One likely reason for the limited appeal of fundamentalist movements before 1975 had to do with their dearth of leadership. Conversely, the emergence of highly competent leaders helps explain the surge of the past two decades. The excellent essays in Spokesmen for the Despised focus on this important personal angle; although the title seemingly refers only to fundamentalists of the Islamic variety, the volume also includes Jewish leaders (the Kooks, Moshe Levinger) and even an oddball Christian (Jan Willem van der Hoeven, a Dutch minister living in Jerusalem).

Muslims fill most of the book however: Khomeini, Fadlallah, Turabi, Yasin, and the lesser-known but significant Ahmad Isma`il of Minya, Egypt. All the accounts bear careful reading; but especially so Martin Kramer's 99-page study of Fadlallah, an outstandingly subtle study of an outstandingly subtle figure. Kramer traces the sheikh's early life, his sudden rise to prominence in 1984, and his career over the subsequent decade as the "spiritual leader" of Lebanon's Hizbullah. Noting that "once he started talking, he never stopped," Kramer sifts through a vast number of Fadlallah's interviews to distill his unchanging strategic aims (an Islamic state in Lebanon, the destruction of Israel) as well as his highly flexible tactics. In Kramer's words: "Demand Jerusalem but settle (for now) for the south [of Lebanon]; demand an Islamic state, then settle (for now) for a `humane' state. In his plea for the despised, Fadlallah remained both pragmatic and principled." And therein lies the danger he poses.