Review Essay

A New Islamic Politics: Faith and Human Rights in the Middle East

In This Review

God Has 99 Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East

God Has 99 Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East
By Judith Miller
Simon & Schuster, 1996, 512 pp. $27.50 Purchase

Judith Miller masterfully deploys her insider’s knowledge of the events and personalities behind the Islamization of politics in the Middle East. Former Cairo bureau chief of The New York Times, Miller has spent 25 years reporting from the region. Hers is an extensively documented yet personal narrative with dozens of characters both ordinary and extraordinary, animated by the author’s compassion for the peoples of the Middle East. In ten chapters, each devoted to a different country, Miller combines sweeping historical surveys and a journalist’s reminiscences with examinations of militant Islamic groups from Hamas to the challengers of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to the leaders behind the Islamic governments of Iran and Sudan. The book traces the militants’ intellectual and ideological roots back to the early years of this century and uncovers current political and financial connections within the region and beyond.

But how many names of God has Miller truly perceived and understood? Could she have missed what she was not looking for, and found only what she was seeking?


Miller says her reasons for choosing the countries she writes about are ‘obvious’ and does not attempt to justify her focus on Islamic militancy. Yet she claims to ‘convey . . . the mood of the countries within the region, the tone of their debates, and the forms taken by the struggle for dominance.’ Her selectivity, however, not only anticipates negative conclusions about Islam but may contribute to their validation.

The militancy Miller critiques so effectively is indeed bound up with the region’s persistent political problems and economic weakness. But that does not mean Islam is the problem (as against the Islamists’ chant, ‘Islam is the solution’). Writing on Islamism in the West has been unrelentingly negative. Certainly the militants’ violent and oppressive behavior must be shown to have no basis in Islam. But the international media should also report on the more rational and humane Islamic perspectives.

Miller states: ‘While I have tried to keep an open

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