In writing about the roles of "faith, force, and finance" in the future of the Middle East, Palmer draws on these variables over the past century. Former director of the Middle East Studies Center at Florida State University, Palmer is primarily concerned about the rapid ascendancy of Islamist movements in the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings and the threat these movements pose. The ease with which the Islamic State (ISIS) succeeded in 2014 in seizing large swaths of Syria and Iraq attests to the frailty of the Arab state system and the political vacuum lurking behind the façade of absolute control.
Palmer traces the rise of Islamism over the past century: The secular state emerged following the collapse of the religiously-based Ottoman Empire and Qajar dynasty. But secularism dramatically failed to establish deep roots among profoundly religious populations. A combination of humiliating Arab military defeats, Turkish army seizure of power, and the Iranian shahs' extravagance further eroded secularism's appeal as did excessive coercion and an inability by the ruling oligarchies to provide welfare. The stronger traditions of political mobilization in Iran and Turkey enabled faith-based movements to grab and hold power. In Arabic-speaking countries, the rulers either stifled nascent civil societies or precluded their appearance, leading Islamist movements to clamor for jihad against everybody, including one another.
Palmer predicts a new wave of terror as long as "mass despair and religious extremism continues." He proposes to stem it by addressing the root causes of jihad and resolving the region's conflicts by integrating Muslims into the global community. His peace recipe is straightforward, but even he doubts it is doable, given his observation that "the script of the tragedy began with Genesis and the biblical wars that followed."