Fawaz A.Gerges' book, America and Political Islam, attempts to analyse the complex relationship between the United States and Political Islam. America and Political Islam provides a thoughtful insight into how American policy-makers, and media have responded to the political challenges posed by the Middle East.
Ultimately, after his careful and meticulous analysis, Gerges argues that the American government and establishment have viewed Islam and Muslims based on inaccuracy, prejudice and ignorance, and that American foreign policy has been largely formed in the same inaccurate and prejudiced vein. Gerges carefully reviews the historical political situation, analyses the present relationship between the United States and the Islamic world, and dares to make recommendations on how this relationship can be managed, and hopefully, improved, in the future.
Gerges' main thesis is that the United States political scene, and accompanying political, cultural, security, and historical issues, explain America's preoccupation with Islam and Muslims. He delves deeply into discussions of the American political scene, and uses specific examples and case studies to support his claim that American foreign policy is clouded by preconceptions, prejudice toward the Muslim world.
Gerges clearly states that America is preoccupied with Muslims and Islam. He notes that America's "fixation with Islam" has been influences by a number of national and international factors. Gerges examines each factor in turn, examining issues as diverse as the end of the Cold War, and the political decay or Regimes in the Middle East.
Gerges uses the four case studies of Iran, Algeria, Egypt and Turkey to help illustrate United States policies in the Middle East. In analyzing these case studies, Gerges allows American decision-makers and policy-makers to speak in their own words.
In a chapter that outlines a case study of American foreign policy in Algeria, Gerges makes the point that United States foreign policy has veered little form its anti-Muslim stance. In 1992 elections in Algeria, the Algerian military intervened, cancelling elections. The military took this action to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from gaining power, and immediately outlawed the FIS.
Interestingly, President George Bush's was generally quite passive in its response to the crisis in Algeria. Gerges argues that this passivity was greatly in contrast to the United States support of political pluralism and democracy.
Gerges argues that U.S. policy in the Clinton administration continued to be plagued by inconsistencies. Gerges notes that the Clinton administrations "rhetoric on political Islam combines carrots and sticks, alternating between accommodationist and confrontationalist language. It is unclear whether this vacillation is part of the administration's conscious strategy or due to uncertainty and ambivalence regarding the Islamists' real agenda. What is clear is that U.S. policy is full of unresolved tensions."
In his historical analysis, Gerges notes that the Western world has treated Islam with great apathy at best, and hostility and prejudice, at worst. He notes that there is great Western apathy toward Islamic civilization, including Islamic art, literature, politics, law and history. Gerges argue that this apathy has resulted in a narrow, and biased understanding of Islam in the Western world.
He notes that the world's billion Muslims, are often judged by the actions of a militant few, who most Muslims oppose. However, the West's narrow and biased view of the Muslim world makes it difficult for American policy makers and citizens to clearly see the complexity of the Muslim world.
Distressingly, Gerges feels that many Americans are more than simply ambivalent towards the Muslim world. He argues that many Americans perceive Arabs as "dangerous, untrustworthy, undemocratic, barbaric and primitive."
Despite this, Gerges argues that current U.S. government attitudes are more than simply a reaction to cultural and historical events. He notes that political and security concerns are paramount in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
In his 1999 book, Gerges argued that the current "equation of Islam with 'terrorism'" has done a great deal of damage to the image of Muslims in the United States. He notes that this image has helped to shift policy-makers in the U.S. toward a more militant stance against Islam. Further, Gerges lays part of the blame on radical Islamists, saying that the extremists are "their own worst enemies." It is interesting to consider the extent that the events of September 11th have perpetrated the "equation…