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 "thats history." But for those raised in Muslim households, historyeven ancient historyis just as important (if not more important) as the present. And to better understand the hostilities rooted in this historyone 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 lifeespecially that of fulfillment through material gain and sexual freedomis a direct threat to Islamic values (which is why night clubsplaces where men and women publicly touch one anotherare 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
From Publishers Weekly
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. (171 pages; 4 maps)
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