Monday, May 10, 2004

Review of Bernard Lewis' The Crisis of Islam

Bernard Lewis, as usual, put out a fine book. The Crisis of Islam goes on to explain in brief what Islam is, and how Muslims, especially those we call "fundamentalists" view the west and why it seems like the west seems to face no end of problems from Islam.

The book starts with an explanation of Islam. What is the Islamic worldview? Muslims do not perceive peoplehood, statehood, or nationalism the way Westerners do. Our basic unit of the world is geographic, while theirs is religious. Muslim countries are more Muslim than any Christian country is Christian. Lewis summarizes this nicely. Then the book goes on to look at how Muslims have viewed the west, and others throughout their history, from the time that Muslims were independent under Islamic rule, through colonialization and to the present. The nature of Islamic states' alliances with athiest communism is hard to make sense of, as is early Palestinian support for Nazism and not the British. Lewis takes us through the problems and seeming paradoxes of the region.

Lewis points out something rather interesting. the west traditionally has interacted with the Arab world under the assumption that they are incapable of having a democracy. We have put up with events such as the Hama masacre without too many repercussions for the state. We tolerate, and even make nice to Saudia Arabia, despite the fact that it is a horribly opressive regime. The Arabs, especially the fundamentalist Muslims, have alwasy held that against us. It remains to be seen whether this assumption is wrong.

The failures of modernity and the rise of retrogressive Wahhabism were also key points in the evolution of Islam. This too is noted and described. Then the rise of modern terrorism, especially its departure from classical Islamic political assasination is addressed. This leads us to Lewis' recommendations for the present and he alludes to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This book was good easy read. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more of Lewis' work in the future.

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