political history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe and America. Communism, with its roots in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, at least had a Western pedigree. Marx and Lenin emerged from historical backgrounds all too recognizable, with ideological intentions derived, on the face of them, from some of our dearest social hopes. But "Islam," a creed of Arabs, Turks, Africans, Persians, Central Asians, Indians, Mongols, and Malays, has been rather off our cultural map. What are we Americans to think about an inflamed competitor of which most of us know hardly more than the name? There has been an avalanche in the last two or three years of books and articles—by historians, by journalists, by political scientists, by students of comparative religion, by sociologists and anthropologists, and by variously inspired amateurs—designed to assist us in answering this question, to give us a crash course in, as the phrase goes, "understanding Islam." "Jihad," a term most Americans had encountered, if they had encountered it at all, in dime novels or at Saturday matinees, has become a prime subject of popular and scholarly discourse. Works designed for that elusive figure, the general reader, have begun to appear on something called, variously and confusingly, "reformism, "modernism," "radicalism," "extremism," or "fundamentalism"—sometimes, even, "Wahhabism"—in contemporary Islam. Handbook explications of Islamic law, of the teachings of the Koran, of the fast, the pilgrimage, or the meaning of the veil are suddenly on offer. So are introductions to Islamic schooling, science, ritual, and scholarship, and accounts of the Shiite clergy, the ecstatic brotherhoods, and that mysterious flying object, "Sufism." Bernard Lewis, perhaps the leading Orientalist of the day, has, at the fine old age of eighty-six, become a best-selling author, a television celebrity, an urgent hawk, and a know-your-enemy adviser to the vice-president of the United States. An attempt to introduce a course on the Koran at the University of North Carolina has produced a state-and-church
and an outburst of right-wing sectarian rage. A short, self-confident book by Karen Armstrong, an English ex-nun with an urge to instruct, has become perhaps our most widely read guide to "the religion of the Prophet." Even the Italian media-madam, Oriana Fallaci, rather off the radar screen since her famous sendup interview of Henry Kissinger a decade or so ago, has checked back in with a screaming attack on anything Muslim, "Afghans and Bosnians and Kurds included," as well as anybody in the West who might consider saying something less than abusive about "the culture of the bigots with the beard and the chador and the burkah."
And that is only the beginning. An ex-Trotskyite, ex-beatnik, ex-obituary writer from San Francisco who converted to Sufism in Bosnia and became Washington bureau chief of the Jewish
issues a zealotic attack on Saudi zealotry and gets himself fired from the Voice of America. The son of a prominent anti-Soviet scholar active during the cold war carries "the West vs. the Rest" polemic forward with a "the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming" call to arms. A South Asian exile, publishing under an assumed name in the United States, popularizes the work of an obscure group of Arabists from London's School of Oriental Studies dedicated to the textual deconstruction of the Koran, the Traditions, the Prophet, and "the myth of Mecca," whole and entire. A former Supreme Court clerk to Justice David Souter, now a law professor, searches through Islamic examples of state and government looking for signs and portents of democratic potential. An ex-CIA staff officer, with thirty years of practice in the Middle East, urges us to win the hearts and minds of "Muslim intellectuals," a growing class, he says, of open and tolerant cosmopolitan thinkers.
Thomas Simons, Clinton's last ambassador to Pakistan, a career diplomat retired to Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation, sets "political Islam" against the background of a sweeping historical macrophase: "IT [i.e., information technology]- led globalization." Vartan Gregorian, the head of the Carnegie Corporation and former president of Brown University, in search of "the best means to facilitate multilateral dialogues between Western and Muslim intellectuals, professionals...clerics... and theologians," produces a