This is a series of erudite, sometimes opaque, but always highly original essays on Islam and politics. The author aligns himself with an anti-essentialist stance, meaning that he rejects the idea that Islam is a fixed body of beliefs or practices. He attacks both fundamentalists and Orientalists for promoting such a misleading view of Islam. Instead, he sees Islam as a living, changing, and constantly reinterpreted body of ideas. He is also skeptical of those who rely on arguments about culture and ethnicity, as if these are fixed categories. Political Islam, which has little to do with traditional models, is linked to the growth of petrodollars in the 1970s. Azmeh is relentless in picking apart conventional wisdom, challenging common clichs, and warning against the careless use of analytical categories.
When all the deconstruction is done, one is still left with many unanswered questions. Still, these essays, difficult as they sometimes are, bring an independent and critical attitude to bear on the realities of the Middle East and on the scholarship that seeks to interpret it.