Oh no. Another Western journalist careening around the Middle East, interviewing hundreds of people from cab drivers to heads of state, churning out a book with the words "of the Prophet" in his title, insisting that Islamism is really our friend. (Other examples of this genre include Milton Viorst's In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Mark Huband's Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam, both dreadful and both published in 1998.)1 Shadid, formerly the Associated Press correspondent in Cairo, is a good writer and observer (and he reports much of interest in the course of his book), but he has not a clue about Islam. Interestingly, he guilelessly admits as much in his introduction, where he writes that Islam, through all his research on the subject, has remained to him "sometimes foreign and all too often confusing and troubling. " In his puzzlement, he falls for the voguish idea that Islamism's future lies in "movements that are willing to exercise tolerance and adopts pluralism and compromise as both tactics and ideals." The subtitle refers to Shadid's overly optimistic theory that despots are part of Islamism's past and democrats make up its future.
That a journalist, someone paid for careful observation, can reach such a conclusion betrays a psychological barrier to seeing realities as they are: For the record: Islamism is a utopian ideology that seeks to use the government and other institutions to establish a totalitarian domination over the lives of individuals. Islamists, like other political radicals, are ready to use whatever tools are at hand; so when violent attempts to take power appear to have reached a dead-end, they are quite ready to pursue the same ends through less violent means. This does not make them democrats nor does it render their movements tolerant and pluralist. Shadid and his fellow "of the Prophet" journalists do a grave disservice in closing their eyes to these plain facts.
1 Reviewed in the MEQ, September 1998, pp. 82-83, and June 1999, p. 89.