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04/09/2004
Bernard Lewis, 'The Crisis of Islam', (Thorndike Press 2003)

Reviewed by Steve Wisdom

Always nice to digest a book or two over a holiday weekend, and I read this short but worthwhile book last night.

The author is a gray eminence at Princeton, and sometime talking head, and has no apparent political ax to grind. I'd call him 'hawkish, for an academic'

Most of the book is a Cliff Notes version of Islamic history, religion and culture, with a few chapters tying this to current developments.

His main theme is that the Prophet and the Caliphs who followed were warlords in addition to religious leaders, hence the non-distinction between church & state in the Islamic world, and over the centuries have found 'Christendom' the only real stumbling block on the path to a manifest destiny of world domination, hence the focus on the US as the current leader of 'Christendom'.

Both the Caliphate, circa 700, and the Ottoman Empire, circa 1600, expanded the 'Islamic world' far and wide, till finally beaten back by the Europeans. And now it's the US that stands in the way

``America is now perceived as the leader of what is variously designated as the West, Christendom, or more generally the 'Lands of the Unbelievers.' In this sense the American president is the successor of a long line of rulers -- the Byzantine emperors of Constantinople, the Holy Roman emperors in Vienna, Queen Victoria and her imperial colleagues and successors in Europe. Today as in the past, this world of Christian unbelievers is seen as the only serious force rivaling and obstructing the divinely ordained spread of Islam, resisting and delaying but not preventing its final, inevitable, universal triumph.''

He also makes the point that that there's no 'Islamic fundamentalism' in the sense that one would speak of Christian 'fundamentalism', ie a belief in the literal truth of Scripture, because essentially all Muslims are 'fundamentalists' in this sense. There aren't any 'liberal' Muslims to contrast with.

And speaks about how al-Quada & its predecessors derive much of their anti-West, anti-US rhetoric from the European left, although this topic is treated better and more extensively elsewhere.

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