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.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, many Americans yearned to understand why Muslim extremists felt such passionate animosity toward the Western world, particularly the United States. Since that historic attack there have been many books and discussions about this very question, but few of them offer such a readable and relevant response as this excellent offering by renowned historian Bernard Lewis (What Went Wrong?). For modern Westerners, Islam is an especially foreign religion and culture to understand. For instance, Westerners typically dismiss things as unimportant when using the expression "that’s history." But for those raised in Muslim households, history—even ancient history—is just as important (if not more important) as the present. And to better understand the hostilities rooted in this history—one could start with recognizing the long-standing resentment the Islamic community harbors from having its homelands torn apart and re-packaged into random political states by occupying Europeans (Westerners). Or stretch back in time to the brutality of the Crusades. Or go straight to the U.S. political meddling in the region throughout the latter 20th century. This is not a pity fest for Muslims. Lewis even-handedly explores the sources of Islamic antagonism toward the West while also explaining how a supposedly peace-worshipping religion could be so distorted by violent extremism. He notes that the American way of life—especially that of fulfillment through material gain and sexual freedom—is a direct threat to Islamic values (which is why night clubs—places where men and women publicly touch one another—are targets of bombings). But it is basic Western democracy that especially threatens Islamic extremists, notes Lewis, because within its own community more and more Muslims are coming to value the freedom that political democracy allows. For anyone wanting an intelligent and accessible primer on the Islamic-Western conflict, this is an excellent place to begin. Gail Hudson