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The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror Hardcover – March 25, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

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

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)
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; 1 edition (March 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679642811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679642817
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bernard Lewis is a master of clarity. I must say I have not read any of his works other than his "Middle East," but the quality of these two books, combined with his general reputation make it clear that he is a giant in the field of Arab and Islamic studies. His grasp of history is phenomenal, and his ability to apply history to current exigencies is astounding.
"The Crisis in Islam" very neatly, but not simplistically, lays out the history of relations between the (mainly) Christian West, and the world of Islam, beginning with the generation of the Prophet up to the current times. It is critical to understand, and the brilliant introduction lights the way, that Muslim from birth see the world in metaphors that we can barely descrobe. The former American imperative of Manifest Destiny is a pale reflection of the inevitability many, but certainly not all, Muslim feel about the spread of the "Dar al-Islam" in the world. This literally translates as "House of Peace" and implies the eventual conquering and conversion to Islam of the entire planet, without room for compromise. All other "nations" and religions are within the "Dar al-Harb," literally "House of the Sword." No permanent peace can exist between the two houses. (Again I stress that this is NOT a universal attitude.) In Lewis' thesis, attitudes toward the West have evolved through contacts with first the Eastern Empire in Constantinople, then Spain, Portugal and France, and through years of direct conflict in the Crusades and the colonial wars of the 19th and 20th centuries. Combine this with the flourishing of multiple schools and "sects" within Islam, combined with chance vagaries of history, and you wind up with the hegemony of the Wahhabi school within the Kingdom of the Su'ud family (now Sa'udi Arabia).
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Format: Paperback
First of all, Lewis'"Crisis of Islam" is not about the Iraq War or George W. Bush. Secondly, it is NOT an anti-Islam, anti-Arab, pro-Western polemic. For example, Lewis writes that:

(1) "The expulsion of religious minorities is extremely rare in Islamic history - unlike in medievel Christendom, where expulsions of Jews and, after the Reconquest, of Muslims were normal and frequent. Compared with European expulsions, 'Umar's decree was both limited and compassionate ... And unlike the Jews and Muslims driven out of Spain and other European countries, to find what refuge they could elsewhere, the Jews and Christians of Arabia were resettled on lands assigned to them ..." [xxix-xxx].

(2) "To most Americans, bin Laden's declaration is a travesty, a gross distortion of the nature and purpose of the U.S. presence in Arabia. They should also be aware that for many, perhaps most Muslims, the declaration is an equally grotesque travesty of the nature of Islam, and even of its doctrine of jihad. THe Qur'an speaks of peace as well as of war" [xxxii].

(3) "During the centuries that in European history are called medieval, the most advanced civilization in the world was undoubtedly that of Islam" [29].

(4) "Fighters in a jihad are enjoined [by the Qur'an] not to kill women, children, and the aged unless they attack first, not to torture or mutilate prisoners, to give fair warning of the resumption of hostilities after a truce, and to honor agreements ... At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder" [39].

(5) "There were certainly major negative consequences of imperialism and more broadly of Western European influence ..." [58].
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Format: Hardcover
Bernard Lewis continues his lifetime devotion to teaching about the Middle East and Islamic culture in this all too thin volume. As in his last book, What Went Wrong, here again Lewis focuses on raising the average readers understanding of this crucial region and its history. Unlike many so called academics, who argue from polarized positions on CNN and FOX News, Lewis takes a complex and nuance approach to this most complex of regions. Indeed, while everyone else seems to either want to condemn all Islam and its culture or apologize for the terrorists it currently inspires, this author writes from a position of respect and appreciation for this civilization all the while refusing to be blinded by base sentimentalism.
Looking through Islamic history, Lewis explains how a preoccupation with a loss of status and power, a world view looking to blame outsiders rather than looking inward for critical self-examination, and a lack of democratic tradition, continues to radicalize the Middle East. The author further seeks to explain how Islamic culture holds a different world view from those in the west and that we need to understand this world view if we are to confront the threat of terrorism.
Readers should be aware that this text is not an introduction. Lewis does not write for laymen. Assuming a certain baseline of knowledge, he tends to gloss over arguments or offer evidence in a sort of short hand, expecting the educated reader to understand references and names. In a world where most non-fiction is over written, Lewis is a throw back to an earlier age, writing thin volumes that are light on detail and heavy on argument. This does not detract from the quality of his work, but it does limit what a reader without a firm grasp of the fundamentals can learn from reading it.
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