Caryle Murphy was the Washington Post's bureau chief in Cairo for a good long while, and she now covers religion for the Post now, living in Washington. This book was apparently in preparation before 9/11--almost all of the events in the text occurred in the late 90s or earlier. Murphy interviewed a number of people, including Islamists of various stripes, secularists, government officials, clerics, and other observers. The result is an interesting picture of Egyptian society and its relationship with its Muslim citizen.
Many in the west equate Islam with evil intent, extremist politics and intolerance, misogyny, and a host of other very negative attitudes. All of these are held by *some* Islamists from the extreme portion of the religion, and in some ways they can't be called the fringe--they're too mainstream. The author does a good job of describing the various participants in the movement, and explains the roots of the Muslim Brotherhood, the start of extremist Muslim thought in Egypt and the place Ayman al-Zawahiri got his start in politics, before he went on to become #2 in Al Qaeda.
The author works hard to discuss the various aspects of Islam and its relationship to Egyptian society, from how Islam deals with Christians in Egypt to the various ways the religion interacts with the government in Egypt to the way Al-Azhar University has dealt with the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Egypt. The result of the book is a clear picture of how Islamist thought, and extremism, have spread in Egypt, and why.
I enjoyed this book a great deal, and thought that I learned a great deal from it. I would recommend if to almost anyone interested in the subject.
I just caught up to an excellent book by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Caryle Murphy, who spent three years in Cairo as Egypt's bureau chief for the Washington Post. During that time, Murphy covered the first Iraqi war and spent countless hours meeting and interviewing Egyptian citizens, as well as the powerhouses who help shape Middle Eastern policy. We Americans on the home front, traditionally ignorant about other cultures, have much to learn from this informative, easy-to-read book.
In Passion for Islam Murphy produces a consolidated picture of a process that is taking place across the Arab world, and affecting the planet as a whole. Starting with the end of the socialist promise of the Nasser era all the way through the violence that rocked Egypt in the nineties, Murphy carefully follows the development of Islamist insurgency through its various forms. Breaking down each step in the movement's growth to its simplest parts, she is able to differentiate the facets of Islam in Egypt that played into the development of radical Islamist behavior.
Murphy identifies three main parts of the radical Islamist movement, "Pious Islam," "Political Islam," and Cultural Islam." Her thorough discussion of each succeeds in illuminating the various and complex aspects of the web of Egyptian life, through which religion is a common thread. Whether it is the grounding force of a family living in poverty, or a tool by which the unscrupulous seize power, Murphy examines Islam's role in the lives of all Egyptians, and the trends both personal and national that have begun under its shadow of influence.
In this new world after 9/11 many books have appeared that address this issue in one way or another, and do so with various success. Passion for Islam, however, stands apart from this crowd if for no other reason than its sheer readability. Where many illuminating accounts of the Taliban and radical militancy burden the shelves unread with their ominous association to things like textbooks, Passion for Islam jumps out as being equal parts sociology and travelogue. Murphy carefully blends erudite reporting and commentary with descriptive scenery and personal account, relaxing the tone of the book to comfortable page turning; and throughout the commentary, she demonstrates that her understanding of the situation comes from having actually been there, as much as having studied it. With an easy tone and thoughtful manner Murphy gives an exciting and critical account of the years she spent in Egypt, and at the same time crafts a clear and useful blueprint of a process of extreme historical and political importance.
For the casual reader Passion for Islam provides an interesting look into a far away world that, though weighing on our daily lives, has remained one of murky fog and speculation. For those who know already something about the world of Islam and radical politics the book develops a new and lucid framework for understanding the situation and works extensively, in both a sociological and historical sense, to sort out and clarify the facts of one nation's experience with Islam and the world that surrounds it. It's a good blend of Discovery channel adventure and high-level insight, and goes a long way towards filling in those gaps in our collective understanding of the world around us.