Here is the first panoptic history of the long struggle between the Christian West and Islam. In this dazzlingly written, acutely nuanced account, Andrew Wheatcroft tracks a deep fault line of animosity between civilizations. He begins with a stunning account of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, then turns to the main zones of conflict: Spain, from which the descendants of the Moors were eventually expelled; the Middle East, where Crusaders and Muslims clashed for years; and the Balkans, where distant memories spurred atrocities even into the twentieth century. Throughout, Wheatcroft delves beneath stereotypes, looking incisively at how images, ideas, language, and technology (from the printing press to the Internet), as well as politics, religion, and conquest, have allowed each side to demonize the other, revive old grievances, and fuel across centuries a seemingly unquenchable enmity. Finally, Wheatcroft tells how this fraught history led to our present maelstrom. We cannot, he argues, come to terms with today's perplexing animosities without confronting this dark past.
Historian Wheatcroft (The Ottomans) adds another volume to the steadily growing literature on the history of Christian-Muslim relations. Part philosophical treatise, part history and part diatribe, Wheatcroft's study adds little that has not been covered already by more thorough and elegant studies such as F.E. Peters's recent The Monotheists. He offers an overview of the tortured relations between Christianity and Islam in various contexts including the Crusades, Spain, the Middle East and Bosnia. Wheatcroft opens his book with an account of the 1571 battle of Lepanto, where Christians triumphed over the Muslims. Using the theoretical writings of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Stephen Greenblatt, Wheatcroft emphasizes that the conflict between the two religions most often devolved into a war of words in which one side used dehumanizing language to describe the other and to thereby sanction war. He helpfully brings his study into the 21st century by examining briefly the religious rhetoric that President Bush and General William Boykin have used to defend the attack on Iraq and other Muslim nations. Unfortunately, Wheatcroft betrays his own ideological position by referring to Muslim terrorists as a "virus" and by defending the Bush administration's positions on the war, thereby diminishing the value the book might have as an objective description of the conflicts between Christianity and Islam. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 02, 2005
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Excerpt from Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft
"We Praise Thee, O God"
on august 14, 1571, a gigantic ship's pennant of silk damask passed through the congested streets of Naples. Embroidered to the pope's commission, it was the standard of Christendom, to fly from the tallest mast in the fleet of the Holy League as it sailed into battle. The pope's banner with a huge golden figure of Christ nailed to the cross loomed over the stocky Spanish soldiers who carried it in procession from the steps of the Church of Santa Clara. As the blue flag moved through the Neapolitan crowds, an unnatural stillness gripped all who watched it go by. An hour before, inside the church, the assembled nobles, officers, monks, and priests had stood silent and unmoving, all their eyes on the admiral of the Holy League, Don John of Austria. Arrayed in cloth of gold, scarlet satin, and white velvet, the young admiral knelt before the altar as the pope's representative, Cardinal Granvelle, handed him his staff of office and pointed to the great banner behind him. "Take these emblems," the cardinal exhorted, "of the Word made flesh, these symbols of the true faith, and may they give thee a glorious victory over our impious enemy and by thy hand may his pride be laid low."
Below the cross of Christ were the emblems of the king of Spain and of the Holy Father, Pope Pius V, with the badge of the Republic of Venice, all linked by a great golden chain, symbolizing the power of faith that bound them together. From that chain, in slightly smaller scale, hung the pendant crest of Don John.The emblems marked a brief moment of unity. For the first time in more than a century, Christendom had combined in force to do battle with the power of "Islam." The war was sanctified, waged under the protection of the golden figure of Christ. The pope had declared that those who fought in this struggle were to be granted the same plenary indulgences as earlier Crusaders fighting to secure the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. All who died in the shadow of this battle flag would be spared the worst rigors of purgatory.
Eight hundred miles to the east a similar, if less public, ceremony had already taken place. From the treasury of the imperial palace in Constantinople, a bulky bundle wrapped in silk had been brought from Sultan Selim II to Ali Pasha, admiral of the Ottoman fleet. It also contained a flag, but one colored a vivid green instead of the lambent Christian blue. Even larger than the banner that Pope Pius V had entrusted to his commander, this was one of the most potent emblems of Islam. Upon its surface the ninety-nine names and attributes of God had been embroidered in gold. It was reputed that these were repeated no less than 28,900 times. The giant Kufic characters were surrounded and interlaced with endless reiteration of those same names, in a smaller script, so that from a distance the whole surface of the pennant appeared a shimmering network of golden filigree.