Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, May 22, 2010
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Barack Obama

When Senator Obama — he was a senator at the time — penned his views on the American dream, his own state played a useful role in setting the tone. He was still two years away from the finish line but was well inside the perimeter of history-making events.

The book, he says, was born of conversations on the campaign trail to the US Senate. The vision is powered by his passion to bring American policies in sync with the new world order. As commander-in-chief, he gets to field test this optimised vision and attempts to close the rift, but as senator he could play around with ideas that best represented the new politics that he believed to be the need of the day. While he impresses upon the readers the importance of propping up this world order with some good old-fashioned values, he stops to grade the policies in place at the time. Rewiring a system that estranged the US from the world and, to an extent, its own people, and defusing the globe would require a superpower with actual superpowers. And where would one even begin.

A junior senator from Illinois had an idea, several actually. His thoughts about race, religion, values and, of course, politics provide the first inkling of the kind of policies Obama championed. It is a unique manuscript that simultaneously serves as a political manifesto, a guidance manual and a reference book. It is hard not to get carried away by the image of a leadership so well attuned to the plight of its people. But today more time will probably be spent trying to figure out exactly how this profound wisdom from a (offline) repository of ideas translates to online policies.

He casts a sweeping glance at American history to locate the core values still coursing through its veins, using the constitution to get his bearings right. What we get is a refined debate on the US’s unmined potential. So he dives in the deep end to make some sense of the reigning chaos. The world of politics, in Obama’s capable hands, appears to be neither bland nor insincere and the alternate storyline he suggests sounds perfectly plausible. Yet, he calmly admits that his views could be insufficiently balanced because, he states and I quote, “I am a Democrat after all.”

He is troubled by what he sees as the “gap between the magnitude of challenges and smallness of politics”; he condemns and commiserates with decisions made in a “complex and complicated world”. When he concedes the difficulties of finding the right balance between competing values, he steps back to take stock of the time when “9/11 played fast and loose with constitutional principles”, but admits that “even the wisest president and the most prudent Congress would struggle to balance the critical demands of collective security against the equally compelling need to uphold civil liberties”.

While he stands opposed to the Bush way of waging war, believing that “any exercise of American military power helps rather than hinders their broader goals: to incapacitate the destructive potential of terrorist network and win this global battle of ideas”, he also goes on to spell out his war plan. Going after imminent threats, or taking unilateral actions, are part of the agenda. So far, he has stuck to this script.

Obama speculates about the policy challenges looming on the horizon, seeing “long-term security dependent upon judicious projection of military power and increased cooperation with other nations where tackling global poverty and failed states is tied to national interests”. He observes current foreign policy debates oscillating between two modes — belligerence or isolationism — even though he understands that the battle with international terrorism is “at once an armed struggle and a contest of ideas”.

He journeys beyond borders to tackle foreign policy matters, but strays back to address domestic concerns like fiscal reforms, racial conflicts, offering a glimpse of what a serious healthcare reform may look like and taking the impact of globalisation into account when appraising the US economy or the “ability of its workers to compete in a free trade environment”. But this, he believes, is conditional upon “distributing the costs and benefits of this globalisation more fairly across the population”. As the first black president in Harvard Law Review’s 104-year-old history, Senator Obama was already being applauded for breaking the race barrier. His accession to the White House since has only confirmed his own assessment of the racial divide where he sees “prejudices in today’s America to be far loosely held and a majority would overlook race when making judgements about people”.

Audacity of hope helps outsiders understand the contemporary US better. They also get to learn how it came to play an increasingly larger role in the world and when Franklin D Roosevelt came to the conclusion that his nation “cannot measure [its] safety in terms of miles on any maps any longer”. In 2006, they would get a virtual tour of Obamaland. The man who was soon to charm people on the campaign trail leaps out from the pages. Whether the president is in there somewhere is for the readers to decide.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: Of Clarion Calls and Golden Statuettes / By Afrah Jamal

First Published in Daily Times /Saturday, March 17, 2012

Elegiac laments for a fading film industry are interrupted midway with news that could give the documentary film medium at least a new lease of life. It owes its resurrection to a young filmmaker, who mined troubling sound-bytes overheard in theatres where war, injustice or social disparity reigns supreme. Clips aired at the third Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) held earlier this year provided glimpses of her work, including the internationally acclaimed ‘Saving Face’. At the time, she had an Emmy stacked away for one documentary and was just weeks away from winning an Academy Award for another. At the time, she had been relentlessly crusading to rid societies of those anachronistic practices (among other ills) that weigh them down in the modern world. And — despite these glittering credentials — her work was largely unknown amongst Pakistanis.

The young Oscar nominee who took the stage that day would soon be the face of a bur…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

SERIES REVIEW: THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS / Rick Riordan (2013)

First Published inDaily Times / 5 Jan 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…

BOOK REVIEW: No Easy Day : The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

First Published by Daily Times / Oct 06, 2012

Authors: Mark Owen & Kevin Maurer
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published under the Title:Signed, SEAL(ed) and Delivered



The men who paid Pakistan a hurried visit in the dead of the night typically do not leave calling cards. Or talk shop with strangers. And they are expected to shun the limelight. One broke the commandment recently. As a member of the SEAL Team 6 — Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU, Mark Owen (not his real name) had been in the downed ‘helo’ (helicopter) — the one Pakistanis discovered lying in their backyard.

His book provides a valuable timeline of events leading up to ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ in Abbottabad (or ‘Abababa’ as they insist on calling it), cutting through the official haze. With 13 consecutive combat deployments to his credit, the author paints a group portrait of America’s finest that had been handpicked for the job in an attempt to overturn the media-created hype. He calmly reasons, “If my com…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…