The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?

In This Review

The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?

By John L. Esposito
Oxford University Press, 1992
243 pp. $22.00
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So many silly things have been said about the new "Green Peril" of Islam that it is important to hear the reasoned words of a leading scholar of Islam making careful distinctions among varieties of Islamic political experience. This sober, well-written book is designed to cool fervid imaginations and demythologize contemporary Islamic movements. Enough history is provided to get the general reader up to speed, and it has enough detail to demonstrate that not all Islamic parties are the same. Most of the focus turns out to be on the Arab world, while the vast majority of Muslims are not Arab. The author often seems to bend over backwards to give Muslim leaders the benefit of the doubt. Some of the harsher aspects of governing in the name of Islam in Iran and Sudan are minimized, and the special problems of minorities and women in the agendas of most Islamic movements are mentioned only in passing. A basic thesis of the book is that government repression of Islamic movements will inevitably radicalize them. This may be true, but it does not necessarily follow that moderate policies will deradicalize them. While the author is surely correct in saying that Islamic movements are not much of a threat to the West, they may well threaten the established order in much of the Middle East and the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. It seems a bit optimistic to hope that the passing of the old order will bring a benign Islamic order in its place.