2) Ispahani blasts Levy for giving "Muslim moderation short shrift, devoting less than two pages of his book to what he calls 'gentle Islam'...." Again, she has missed considerable swaths of the text -- such as the fact that there is actually an entire chapter called "Gentle Islam."
3) Ispahani mocks the author as a "self-described regional expert" and implies he isn't qualified to write about the region because, she says, he hasn't been to India recently. In fact, as is well known, not to mention stated on the book jacket, Levy first went to the region as a war reporter in 1971, covering the Bangladeshi war, which led to his first of several books on the region. "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" describes five lengthy investigations conducted in Pakistan, and several others in neighboring countries, including India. In her way of being inaccurate and self-contradictory at once, Ispahani seems to have missed the fact of her own mention of Levy's 2002 diplomatic mission to the region in the wake of the Afghan war. He's not qualified to write about the area?
In short, Ispahani attacks the writer for a book he has not written, then claims he hasn't written what he actually has, then says he's not qualified to write anything. Readers of the L.A. Times have been severely mis-served by this profoundly misleading review about a profoundly important topic for America today.
Dennis Loy Johnson
Mahnaz Ispahani replies:
It is odd that I must conduct a debate with a book's publisher and not with its author, especially when its author is a noted French intellectual whose opinions are meant to influence many people. I find it even odder that the publisher of this reticent superstar leaks his deep displeasure with my review to Page Six of that serious journal of ideas, the New York Post.
In the Post I was misrepresented as a "Pakistani critic" who would "not surprisingly" do a "hatchet job" on a book critical of Pakistan's government. Dennis Johnson's facts are wrong. I am an American scholar and I carry no hatchet. My criticisms of successive Pakistani regimes have been a matter of record for more than 20 years. Johnson's insinuation that my Pakistani birth renders me incapable of critical thinking says much about his notions of Pakistan. He assails me for "factual inaccuracies." A fair reading of my piece reveals that a factual inaccuracy is, for Johnson, only a judgment of which he disapproves. He seems so annoyed that I did not call Levy's book a masterpiece that he fails to notice that I concur with Levy's most substantial points: that "if left unattended, real danger could emanate from radical Islamists in Pakistan." (In the New Republic, I referred to the Levy book in a section about Levy's view of these dangers and merely called it "melodramatic.")
I say that "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" is both a "personal book about the psychology of an individual crime ... and about the larger meanings and implications of that crime." Is that incorrect? It is true that my review was not entirely about the issues of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, though it addressed both; but the subject of Pakistan includes more than those themes. About the bigotries that run riot in Pakistan or elsewhere I need no lessons from Johnson. Levy's obsessive focus is on the extremists, their minions and supporters: His portrait of Pakistan is predominantly of a country already lost to extremism. This, I insist, is a caricature, with alarming policy implications. Levy's case here is a partial one: He does not pay sufficient attention to the attitudes of millions of nonviolent, moderate Pakistanis.
As for my "factual inaccuracies": Johnson says I failed to see that an entire chapter of Levy's was devoted to "Gentle Islam." If he reads the book he has published, that chapter begins on page 447 and ends on page 454. Except for the last two pages, this chapter has nothing to do with any Islam but, rather, with murderous extremists. It continues Levy's discussion of the villains associated with the killing of Pearl. I wrote that I agree with Levy that "the gravest threat" is "the possible usurpation of Pakistan's nuclear weapons by Islamist extremists." While I noted Levy's visits to the region and his correct criticism of Pakistan's military policies in 1971, I stand by my assessment that he does not know enough about the ways in which such nuclear threats might likely come about.
I admire Levy's passion for Daniel Pearl, and in my review I applauded his bravery in tracking down Pearl's killers. Who could not be enraged by the awfulness of this killing? But I still regret that Levy's plucky search was marred by his methods and did not make a better book. The violent world of collaboration between elements of Pakistan's regime, intelligence agencies, and terrorists in deadly doings is not a revelation. I accept that Levy understands that there are millions of ordinary Muslims, some of whom are trying to contest the terrain of the terrorists, but his book just does not read this way. Since Levy has been barraging the media with announcements that Pakistan is the most dangerous state in the world, it is only fair to ask that he give a more nuanced analysis of that troubled country in all its dimensions.