on 26 August 2012
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.He calls for a radical review of this Eurocentric approach by opening up space for the civilization of Islam in the idea of western Culture and eschewing the traditional view of intercultural rivalry in favour of intracultural contest between East and West.The analysis relies on the theoretical tool kit provided mainly by Foucault and to a lesser extent Mannheim the father of the sociology of knowledge but without the tedious post-modernist jargon.
My reservation is that in spite of the wealth of the historical examples the author outlines, his overarching thesis lacks periodization analysis to account for the contextual nuances and historical shifts of the Western narrative about Islam.Ironically by postulating the long term immutability of the Western discourse,the author gave credence to the very theory of clash of civilizations, he wished to undermine.In his endeavour to frame an all embracing unitary argument, he overlooked the various historical hues and numerous metamorphoses of the subtexts of the anti-Islamic discourse reflecting the constant changes in the western perceptions of the Muslim Other.The rhetoric evidently became more antagonistic and paranoid whenever the West's self assurance was challenged.The author refrained from describing any of the dissenting voices of travellers, diplomats or scholars who contested the dominant anti- Islamic narrative like Lady Montague, Wilfred Blunt, Edward Granville Browne, David Urquhart and numerous others in our own era.Lastly we must not overlook the fact that the Muslims too were guilty of religious/cultural biases and distortions when dealing with the Christians and for centuries showed very little interest in that rival religion.The present rhetoric of the Jihadists about the modern crusaders demonstrates clearly that the two adjacent cultural spheres share mirror like attitudes!