|ZED BOOKS LTD|
the guardian Fri 10 July 2009
Against the kind of debate that features a clash of "certainties ... about the best form of coercion to apply in any international moral impasse", international-relations scholar Chan has written a beautifully digressive plea for pluralism. The book's wide-angle viewpoint takes in André Malraux's imagining of a Chinese assassin, the Finnish construction of a national myth, contemporary African novels, Sufism and Zoroastrianism, the archangel Gabriel distracted from his "cosmic satnav" by a beautiful woman, Hans Küng's parliament of the world's religions, and the videogame Assassin's Creed, read (rightly) as a critique of Dick Cheney.
The book's main argument is that simplification is a dereliction of intellectual duty. "If, in electronic games, even devils and demons are complex creatures, so are Sudanese and Chinese." Chan himself complexifies fruitfully, distinguishing various competing modern versions of Islam or rehearsing "the beautiful history of Iran". Much fun is had along the way with simplifying rivals such as Francis Fukuyama (who "clothed triumphalism with, if not thought, then with the image of thought") and Robert Kagan (denizen of "the world of intellectual cartoons"). Chan argues that it is every citizen's duty not merely to be moved by news of far-off distress, but to learn and think. He leads admirably by example.