Pinto, a Portuguese scholar with a degree from England, goes over some well-trod ground1 but does it from an outsider's point of view. The study contains too much elementary materials, containing primers on the nature of political Islam and on American connections to the Middle East that take up the first half of the book. In her analysis of U.S. policy toward Islamism (what she calls political Islam), she starts with an historical overview, concluding from it that the American approach is "not a monolith or indiscriminate," but "depended on the type of movement and the latter's disposition towards American interests." The heart of the book contains an analysis of the debate over Islamism, where (pace Jonathan Paris) she finds two main schools, the accommodationist and the confrontational. The former (represented a long list of academics)2 finds Islamism "not a threat by a healthy grassroots response to the failure of Arab governments to tackle growing socio-economic problems." The latter (represented by a shorter and generally less specialized group of writers)3 argues that Islamism "is inherently hostile to the Western world and is on a collision course with it."
After giving a fair summary of the two arguments, Pinto, herself firmly planted in the accommodationist camp, can stand it no longer and blows off the confrontational approach as nothing but the "fabrication" of a threat. In her view , everyone knows the Islamist threat does not really exist but some go along with its being conjured up by distraught defense planners who need a new enemy, presumably one that justifies their ample budgets. With this sorry excuse for a premise, Pinto then goes on to review official American policy toward Islamism, a survey that lacks any reliability or utility, based as it is on such biased assumptions. To understand just how unreliable she is, here are two quotes: she blames "the origin of Lebanon's descent into chaos" on Israel's 1982 invasion, somehow forgetting that the civil war began in 1975 and completely absolving both the Palestinians and the Syrian government for their roles in this tragedy. Even more spectacularly deceitful is her description of Usama bin Ladin as merely "the Saudi businessman who served as an Islamic recruitment agent for Afghanistan and maintains an office in Sudan."
1 For two examples reviewed in this journal, see MEQ, Sept. 1995, pp. 91-92; Mar. 2000, pp. 77-78.
2 Pinto mentions John Esposito, James Piscatori (author of the introduction to her study), Hooshang Amirahmadi, John Voll, James Bill, John Entelis, Richard Bulliet, Charles Butterworth, and Augustus Norton, as well as some non-academics (Graham Fuller, Shireen Hunter, Richard Murphy, Leon Hadar, Robin Wright)
3 Pinto cites Samuel Huntington, Zbigniew Brzezinki, Martin Kramer, Judith Miller, Bernard Lewis, Peter Rodman, and this reviewer.