The Washington Post

October 21, 2001 Sunday
Final Edition


Expert's Picks;
By Lorraine Adams

BYLINE: Terrorism And The Middle East

SECTION: BOOK WORLD; TERRORISM AND THE MIDDLE EAST; Pg. T15

LENGTH: 1009 words

Terrorism is a subject that crosses many disciplines and has been of only slight interest to most. Few historians, sociologists or psychologists have given it much attention, although terrorism has long been with us, and flourishes when sociological and psychological conditions have gone underexamined.

Most contemporary works on terrorism share a set of flaws. Their tone can approach that of a thriller novel. Documentation is often missing. Too few of the people writing about terrorism that involves the Middle East or Islam speak Arabic -- and too few, even among those who speak Arabic, have actually spoken to terrorists.

Here is a list of recent books that either avoid these shortcomings, or -- even if they don't -- manage to relay information important to understanding the current situation.

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid (Yale Univ., 2000, $ 29.95; paperback, $ 14.95). Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, provides the most reliable and absorbing account of the militant Central Asian movement that has given shelter to Osama bin Laden, addressing the Taliban's complicated economic, diplomatic, sociological and military origins.

The Ultimate Terrorists, by Jessica Stern (Harvard Univ., 1999, $ 24; paperback, $ 15.95). This book on terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, nuclear -- is an authoritative guide. Stern, a former Clinton administration adviser on terrorism, depicts the serious and real risks (which are few but significant), dismisses the overblown risks (which are many), and proposes ideas on how to address both.

The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality, by John L. Esposito (Oxford Univ., 1999, paperback, $ 16.95); Islam and Democracy, by John L. Esposito, John Obert Voll and Voll Esposito (Oxford Univ., 1998, $ 19.95). In both these books, John Esposito -- founder and director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding -- marshals his lifetime study of Islam and the countries where it is practiced to dispel common misconceptions about both. He explains how local mosques provided basic social services when governments were unable to, thus giving rise to political movements and parties that are Islamic in character but not necessarily undemocratic. He also examines the way that Islam became linked to national identity in the Arab and Asian worlds during revolutions against European colonial rule.

Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America, by Laurie Mylroie (American Enterprise Inst., 2000, $ 24.95). Mylroie, a consultant to the New York FBI on the 1993 World Trade Center case, argues that the Clinton administration's theory about a loose network of terrorists without state sponsor or identifiable political objectives other than the destruction of America is flawed. She contends that this misreading has allowed Iraqi President Saddam  Hussein to covertly train, organize and finance the first World Trade Center attack, as well as other terrorist actions. Mylroie shows that the most sophisticated conspirator in the 1993 attack, an Iraqi named Abdul Rahman Yasin, is alive and living in Baghdad -- and that he represents one of many unexplored elements key to understanding the role of Iraqi intelligence in terrorist attacks.

Fundamentalisms and the State: Remaking Polities, Economies and Militance, ed. by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Univ. of Chicago, $ 29). This book, one of a five-volume comparative study across borders, religions and history, examines how fundamentalism manifests itself as political militancy and terrorism.

Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, by Edward W. Said (Vintage Paperback, revised edition, 1997, $ 13). Cultural critic Said became the founder of post-colonial literary theory with Orientalism and its argument that European scholars of the Middle, Near and Far East were basically duplicating, on the intellectual plane, the subjugation of the region by European colonial powers. Covering Islam extends this argument to the American media, exploring how its news stories about terrorism, Islam and the Israeli Palestinian conflict suffer from similar distortions.

Islam and the West, by Bernard Lewis (Oxford Univ., 1994; paperback, $ 15.95). Princeton Near Eastern studies professor Bernard Lewis has been writing about Islam for 50 years. This book is his response to Said's Orientalism, which decried Lewis in particular, saying his "work purports to be liberal objective scholarship but is in reality very close to being propaganda against his subject material . . . [and is meant] to debunk, to whittle down, and to discredit the Arabs and Islam." This is the other side of the story, and Lewis is its most brilliant spokesman.

Terrorism and America: A Commonsense Strategy for a Democratic Society, by Philip B. Heymann (MIT, 1998; Paperback, $ 13.95). This is one of the few books on terrorism that address how the justice system in a constitutional democracy can protect its citizens from terrorism without dismantling important freedoms. Heymann looks at how two other democracies, Great Britain and Ireland, have responded to terrorism on their soil, and how America should avoid their choices. His rundown of the American situation is no longer timely, but it still represents the most even-handed discussion of a crucial set of questions.

Underground, by Haruki Murakami (Vintage International, 2001, $ 14). Japanese novelist Murakami interviewed 62 victims and some of the perpetrators of the 1995 sarin poison gas attack in a Tokyo subway by a radicalized Buddhist sect called Aum Shinrikyo. About 5,500 were affected and 12 died. Murakami lets all the voices emerge in their full ambiguities and contradictions and so not only illuminates the suffering but also shows how terrorists see their violence as inevitable rather than evil. *

Lorraine Adams, a Washington Post reporter and regular reviewer for Book World, is at work on a book about terrorism.