Reviewer Bani Sodermark. Bani has a Ph.D in mathematical physics and has been a teacher of physics and mathematics at the university level in both India and Sweden. For the last decade, her interests have been spirituality, healthy living and self-development. She has written a number of reviews on Amazon. Bani is a mother to two children.
Author: Robert Kaplan
Publisher: Random House Paperbacks
A Panoramic View of Maritime Trade in the Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is one of the least talked about oceans in the world. While most people from the West and Far East interest themselves in developments concerning the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans because of their geographic location, the same is not true of the Indian Ocean. Yet, crisscrossed as it is, by naval vessels of all kinds for the purpose of maritime trade, viz., Indian, Chinese, Arab, Persian and Indonesian vessels, it is truly a global ocean as its’ shores provide a home to an agglomeration of people from the fast developing “third world”. In this book, the author presents a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean and the fascinating socio- economic factors that have fashioned its’ history, the naval activity going on there and the future prospects that unfold of the latter, And of course,the appropriate action and the necessary intervention required to further American interests in the context of a globalized world order, where India and China play an increasingly dominant role.
In the author’s own words, “The Indian Ocean region is more than just a stimulating geography. It is an idea because it provides an insightful visual impression of Islam, and combines the centrality of Islam with global energy politics in order to show us a multi layered, multi- polar world....,it is also an idea because it allows us to see the world whole, within a very new and yet very old framework, complete with its’ own traditions and characteristics…. I attempt to describe the ceaseless currents of historical change as they shape the contours of the new century. It is the intermingling of these challenges in each place, religious, economic, political, environmental, rather than each challenge in isolation that creates such drama.”
The author’s main aim in this book is to present a scenario emerging out of the dynamics of the interrelationship that arises out of the socio-economic history of the countries bordering the Indian Ocean. In this scenario, there emerges a multipolar world, where trading activity flourishes between people and countries, on equal terms, irrespective of religion, color or creed. This vision could accommodate China’s ambition of vertical (latitudinal) expansion of its’ territorial influence through various ports in countries to whom it provides technical expertise and other resources, e.g. Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka among others. The author also envisages a greater role for India in patrolling the waters of the Indian Ocean against pirates and other similar dangers along with China and the United States. He further predicts a scenario where Indonesia emerges as an emerging power as a counter to Chinese hegemony, based on the tenets of the softer variety of Islam that is practised there. This softer variety of Islam grew out of trading contact with other countries like Oman and India where the Wahabi version of the Shariat is not practiced because of strong Buddhist and Hindu influences that have prevailed over centuries.
Doing justice to the multitudinal factors that have coordinated with each other to influence maritime trade in the Indian Ocean is outside the scope´of this review. However, a few selected snippets follow which reveal the virtuosity of the author, going by the intricate and multilayered detail of his analysis.
Oman has been the starting point of his analysis. The author describes the architecture of a particular mosque built by the ruler of Oman as illustrative of its’ maker’s adherence to a softer version of Islam. The author backs his claim with historical facts from Oman’s history that lead to the softer version of Islam practised there.
The political repercussions of the Portuguese invasion of Goa and its maritime involvement in the waters of the Indian Ocean are discussed. The sordid nature of this involvement is compared in a later chapter to the equally sordid nature of the Dutch takeover of the East Indies.
This one is a personal favorite. The history of Kolkata (Calcutta), the capital of India under the British East India Company,and a successor to the Portuguese invasion of India is taken up as well. A very personal account of the cultural history of Bengal is presented by the author with a special emphasis on the work of one of India’s greatest icons, Rabindranath Tagore.
The above snippets do not even constitute the tip of the iceberg in this richly varied content-ridden book. One cannot but admire the author’s deep grasp of the intricacy of the geo-politico-historical seascape of the waters of the Indian Ocean.
This book is a joy to read and to re-read. It is chock full of extremely interesting information that is not easily absorbed in a single read.