In his first book since What Went Wrong Bernard Lewis examines the historical roots of the resentments that dominate the Islamic world today and that are increasingly being expressed in acts of terrorism. He looks at the theological origins of political Islam and takes us through the rise of militant Islam in Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, examining the impact of radical Wahhabi proselytizing, and Saudi oil money, on the rest of the Islamic world.
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) (Apr.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 20, 2003
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Excerpt from The Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis
President Bush and other Western politicians have taken great pains to make it clear that the war in which we are engaged is a war against terrorism -- not a war against Arabs, nor, more generally, against Muslims, who are urged to join us in this struggle against our common enemy. Usama bin Ladin's message is the opposite. For bin Ladin and those who follow him, this is a religious war, a war for Islam against infidels, and therefore, inevitably, against the United States, the greatest power in the world of the infidels.
In his pronouncements, bin Ladin makes frequent references to history. One of the most dramatic was his mention, in his videotape of October 7, 2001, of the "humiliation and disgrace" that Islam has suffered for "more than eighty years." Most American -- and, no doubt, European -- observers of the Middle Eastern scene began an anxious search for something that had happened "more than eighty years" ago, and came up with various answers. We can be fairly sure that bin Ladin's Muslim listeners -- the people he was addressing -- picked up the allusion immediately and appreciated its significance.
In 1918 the Ottoman sultanate, the last of the great Muslim empires, was finally defeated -- its capital, Constantinople, occupied, its sovereign held captive, and much of its territory partitioned between the victorious British and French Empires. The Arabic-speaking former Ottoman provinces of the Fertile Crescent were divided into three new entities, with new names and frontiers. Two of them, Iraq and Palestine, were under British Mandate; the third, under the name Syria, was given to the French. Later, the French subdivided their mandate into two, calling one part Lebanon and retaining the name Syria for the rest. The British did much the same in Palestine, creating a division between the two banks of the Jordan. The eastern segment was called Transjordan, later simply Jordan; the name Palestine was retained and reserved for the Western segment, in other words, the Cisjordanian part of the country.