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Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism Hardcover – 20 Jan 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (20 Jan. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231158947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231158947
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,345,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I have spent much of my professional and personal life exploring the shifting boundaries between East and West, first on both sides of the Cold War divide and, more recently, on the cusp between the Islamic and Western worlds. Over time, I have come to see the relationships between these seemingly polar fields as a problem not of geography or politics (or even geo-politics) but of thought, ideas, and knowledge - that is, as essential problems of epistemology.

This realization prompted me to leave behind more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and editor, much of it in the Islamic world, and to complete a doctorate in sociology at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Already, I had begun my journey from agency journalist to author with publication in 2003 of Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in 21st-Century Iran, co-authored with Geneive Abdo. My second book, The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization (2009), presents a narrative account of the West's extensive borrowing from the medieval Arab and Muslim world.

Columbia University Press has just published my newest book, Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism. This social history of ideas, based on my recent doctoral dissertation, attempts to explain the fact that Western images of Islam have remained to this day almost unchanged since they were first crafted from wartime propaganda at the time of the First Crusade, one thousand years ago.

Lately, I have shifted gears a bit to explore early American intellectual history as a way of uncovering the roots of today's technological nation. America, and by extension much of the modern world, has lost touch with Classical notions of wisdom and mystery. This new book traces the trajectory of our national consciousness.

Product Description


A useful corrective to the powerful voices of those who intersperse claims of Islam's innate bloodthirstiness with advocacy for suppression of the rights of Muslims at home and abroad. Publishers Weekly Lyons takes a chisel to the ancient and venerable edifice that is the anti-Islam discourse and patiently chips away, hoping to demolish what he considers the chief obstacle obscuring the West's view of real-life Islam and Muslims. -- Rayyan Al-Shawaf Boston Globe [Islam Through Western Eyes] offers an excellent and engaging opportunity for critical self-reflection. Booklist Lyons has made a very significant contribution to the study of Islam and Muslims in the 21st century across disciplines...A must read for those interested in the subject. Choice Jonathan Lyons offers a very readable and thought-provoking account of the roots and characteristics of Islamophobia. This book should be added to the reading lists of undergraduate and graduate courses on contemporary world affairs and American foreignpolicy. -- Cemil Aydin H-Diplo

About the Author

Jonathan Lyons spent twenty years as a foreign correspondent and editor for Reuters, much of it in the Islamic world. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Monash University and lives in Portland, Oregon. His publications include The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization and (with Geneive Abdo) Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First-Century Iran.

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By docread on 26 Aug. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The main argument of this well researched polemical work is that the first Crusade in the eleventh century saw the creation of a monolithic anti-Islam discourse with immutable components persisting to our present day.The West discovery of a wider Muslim community beyond Arab and Turkish lands in modern times has done little to change its essentialist uniform views about Islam,thus revealing more about the Western subject than the object of his investigations The construction of a pervasive and authoritative Western narrative describing Islam as an inherently violent,irrational and misogynist culture has benefited varying social groups defined as Islam experts (Medieval Catholic clerics, Enlightenment intellectuals, Modern scholars) to advance their own interests even if they have changed over the centuries.Moreover this distorted dominant discourse that emphasises the divisive differences in order to account for the uniqueness of the West, continues to exercise corrosive effects on our understanding of the grievances of the Modern Muslim world and undermines all efforts to establish a mature dialogue with Political Islam.

In contradistinction to Edward Said's view asserting that the formation of " Orientalist" discourse constructing an inferior Other was an expression of Western colonial hegemony starting in the 18th C, the present author believes that the framework of the Western Theory of Islam, which he describes as a caricature of Islam ,remains rooted in its medieval beginnings. He deplores this unnatural and unhelpful cognitive attitude that has led to the artificial separation of two rich and powerful overlapping cultural traditions sharing far more than is acknowledged.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
If you've read Said, read this 8 Feb. 2012
By Calvini - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you're anything like me, you never let ignorance about a topic prevent you from having an opinion about that very topic. And not only having an opinion, holding fast to that opinion. A study by Philip Tetlock suggests that this is not only my--and maybe your--character flaw; it is also a plague that afflicts political and social scientists. Tetlock found that when it comes to prediction about global or political events, average folks are, on average, better than experts.

Jonathan Lyons argues convincingly in Islam Through Western Eyes that our Middle East experts suffer from a similar blindness. Their portrait--what Lyons, following Foucault, calls "discourse"--of Muslims is not only inaccurate and groundless, it has been consistently so for a thousand years. In the eleventh century, propaganda for the First Crusade called Muslims violent, savage, and sub-human. The Orientalists added complexity and nuance to the same picture. The post-9/11 Bush presidency revisited the same language.

A thousand years is a long time to get something absolutely wrong.

Lyons is not out to debunk the anti-Islam discourse necessarily; his chief purpose, it seems, it to explain how pervasive and powerful it is. In so doing, Lyons hopes to suspend it or "turn it on itself."

This, to me, is the chief virtue of the book. Typical books about Islam fall into affirming or denying the anti-Islam discourse. In the former: Glenn Beck, Daniel Pipes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Niall Ferguson, and Geert Wilders. In the latter: well, I can't think of anyone. I can think of folks, mostly liberals or themselves Muslim, who have argued against the assertions of the anti-Muslim discourse: Muslims are violent, sexually depraved, despotically chauvinistic, and anti-science.

Lyons does engage in some myth-busting, but his primary thrust is not to debunk the anti-Islam discourse, but to show us that it is there. This is a powerful form of argument, and no less rooted in fact than a study of, for instance, Tetlock's type. It is, in fact, an argument that functions in the same way as the anti-Islam discourse--a powerful narrative.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
More historical erudition than current reality 7 April 2013
By Gderf - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This features the Islamic roles in science, violence and status of women. It starts with the roles of Gregory VII, Peter the Venerable and many others. There's a very interesting introduction to the philosophy of Michael Foucault. Lyon easily demolishes the thinking of Urban II and the similar ideas of George Bush. He's not so effective with the more modern ideas of Bernard Lewis and Thomas Friedman.

There is very good capsule history of many episodes of the Arabic, Ottoman and Safavid empires. Lyons covers the spirit of jihad that spread Islam in the seventh century. The section on violence is very very weak, especially if meant to whitewash the anti-American attitude of Muslim nations. "Why do they hate us?" is not as meaningless as Lyons purports it to be. The claim is rather a subterfuge to avoid consideration.

Lyons never quite contends convincingly with the realism expressed by Samuel Huntington taken from Wikededia: "Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power " ---- Huntington's 1998 text The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.

Many of the essays in "Islamophobia" of the Current Controversy Series contain a more realistic down to earth view than contained in this erudite study.
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