America and Political Islam : Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?

Cambridge University Press, 1999

This book provides a comprehensive account of the origins of American policy on political Islam, chronicling the policy debates on Islamism in the United States over the course of time. The author then delves deeper into the US political scene to analyze the historical, political, cultural, and security issues that might help explain America’s preoccupation with Islam and Muslims. The book also addresses the clash of civilizations debate and assesses the relative importance of culture and values in the words and deeds of US officials on political Islam.

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“This book is the product of many years of research and reflection on the relations between the West and the Islamic world. It deals with a subject that is not just topical but really important. Fawaz Gerges is uniquely well qualified to write about this subject. He combines deep insight into Middle East politics with a subtle and sophisticated analysis of US policy towards political Islam. His book should be of great interest to students, policymakers, and general readers.” – Avi Shlaim, St. Antony’s College

“Gerges’ level-headed analysis superbly reveals the discrepancies between American words and American deeds. Though one might despair of our country ever having a coherent Middle East policy, dispassionate and thorough insight like this could be the beginning of wisdom.” – Richard Bulliet, Columbia University

“Fawaz Gerges has made a significant contribution to our understanding of U.S. policy toward the Islamic political currents sweeping across the Middle East. One of the many outstanding features of this book is its balanced and remarkably well-informed account of American policymakers at work, torn between democratic idealism and pragmatic security concerns, struggling to comprehend a complex ideological force which they find threatening yet which they dimly realize requires some kind of inclusion in the authoritarian politics of Middle Eastern regimes friendly to Washington. I found his treatment of the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton policies to be both fair-minded and critical. His policy recommendations are cogent and deserve serious attention. This book is a valuable addition to the literature on American foreign policy in general and our Middle East policy in particular.” – Michael C. Hudson, Georgetown University

“Fawaz Gerges has written a major critical evaluation of American policy towards the Muslim world that will serve to define public debates on the subject. Based on a meticulous reading of official documents and statements and supplemented with interviews of key decision-makers, he provides a guide at once thought-provoking and instructive to both American rhetoric and policy. Drawing on a deep knowledge of events in the Islamic world as well as insights into the foreign policy making process, Gerges documents the continuities and discontinuities that have marked the US response to a politically mobilised Islam. In the process, he sounds a salutary cautionary note about the dangers of assuming, even implicitly, that ‘Islam’ constitutes a radical challenge to American interests.” – James Piscatori, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

“Gerges presents the first full-length account of perhaps the most ideological and exciting foreign policy debate of our time – how the US should respond to Islamism. He does so in a clear and well-informed way…Recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above.” Choice

“While some have attributed the misunderstandings, or occasional enmities, between America and Political Islam, to a “clash” of cultures or of civilizations, Fawaz Gerges chooses instead to analyse the domestic US political scene in his attempts to explain America’s “fixation with Islam.” He looks at historical, political, cultural and security issues, and gives four case-studies of US policy in the Middle East, examining in turn American policy towards Iran, Algeria, Egypt and Turkey.” – Nadia Abou El-Magd, Al-Ahram

“Gerges surveys the American encounter with Islamic politics since the Iranian Revolution startled the world 20 years ago. He brings together U.S. policy statements from the executive branch and Congress, the range of interpretations advanced by journalists and scholars, and interviews with (mostly anonymous) State Department and National Security Council officials. After discussing general questions like “Islam and Muslims in the mind of America,” Gerges details the approaches of U.S. presidents from Carter to Clinton and offers case studies of U.S. policy toward Iran, Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey. U.S. officialdom, he finds, has been rhetorically accepting of political Islam (a few strident exceptions aside) but opposed in actual policy. Also addressed but not overplayed is the considerable convergence of pro-Israeli and anti-Islamist sentiment among American politicians and publicists. The general conclusions Gerges draws from his painstakingly, even repetitively, presented documentation are that the American-Iranian confrontation is the defining case and that American misperceptions about political Islam, although bad enough, have stopped short of demonization. It is, after all, more a clash of interests than of cultures.” – L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs