Fundamentalist Islam has been a growing presence in the Muslim world for a quarter-century, but only in the past year or two has it become a major policy issue for Americans. Should the U.S. government engage in dialogue with fundamentalist groups seeking power? Is there such a thing as a moderate fundamentalist? What steps should be taken to prevent fundamentalist-inspired violence within the United States?
While many scholars and journalists have written books on fundamentalist Islam, A Sense of Siege may well be the first full-length study of relations between it and the West. The study offers the excitement and the flaws characteristic of such initial efforts. Fuller and Lesser take up a wide range of policy-related issues and handle them with knowledge and sophistication. For example, they note that while fundamentalists have no basic hostility to the free market, "[r]ealistically, the Islamists will face immense pressure to adopt a populist set of policies."Less impressive, the authors adopt a position of moral relativism on the matter of troubled ties between the West and the Muslim ("no one side is more right than the other") Worse yet, they urge Americans to see the fundamentalists not as power-hungry ideologues but as spokesmen for legitimate grievances; this leads them to advise in favor of a soft policy toward fundamentalism. Agree with them or not, however, Fuller and Lesser have done much to advance the debate with this insightful volume.