Friday, December 15, 2006

Review of Lewis' What Went Wrong

As usual, Bernard Lewis produces a great piece of writing. What went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response is a well-told tale of the relevant bits of Islamic history leading up to their poor position in the world today.

Islam, once a real force in culture and science and even justice, has been reduced to an almost negligible space in the intellectual, financial, economic, moral, and scientific outlook of the planet. Their ownership of fossil fuels being their only positive contribution to the rest of the planet. After the 15th century Islam stopped

The book talks about many things that hindered Islam's inability to modernize. The ones that stick out in my mind are Islam's inability to separate between church and state - a big impediment to modernization. Islam's lack of interest in anything that was not religious seems like a problem too. Real efforts to modernize seemed to have been spurned on by their need to win wars, something they have not been doing lately. (From being controlled by the secular Ottomans to the British and French, to the loss against Israel. . .)

My only gripe about the book is that I wish it was clearer about what went wrong. It does a good job at looking at the history, and the title made a promise that it did not deliver on, namely what went wrong. The conclusion chapter made some strides in this direction, but the reader is left to put the pieces together for himself.

Otherwise a pretty good read.

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