Baker's books on the Abdel Nasser and Sadat eras, 1954-81, bespeak his familiarity with the Egyptian political scene; as he puts it, he has made "a voyage to an intellectual, cultural, and moral world into which I was not born but where I no longer feel a stranger." Islam without Fear clearly shows the strengths and weaknesses of this voyage. On the plus side, Baker not only knows his topic but has a feel for the Egyptian scene, both Islamist and otherwise. His survey of the "New Islamists"—a group of important Egyptians (such as Kamal Abul Magd, Muhammad Selim al-Awa, Tareq al-Bishry, Muhammad al-Ghazzaly, Fahmy Huwaidy, and Yusuf al-Qaradawy) at the vanguard of Islamist ideological development—is informed, smart, and supple. He documents their thinking, assesses their achievements and failings, and points to their significance.
On the minus side, Baker, professor of international politics at Trinity College, Hartford, has lost any sense of objectivity and instead adopted the outlook of his New Islamist subjects, for whom he serves as an English-language cheerleader. Rehashing the silly and discredited trope distinguishing between moderate and extreme Islamists, he treats the leading lights of the world's most vibrant totalitarian movement with an overt and embarrassing enthusiasm (centrist, positive, impressive, human, and humane are adjectives describing them that appear in just the book's first five pages). Worse, the study contains an element of deception, a hiding of problems, symbolized by Baker's long account of a headline-making debate in January 1992 between Qaradawy and an arch-secularist named Farag Foda but his omission that this exchange contributed directly to the assassination of Foda five months later by an Islamist terrorist.