As the events of September 11 showed, neglected areas of the Islamic world are feeding grounds for international terrorism. And as Rashid, author of the best-selling Taliban, shows in this important work, Islamic fundamentalism is gaining ground in Central Asia as well as it did in neighboring Afghanistan. Until 1991, the five Central Asian countries Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan were part of the Soviet Union. As Rashid discloses, the decade since then has seen a region grown increasingly despotic and impoverished, even though the countries are rich in oil. He offers brief histories of the five countries that make up Central Asia before launching into the rise of Islam. The story line Rashid skillfully weaves is relatively straightforward: Islamist groups, barely tolerated during the waning days of the U.S.S.R., experienced a revival after Communist strictures against religion were lifted. Forced to go underground as post-Communist leaders used repression to ensure their own survival, these Islamist groups "would eventually become radicalized and violent" and outsiders from the Arab world further radicalized them. The strongest group, with ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, emerged in Uzbekistan and has been brutally repressed by President Islam Karimov. Rashid pointedly focuses on how the United States has looked the other way regarding Karimov's human rights abuses as Uzbekistan has offered support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Without international pressure on these regimes to follow human rights standards and end the corruption that has left the societies poor, Rashid argues that Central Asia could become the world's next tinder box. (Feb.)Forecast: Rashid has proven he deserves attention and readers. He will probably get media time, but the reading frenzy about the roots of terrorism could be waning, and this book's sales may not match those of Taliban.