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The Crisis of Islam
Cover of The Crisis of Islam
The Crisis of Islam
Holy War and Unholy Terror
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In his first book since What Went Wrong? Bernard Lewis examines the historical roots of the resentments that dominate the Islamic world today and that are increasingly being expressed in acts of terrorism. He looks at the theological origins of political Islam and takes us through the rise of militant Islam in Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, examining the impact of radical Wahhabi proselytizing, and Saudi oil money, on the rest of the Islamic world.
The Crisis of Islam ranges widely through thirteen centuries of history, but in particular it charts the key events of the twentieth century leading up to the violent confrontations of today: the creation of the state of Israel, the Cold War, the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, the Gulf War, and the September 11th attacks on the United States.
While hostility toward the West has a long and varied history in the lands of Islam, its current concentration on America is new. So too is the cult of the suicide bomber. Brilliantly disentangling the crosscurrents of Middle Eastern history from the rhetoric of its manipulators, Bernard Lewis helps us understand the reasons for the increasingly dogmatic rejection of modernity by many in the Muslim world in favor of a return to a sacred past. Based on his George Polk Award–winning article for The New Yorker, The Crisis of Islam is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what Usama bin Ladin represents and why his murderous message resonates so widely in the Islamic world.
In his first book since What Went Wrong? Bernard Lewis examines the historical roots of the resentments that dominate the Islamic world today and that are increasingly being expressed in acts of terrorism. He looks at the theological origins of political Islam and takes us through the rise of militant Islam in Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, examining the impact of radical Wahhabi proselytizing, and Saudi oil money, on the rest of the Islamic world.
The Crisis of Islam ranges widely through thirteen centuries of history, but in particular it charts the key events of the twentieth century leading up to the violent confrontations of today: the creation of the state of Israel, the Cold War, the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, the Gulf War, and the September 11th attacks on the United States.
While hostility toward the West has a long and varied history in the lands of Islam, its current concentration on America is new. So too is the cult of the suicide bomber. Brilliantly disentangling the crosscurrents of Middle Eastern history from the rhetoric of its manipulators, Bernard Lewis helps us understand the reasons for the increasingly dogmatic rejection of modernity by many in the Muslim world in favor of a return to a sacred past. Based on his George Polk Award–winning article for The New Yorker, The Crisis of Islam is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what Usama bin Ladin represents and why his murderous message resonates so widely in the Islamic world.
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  • Chapter 1 Chapter 1

    Defining Islam

    It is difficult to generalize about Islam. To begin with, the word itself is commonly used with two related but distinct meanings, as the equivalents both of Christianity and of Christendom. In the one sense it denotes a religion, a system of belief and worship; in the other, the civilization that grew up and flourished under the aegis of that religion. The word Islam thus denotes more than fourteen centuries of history, a billion and a third people, and a religious and cultural tradition of enormous diversity. Christianity and Christendom represent a greater number and a longer period-more than 2 billion people, more than twenty centuries, and even greater diversity. Nevertheless, certain generalizations can be and are made about what is variously called Christian, Judeo-Christian, post-Christian, and-more simply-Western civilization. While generalizing about Islamic civilization may be difficult and at times in a sense dangerous, it is not impossible and may in some ways be useful.

    In space, the realm of Islam extends from Morocco to Indonesia, from Kazakhstan to Senegal. In time it goes back more than fourteen centuries, to the advent and mission of the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the seventh century c.e. and the creation under him of the Islamic community and state. In the period which European historians see as a dark interlude between the decline of ancient civilization-Greece and Rome-and the rise of modern civilization-Europe, Islam was the leading civilization in the world, marked as such by its great and powerful kingdoms, its rich and varied industry and commerce, its original and creative sciences and letters. Islam, far more than Christendom, was the intermediate stage between the ancient East and the modern West, to which it contributed significantly. But during the past three centuries, the Islamic world has lost its dominance and its leadership, and has fallen behind both the modern West and the rapidly modernizing Orient. This widening gap poses increasingly acute problems, both practical and emotional, for which the rulers, thinkers, and rebels of Islam have not yet found effective answers.

    Islam as a religion is in every respect far closer to the Judeo-Christian tradition than to any of the great religions of Asia, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or Confucianism. Judaism and Islam share the belief in a divine law that regulates all aspects of human activity, including even food and drink. Christians and Muslims share a common triumphalism. In contrast to the other religions of humanity, including Judaism, they believe that they alone are the fortunate recipients and custodians of God's final message to humanity, which it is their duty to bring to the rest of the world. Compared with the remoter religions of the East, all three Middle Eastern religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-are closely related and indeed appear as variants of the same religious tradition.

    Christendom and Islam are in many ways sister civilizations, both drawing on the shared heritage of Jewish revelation and prophecy and Greek philosophy and science, and both nourished by the immemorial traditions of Middle Eastern antiquity. For most of their joint history, they have been locked in combat, but even in struggle and polemic they reveal their essential kinship and the common features that link them to each other and set them apart from the remoter civilizations of Asia.

