Review Essay

Whither Political Islam?

In This Review

The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West

The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West
By Gilles Kepel
Belknap, 2004, 336 pp. $23.95 Purchase

Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah

Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah
By Olivier Roy
Columbia University Press, 2004, 320 pp. $29.50 Purchase

The debate over why the attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred has been dominated by different versions of "culture talk," the notion that culture is the most reliable clue to people's politics. Their differences notwithstanding, public intellectuals such as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis agree that religion drives both Islamic culture and politics and that the motivation for Islamist violence is religious fundamentalism. Ascribing the violence of one's adversaries to their culture is self-serving: it goes a long way toward absolving oneself of any responsibility.

The singular merit of two new books by Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy is that they take the debate about the rise of political Islam beyond culture talk. Kepel seeks to understand the intellectual history of political Islam, Roy the social conditions under which Muslims think and act. Of the two, Roy makes the most forceful break from culture talk. He dismisses "the culturalist approach" that treats

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