Stephen Glain, a former Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, joins a long list of journalists, pundits, and think-tank analysts who have endeavored, since the World Trade Center attacks, to help America understand the Arab world. In his first (and, so far, only) book, he argues that the relationship between economics and political stability in the region has been neglected for too long in Washington. He blames the “Beltway Biosphere,” which is too pro-Israeli in sentiment and too neoimperial in outlook to realize that the biggest problem facing the Middle East is not Islam or autocracy but the looming economic and political collapse that will breed yet more despair and terrorism.
This is an interesting thesis well worth developing into a book, but its complexity demands much methodological rigor and a wealth of reliable data. Glain’s book fails on both scores.
The author’s ideological assumptions are neoliberal/Marxist: “A direct line leads from low volume on the Palestinian Securities Exchange to a young boy throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in Ramallah.” His repeated insistence that Muslim extremism cannot be explained in isolation from the issues of inequality and lack of opportunity reflects a mind-set hell-bent on placing economics, rather than culture and morals, at the top of the hierarchy of causes in human affairs.