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80 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and Informative, November 19, 2005
This review is from: The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (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].

(6) "There is some justice in one charge that is frequently leveled against the United States, and more generally against the West: Middle Easterners increasingly complain that the West judges them by different and lower standards than it does Europeans and Americans ... Sometimes, even where American interests are concerned, American governments have betrayed those whom they had promised to support and persuaded to take risks" [107].

(7) "Most Muslims are not fundamentalists, and most fundamentalists are not terrorists ..." [137].

(8) "All these different extremist groups sanctify their action through pious references to Islamic texts ... They are, however, highly selective in their choice and interpretation of sacred texts" [138].

(9) "Islamic jurisprudence is a system of law and justice, not of lynching and terror" [141].

(10) "Can [the attacks of 9/11 and other similar actions] in any sense be justified in terms of Islam? The answer must be a clear no ... [such attacks] have no justification in Islamic doctrine or law and no precedent in Islamic history ... These are ... acts - from a Muslim point of view - or blashphemy" [154].

The whole thrust of the book, in fact, is that the extremism of today is a result of a particular sect of Islam, Wahhabism, which arose in the past two hundred years. He even concludes the book by arguing: "There is enough in the traditional culture of Islam on the one hand and the modern experience of the Muslim peoples on the other to provide the basis for an advance toward fredom in the true sense of that word" [169]. These are hardly the words of a religious or racial bigot, so enough of that nonesense.

Some of the most fascinating and illuminating parts of the book deal with:

(1) The major difference between Christianity (and Judaism) and Islam regarding politics. While Christ told his followers to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things which are God's" and grew and developed for centuries as the "religion of the downtrodden", Muhammad founded a state and empire; therefore, he did not need to establish a separate church. For the formative first period of Islam, there was no experience of state persecution. Islam was the state and "God's approval of their cause was made clear to them in the form of victory and empire in THIS world." While Christ was crucified, and Moses died before entering the Promised Land, Muhammad died a sovereign and conqueror. The past centuries of Judeo-Christian superiority and victories is thus not just a humiliation for Muslims: It is a direct challenge to the truth of Islam itself. While Christians have been in dominant political positions throughout history, during their formative years they were not, and basically got used to being kicked around. While they have enjoyed holding power, they don't believe God entitles Christians to hold it.

(2) From the 7th Century the successors of Muhammad declared and fought an imperialistic jihad against the rest of the world. Muslim armies overthrew the ancient empire of Persia and absorped all its territories, thus threatening Central Asia and India. Much territory of the Byzantine Empire was conquered and the then CHRISTIAN provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa were absorbed "and in due course Islamized and Arabized, and they served as bases for the further invasion of Europe and the conquest of Spain and Portugal and much of southern Italy. By the early 8th century the conquering Arab armies were even advancing beyond the Pyrenees into France" [34]. After several centuries, Christendom began to turn the Muslim invaders back from Europe. The Crusades, NOT an imperialistic enterprise, but a brief and delayed response to centuries of jihad failed utterly. Subsequently a new phase of the jihad was inaugurated by the Muslim Turks who also pushed into Europe.

(3) The US-Israeli relationship is examined and Lewis debunks the thesis that Palestine is the root cause of Muslim rage by pointing out a number of interesting facts:

(a) In the 1930s, Nazi Germany was the main cause of Jewish migration to Palestine. The Nazis facilitated this migration "while the British, in the forlorn hope of winning Arab goodwill, imposed and enforced restrictions" [94]. Nonetheless, the Arabs openly sided with the Nazis who were encouraging Jewish migration to Palestine, and against the British who were trying to keep them out.

(b) The Soviets played a major role in securing the UN vote to establish Israel in Palestine and they then gave Israel immediate de jure recognition. The US was more hesitant and gave only de facto recognition. The Soviets immediately sent the Israelis weapons through Czechoslovakia after the war (to hurt the British) while the US maintained a partial weapons embargo. Nonetheless, the Arab (though not the Turks and Persians) embraced the Soviet alliance without bitterness!

(c) Throughout the 1950s, US dealings with Israel were limited and cautious. The US decisively intervened in 1956 to denounce the Israeli invasion of Egypt and demanded their immediate withdrawal. As late as the Six-Day War (1967), Israel relied for its weapons mainly on France. It was not until the return to the Arab world of Russian imperialism in the form of the 1955 Soviet-Egyptian arms deal (nonetheless hailed across the Islamic world) did the US-Israeli alliance begin. Thus, "the strategic relationship between the US and Israel was a consequence, not a cause, of Soviet penetration" [97].
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 17, 2006 4:53:15 PM PDT
A very good review indeed. Well studied, analysed and well written. Above all unbiased. Congratulations.

Posted on Sep 14, 2013 10:39:21 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 14, 2013 10:46:20 AM PDT
Lewis has always had the reputation of being sympathetic enough towards his subject, yet honest enough to voice disagreement with the Muslim "official story" when he sees a reason, whether as a matter of ethical, political, or scholarly principle. Given that Islam is both a religious and a political ideology that is in many ways antithetical to anything Western, this is to be expected, and hoped for.

I'm also glad to note that he points out, once again, as he does in "Islam in History," the toxic effects of the death-for-apostasy tradition in sharia -- which is, as far as I can see, Islam's real 800-pound gorilla. "If one of you leaves the religion, kill him." (Bukhari.) Ibn Warraq, in "Why I Am Not a Muslim," written in honor of Salman Rushdie, is quite specific about this law, and the cancerous effect it has always had on the intellectual life in Islamic society.

In other words, Lewis knows enough to distinguish "Muslims" from "Islam," and Islam's real, agonizing ethical dilemmas from its public image problems -- something that both Pam Geller and John Esposito should learn.

I'm reading through this, bit by bit, and it comes up, so far at least, along with Warraq's, as a book that both infidels and Muslims should read, take very seriously indeed -- and then ask themselves "Now what do I REALLY think?"
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