Gordian Knots

Beyond Terror and Martyrdom
The Future of the Middle East
Gilles Kepel, translated by Pascale Ghazaleh
Harvard University Press, $27.95, 336 pp.

The Arab Center
The Promise of Moderation
Marwan Muasher
Yale University Press, $30, 336 pp.

Extremism in the Middle East, while lamented by most, offers advantages to many. Peace activists and diplomats deplore the violence but welcome the political side effects of fanaticism, including the revulsion it inspires in everyone else. Military officers and security specialists count on the self-destructive tendencies of their radical adversaries, whose insistence on absolute conformity to a narrow vision of truth leads to internal fissures and the splintering of movements and resources. And if you happen to govern an autocratic and corrupt Arab state, the threat posed by fundamentalists provides a handy excuse to postpone the advent of a vital civil society and genuine democracy.

Exploring the flaws of Middle East extremism is the burden of the two books under review. Both authors hope for the eventual triumph of moderation in the Middle East, and each charts a path to peace and economic development. Yet in these books, like virtually all the best treatments of the bedeviled region, the diagnosis may be sound and the prescriptions sensible, but the prognosis remains uncertain at best. This patient does not want...

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About the Author

R. Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Center for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, is co-editor of Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics and Praxis.