- Hardcover: 180 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195144201
- ISBN-13: 978-0195144208
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.7 x 5.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 309 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response 1st Edition
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To a Western observer, schooled in the theory and practice of Western freedom, it is precisely the lack of freedom--freedom of the mind from constraint and indoctrination, to question and inquire and speak; freedom of the economy from corrupt and pervasive mismanagement; freedom of women from male oppression; freedom of citizens from tyranny--that underlies so many of the troubles of the Muslim world. But the road to democracy, as the Western experience amply demonstrates, is long and hard, full of pitfalls and obstacles.
I don't even necessarily disagree with the conclusion, but what is there in the way of argument that this is the correct position to assume? And is this Lewis's position? If so, why not have established it upfront as the thesis and then made the remainder of the book an argument and provided support for this thesis? Probably because this book was originally a series of lectures he had given that begin with some kind of topic, like Islamic warfare, for instance, and then each meander for 20 or so pages without a thesis.
What Went Wrong? is a short but dense exploration of the wresting of civilizational dominance from Islam to Christendom that started around the 15th century and continues to this day. It is concerned with the Islamic perception and response to the events of this decline. The book however does not really answer its own question, and somewhat disappointingly it's a conglomeration of several different essays and lectures the author presented in Germany (before 9/11 coincidentally.) This does not mean it is value-less though.
The partial answer given is a fittingly polyglot one, covering most everything from military arms and organization to political structures to culture and the arts. The most major theme that I drew however is namely the Islamic superiority complex, rightly justified in the high Middle Ages, that led Islamic civilization to "rest on it's laurels" and stagnate -concerning itself with only itself- while the rest of the world simmered along a tortured but vibrant path towards progress. This superiority complex is still as strong today, fueling both biased and piecemeal attempts at modernization and the explosive frustration of being so clearly behind when those attempts inevitably fail.
This book is also one of those examples of when studying the "other" helps you perhaps learn more about yourself in the process. What is so amazing is that not only can no clear, striking answer be given to the question of what went wrong but the world very evidently can't answer the more important question of what went right with western ascendance. The west itself produces no concurring chorus to preach to the world the secrets of its success. Simply look at the diverging platforms of the different western political parties as prescriptions for future prosperity and the myriad authors giving all sorts of explanations for that prosperity, from Jared Diamond's Accident of Geography to Victor Davis Hanson's Culture is Fate. Although I certainly have my belief as to what the west does right (and may be doing wrong recently) so do others who have looked at the same data and convinced themselves just as strongly of opposite conclusions.
Mr. Lewis' most central argument as to both what went right and what went wrong seems to lay in the separation of church and state. But this is by no means his only answer and it would be a disservice not to recommend reading the book to gain not only a greater understanding of his partial answer but also to see into the spectrum of more important related questions and unknowns that unfolds in the intellectual pursuit started by the simple query of what went wrong. The most chilling possibility that glints dimly in the shadow of the author's answer is that Islam, as an all encompassing religion, culture and political system in one, may be unsuitable to ever reversing its relative slide with the rest of the world. The Christian Reformation was a hard fought, long, brutal and bloody affair. Can Islam restore itself to a fully functioning civilization in the world of peer civilizations (let alone really co-exist with them) and avoid the need for a reformation? And if not, just how bloody will Islam's reformation be? Current trends in the world leave the first question unanswered, but the second's answer decidely and darkly obvious.