Profiles in Islam
Email this review


 This journalist's promising venture, to interview representatives of often-feared Islamic political movements, fails to deliver as much insight as it should. Davis, deputy senior foreign editor at NPR, visited with members of widely varying strands of politically active Islam, from Algeria to Indonesia (Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are notably absent). It's refreshing to see an American journalist skip the think tanks and head straight to the nebulous ``Islamic militants,'' who turn out to be a vivid assortment of individuals- -including a scholar, a relief administrator, a judge, genuine militants, and a number of outspoken women. But the other side of this horse's-mouth approach is a pained evenhandedness that fears to lead to a conclusion--and is perhaps unable to. Davis tends to act merely as a blank slate for often propagandistic answers to simple questions, not exhibiting much direct background knowledge against which to evaluate their claims. The transcribed interviews, mostly conducted in an English of a sometimes rudimentary quality, are each preceded by a profile of the subject, too frequently in the difficult cases culminating in a noncommittal ``maybe good, maybe bad'' conclusion, or falling back on formulaic laments about hatred and extremism. In the ruling theme of the encounters, the mixture of religious zeal and political power alarms Davis, not unjustifiably, as a representative of ``the West.'' But the question of what Western interests really are is never straightforwardly addressed; Habib Chirzin, the figure most congenial to Western civilization in Davis's eyes, is a member of a movement connected to a secular dictatorship--Indonesia. Without a more informed historical and social context, these profiles don't quite escape the West's flat mental grid of Islam, even as the diversity of figures here hints at the true complexity of contemporary Muslim thought and practice.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-16587-0
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1997