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In 1995, I wrote in these pages about an earlier co-production by Esposito and the Oxford University Press, the four-volume The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, that "Like many other reference works in the age of deconstruction, it faces problems of identity and purpose. An encyclopedia used to be a straightforward compendium of known and useful facts. But when scholars increasingly agree that truth depends on one's vantage point (and especially one's gender, race, and class), the encyclopedic function becomes far less obvious. A large number of the 450 contributors to this work would seem to accept the modern notion that objectivity being unobtainable, there's little point in even trying."

Eight years later, the same problems bedevil the much smaller Oxford Dictionary, but this time, the lack of objectivity seems to have more of an agenda: namely, whitewashing Islamism. This theme pervades the volume. Thus, Ahmad Deedat, the Islamist attack dog against Christianity, while called "controversial," is described as "widely respected" and noted as the winner of a prize for "outstanding service to Islam." Hizbullah, the Lebanese Islamist group, is said to finance a "wide range of social, economic, and media projects," while no mention is made of its being a mainstay of the U.S. government's terrorism list. The Tunisian Islamist Rashid al-Ghannushi might rant against conspiracies by "Jewish Masonic Zionist atheistic gangs" but our dictionary respectfully defines him as an "Islamic thinker, activist, and political leader." Steven Pomerantz, the FBI's former chief of counterterrorism, may say about the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations that the organization, "its leaders and its activities effectively give aid to international terrorist groups," but the Oxford Dictionary assures us it is merely "a civil rights organization defending the right of Muslims to live and practice Islam in America without having to suffer discrimination."

And on and on through the dictionary. One wishes that this handsomely produced and practical volume could be recommended but it should be strenuously avoided.