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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The crusades in modern context, November 25, 2004
This review is from: Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today's World (Paperback)
As is abundantly clear from the title, in Holy War Armstrong develops the thesis that the Crusades had a lasting impact which persists into the present. Perhaps the larger point that she is making is that the relationship between Islam/Christianity/Judaism today needs to be seen in the context of the past (including the more distant past) rather than being seen ahistorically.

Armstrong structures the book to support her thesis-- interspersing chapters relating to the current history of Jerusalem and Palestine with chapters about the major waves of crusades. It is not clear when you buy the book that you are going to get so much modern Middle Eastern history, and potential buyers should be aware of this as it may cause some frustration if you are expecting a book more like The Crusades Through Arab Eyes or a straight up crusading history.

In the reviews here at Amazon and in other forums there have been broad accusations of pro-Islamic bias levelled at Armstrong. I believe these accusations to be largely in error. If you read more than one of her books, Armstrong has dedicated herself to her notion of triple vision. Her stated project is to foster understanding between the three religions by talking directly to the misconceptions that we hold about each other. The writing in Holy War makes very clear that she intends the book for a western audience. Accordingly, she spends a great deal of time explaining the Islamic perspective under the assumption that it will be the point of view most lacking from the potential audience. I assume that were her presumed audience to be primarily Islamic she would probably irritate them by constantly defending the Christians.

However, it does seems that in this book Armstrong lends herself more readily to accusations of bias through a number of significant elisions. For instance, she doesn't mention the aggressive pre-crusades contact between Christians and Muslims. Nor does she detail in any length the period that she refers to as the Islamic dark ages. It may be a serious miscalculation on her part to fail to understand that an audience wears its hair shirt more readily if it believes that its neighbor has to wear one as well.

Readers should also not be fooled by the misleading introduction to the new edition-- the book itself has not been updated past its 1991 US release. Recent events in the middle east (or elsewhere) have not been addressed.

Overall, Holy War should be interesting to a wide variety of audiences. It is not as smooth as some of her later books (Battle for God is my personal favorite). Nor is it always comfortable to read. Armstrong has taken on a large project in her writing, and chosen an arena where to attempt objectivity is difficult at best, and thankless at worst. Read it for yourself and see what you think.
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