Book Report: Fawaz A. Gerges' America

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Interestingly, in his case study of Iran, Gerges deals with the phenomenon of Osama Bin Laden. Gerges sees Bin Laden as an extremist, who is involved in terrorist activities. Bin Laden is seen as simply one of many extremist terrorists.

Gerges' book is clearly informative, well thought-out, and thought-provoking in turn. The book should be a must-read for Americans whose sole knowledge of American-Islamic relations is taken from the popular media.

The book is even-handed, and fair, and Lebanese native Gerges refrains from the easy temptation to demonize the United States' foreign policy in the Middle East. Instead, Gerges methodologically looks into the complex cultural, historical, political, and security issues that surround American-Islamic relations. Further, he painstakingly provides case studies to help illustrate his points.

Gerges book attempts to understand the difficult political relationship between the United States and political Islam. In doing so, Gerges delves into the complex historical difficulties between the two camps, and tries to make tenable recommendations for improving relations in the future.

Gerges reviews Samuel Huntington's theory of a "clash of civilizations." In his theory, Huntington argues that future political conflicts will be caused by classes between civilizations. Huntington argues that a civilization is defined by institutions, language, religion, history, and the self-identification of the people within it.

Certainly, Gerges agrees with Huntington in that considerations of religion and culture play a real role in political agendas. However, Gerges instead chooses to focus on an analysis of the United States domestic scene in order to explain U.S. attitudes to Islam. Gerges argues that culture and values have an enormous impact on the words and actions of United States policy-makers in their dealings with political Islam. Further, Gerges examines the extent to which religion and culture currently help to define U.S. foreign policy in the countries of the Middle East.

In examining U.S. reactions to Islam, Gerges analyses the intellectual debate on Islam. Gerges sees two main camps in the debate: the confrontationists and the accommodationists. He sees the confrontationists as individuals like Martin Kramer, Bernard Lewis, and Charles Krauthammer who feel that Islamists are fundamentally against democracy, and profoundly anti-Western.

The accommodationists, on the other hand, feel that antidemocratic and anti-Western sentiments are only held by a fringe of Islamists. Instead, the accommodationists argue that the large majority of the Islamic world is pro-democratic and ambivalent about the western world, and generally bear no animosity to the United States. John Esposito, Graham Fuller, and Leon Hadar are examples of accommodationists.

Interestingly, Gerges careful analysis of United States Middle Eastern foreign policy reveals an interesting contradiction. When Gerges carefully examines U.S. policy since 1992, he notes that American policy spokespeople have largely espoused the accommodationist view. However, the actions and policies formulated by the United States toward specific countries have largely been made from a confrontationist perspective.

Put bluntly, Gerges states that United States foreign policy is largely driven by "a deep residue of ambivalence, skepticism, and mistrust." Chillingly, Gerges sees a "beating (of) the drums of a cultural and civilizational war" in America's dual-sided treatment of the Islamic world.

Gerges notes that the United States is reluctant to engage the Islamic political world in meaningful dialogue. This holds true for Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Iran, and others. Instead, the United States assists the efforts of other Middle Eastern groups in overthrowing Islamists who are already in power.

In conclusion, Fawaz A. Gerges' book, America and Political Islam is a deep and thoughtful ideological analysis of the difficult political relationship between the United States and political Islam. The book delves into the complexities of American policy in the Middle East, and attempts to understand the historical basis for current American attitudes and foreign policy toward Islam.

Gerges argues that the United States political scene, and its accompanying political, cultural, security, and historical issues, explain America's preoccupation with Islam and Muslims. He convincingly claims that American foreign policy is clouded by preconceptions, and prejudice toward the Muslim world. He gives thoughtful and careful recommendations on how the relationship between the United States and political Islam can be managed, and hopefully, improved, in the future.

Works Cited

Gerges, Fawaz A.,. America and political Islam: clash of cultures or clash of interests?

Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. [END OF PREVIEW]

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