Islam has been an American obsession for at least a decade. The 9/11 attacks and the intractable violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- however much we have been the cause of it -- have left us bewildered and terrified by this seemingly austere and martial faith.
Islam was spread quickly by the sword from Arabia westward across North Africa, the history books tell us, and is supposedly prone to the extremities of thought to which deserts give rise. But there is a whole other side to Islamic history that has been obscured, even as it illuminates a key strategic geography of the 21st century. While the United States has concentrated on the western half of the Islamic world in the Middle Eastern deserts, there is an eastern half in the green forests and jungles of the tropics where global energy routes and merchant sea traffic now intersect.
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