more hatred and fear), this persecution of Muslims only feeds the fire of these radical groups.
Much of Beyond Fundamentalism resonates with the speech President Obama gave last night announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden, particularly Obama’s insistence that the War on Terror is in no way a War on Islam, and his call for unity.
Though Beyond Fundamentalism occasionally felt out of date (particularly the final chapter, which focuses on the issue of a potential Egyptian democracy), it is certainly still recommended. I give it a 4/5.
Note: Beyond Fundamentalism was originally published as How to Win a Cosmic War