In This Review

America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?
America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?
By Fawaz A. Gerges
Cambridge University Press, 1999, 282 pp.

Gerges surveys the American encounter with Islamic politics since the Iranian Revolution startled the world 20 years ago. He brings together U.S. policy statements from the executive branch and Congress, the range of interpretations advanced by journalists and scholars, and interviews with (mostly anonymous) State Department and National Security Council officials. After discussing general questions like "Islam and Muslims in the mind of America," Gerges details the approaches of U.S. presidents from Carter to Clinton and offers case studies of U.S. policy toward Iran, Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey. U.S. officialdom, he finds, has been rhetorically accepting of political Islam (a few strident exceptions aside) but opposed in actual policy. Also addressed but not overplayed is the considerable convergence of pro-Israeli and anti-Islamist sentiment among American politicians and publicists. The general conclusions Gerges draws from his painstakingly, even repetitively, presented documentation are that the American-Iranian confrontation is the defining case and that American misperceptions about political Islam, although bad enough, have stopped short of demonization. It is, after all, more a clash of interests than of cultures.