    But as well as resemblances, there are profound disparities between the two, and these go beyond the obvious differences in dogma and worship. Nowhere are these differences more profound-and more obvious-than in the attitudes of these two...
About the Author-
  • Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University and the author of The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist; The Emergence of Modern Turkey; The Arabs in History; and What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, among other books. Lewis is internationally recognized as one of our era's greatest historians of the Middle East. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages, including Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Indonesian. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

    From the Hardcover...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 1, 2003
    This lean, muscular volume, an expansion of Lewis's George Polk Award-winning New Yorker article, sheds much-needed light on the complicated and volatile Middle East. To locate the origins of anti-American sentiment, Islamic scholar Lewis maps the history of Muslim anxiety towards the West from the time of the Crusades through European imperialism, and explains how America's increased presence in the region since the Cold War has been construed as a renewed cry of imperialism. In Islam, politics and religion are inextricable, and followers possess an acute knowledge of their own history dating back to the Prophet Mohammed, a timeline Lewis revisits. By so doing, the bestselling author of What Went Wrong? is able to cogently investigate key issues, such as why the United States has been dubbed the "Great Satan" and Israel the "Little Satan," and how Muslim extremism has taken root and succeeded in bastardizing the fundamental Islamic tenets of peace. Lewis also covers the impact of the Iranian Revolution and American foreign policy towards it, Soviet influence in the region and the ramifications of modernization, making this clear, taut and timely primer a must-read for any concerned citizen.

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2003
    In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, myriad articles and books have been published to explain how certain interpretations of Islam have led to the rise of terrorist groups in the Muslim world. In this book, well-known historian Lewis (emeritus, Princeton) continues the debate about the nature of Islam and the implications of politicized Islam for the West. An updated and expanded version of an article he wrote for The New Yorker in November 2001 (for which he received the prestigious George Polk Award), this, in many ways, continues the discussion of topics covered at greater length in the author's recent What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. Here, Lewis covers the historical roots of contemporary malaise in the Muslim world, the role of Saudi Arabia in Islamic radicalism, and how grievances of radical Muslims against the West and its local allies-real or contrived-are formed. Recommended for large public libraries, but those already holding the more scholarly and historical What Went Wrong? may not need this.-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL

    Copyright 2003 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    July 1, 2003
    Adult/High School-This is a clear, evenhanded overview of the geopolitical events and religious/cultural belief systems that underlie current tensions between the West and Muslim populations around the globe. An amplification of an article Lewis wrote for the New Yorker, the book spans more than 13 centuries but primary emphasis is on key happenings from the early 20th century to the present. Four pages of maps precede the text, illustrating the dramatic expansion of Islamic influence from the Age of the Caliphs (632-750 C.E.) to its zenith during the Ottoman Empire, followed by attrition and decline through the Age of Imperialism to current boundaries. Among the themes the author tackles are grievances over the modern-day presence of foreigners and "infidels" in holy lands, a discussion he places in historical context to explain the rise of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, albeit without excusing the excesses of that movement's adherents. Fundamental differences in the way Islamic societies and the West approach religion and government are elucidated, with commentary on the ramifications for power structures. The issues are complex, but the writing is accessible to older high school students. John L. Esposito's The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (Oxford, 2003) is a valuable companion resource for academically reliable, paragraph-length identification of concepts, geographic place names, and people in the Lewis volume.-Lynn Nutwell, Fairfax City Regional Library, VA

    Copyright 2003 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    April 15, 2003
    \deflang1033\pard" "Islamic scholar Lewis explores both the historical and the theological roots of militant Islam. He painstakingly traces the evolution of a basically peaceful philosophy into a rationalization for terrorism. While explaining how anti-American sentiment, fueled for decades by Islamic fanatics, has been distorted beyond all proportion, he provides the political and religious context for the horror of 9/11. Written in an easily accessible style, this analysis provides a digestible overview for Westerners still asking why. (Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2003, American Library Association.)

  • from the Introduction "Terrorism requires only a few. Obviously the West must defend itself by whatever means will be effective. But in devising means to fight the terrorists, it would surely be useful to understand the forces that drive them."
  • The New York Times Book Review "Remarkably succinct . . . It offers a long view in the midst of so much short-termism and confusing punditry. Lewis has done us all--Muslim and non-Muslim alike--a remarkable service."
  • The Wall Street Journal "Inestimable . . . replete with the exceptional historical insight that one has come to expect from the world's foremost Islamic scholar."
  • BusinessWeek "A timely and provocative contribution to the current raging debate about the tensions between the West and the Islamic world."
  • Baltimore Sun "No scholar of Islam in the Western world has more thoroughly earned the respect of generalists and academics alike than Bernard Lewis. . . . An excitingly knowledgeable antidote to today's natural sense of befuddlement. . . . History with electric immediacy."
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