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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .


Religious Radicalism in the Greater Middle East
(London: Frank Cass, 1997)

264pp. Index. 29.50;
ISBN 0-7146-4769-1..
Pb.: 15.00; ISBN 0-7146-4326-2.


The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University held a conference in November 1994 to discuss the politics of religion in the Middle East and Central Asia. Many of the papers were collected into this edited volume, which contains work by some of the best known academics in Israeli political science. A strong Israeli perspective is embodied, and the book flags the issues that have assumed a central place in Israeli security thinking: the chronic social crisis in the Arab world, the unprecedented resonance of the contemporary Islamic revival, and the threats posed by Islamic terrorism and by Iran. All but one of the chapters is on Islam. The one exception is a Shmuel Sandler's illuminating study of religious Zionism, and the importance of the breakdown in the relationship between the Labour Party and the National Religious Party for the stability of Israeli politics.

The book is organised into five sections. Section One relates to militant Islam in government, with a chapter on Iran, and one on Sudan. The lesson from Iran and Sudan is that when pan-Islamic forces actually capture the state they tend to be frustrated by the realities of domestic politics, and by the state system. Haggay Ram contends, for instance, that Iranian foreign policy is now an almost complete fusion of Islam and Iranian nationalism. Section Two and Three turn to Islam as an opposition, with chapters relating to Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestine Authority. What is clear is that militant Islam stems from a political and social crisis that seems almost unresolvable, but whilst militancy represents a dangerous force, it is not yet an overwhelming one for the states that face it.

The focus shifts to the "periphery" in Section Four to examine the differing experiences of Islam across North Africa and Central Asia. Whilst in parts of North Africa, Islam has brought a difficult to contain dissidence, in Central Asia, Islamic radicals have not challenged the post-Soviet order in the way that many expected them to do. The final section takes a broader look at Islam, and includes a chapter by Gabriel Ben-Dor which argues that Islamic Fundamentalism is uniquely disruptive both to the state, and to the international system.

In sum, this is a worthwhile collection that contains a good deal of material and insight for those interested in the contemporary Middle East and Central Asia.


Simon Murden, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth



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