Kepel frames his account in terms of two concurrent, contending "grand narratives" -- the Bush administration's "global war on terror" and al Qaeda's global jihad. Both professed a utopian aspiration. The former was supposed to bring democracy to the Middle East; the latter was supposed to rid the Muslim world of infidel domination and internal tyranny. Both failed. Both deserved to fail. Squeezing history into such a dramatic framework risks distortion. (Think of Shakespeare's historical plays set alongside the historical record.) But no such problem exists here. Kepel knows his Middle East, and he is arguably the foremost expert on political Islam. He also reaches beyond his contending grand narratives. Illustrative of his ability to capture the complexity of these years is the fact that he treats not just the Bush administration and al Qaeda but also such diverse people and places as Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the Maronite Lebanese leader General Michel Aoun; the Danish cartoon affair; Pope Benedict XVI; and the situations of Muslims in different European countries. As for the U.S. role in this ongoing tragedy, think of Kepel's account as a harsh but deserved rebuke from "old Europe."
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