Most helpful critical review
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
No doubt it struck the publisher as a catchy title
on 19 February 2010
This was a disappointing book. It does not explain What Went Wrong in Islamic or Middle Eastern society. It could not hope to do so, since apparently Mr. Lewis has no idea, or at least no intention of communicationg to his readers What Went Right in the first place, to apparently Go So Wrong as he thinks it has. The author merely drags old preconceptions out of the smoking rooms of 19th century London clubs and 21st century Administrations, whose denizens were and are always anxious to dress their colonial depredations in the guise of "helping the poor natives" and to dismiss their own failures as the inevitable consequence of attempting to make these ungrateful natives into passable imitations of, of, well, of US.... if you get my meaning.
At one point Lewis explains the lack of translations of western technical and other works into Middle Eastern languages by saying that the only people who might have been able to do this translation were "Levantines" (I can only suppose he means here the mass of people inhabiting the area roughly encompassing present-day Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Syria) and that they "had neither the interest nor the capacity" to perform these translations. What utter codswallop!
Mr. Lewis passes over the first 8 or 9 centuries of Islam very cursorily, and yet this was a long and sustained period of great expansion, of the establishment of an Islamic hegemony over a vast area of the world, and of social, economic, cultural and scientific collation and innovation. Lewis is insistent and repetitive in his tedious anecdotes of exasperated westerners encountering obtuse easterners from the 16th century up to the present. But a more sanguine observer might point out that it was only from some time in the 16th century that any European state could make a convincing case for being the equal of, let alone more advanced than, Turkey or Egypt, Persia or Mesopotamia.
Let us further put the time scale into perspective here (try to bear with me here): Islam was born as a religion in the 7th century, and immediately leapt out of the confines of the Arabian peninsula to sweep within a century over an area stretching from Spain and North Africa in the West to India in the East. Nine centuries later it was indeed showing considerable signs of decay and a loss of intellectual innovation. Now let us turn to the present Northern European-based hegemony (here I count the United States as being merely an inheritor and continuation of this Northern European lineage, no offence meant). This European culture required the new-found energy of Protestantism to break the shackles inherited from the long defunct Roman Empire, kept locked as long as possible by the Roman Church, and its great territorial and intellectual expansion occurred in the 16th through 19th centuries. In other words, this expansion is only 500 years old at a very optimistic estimate, whereas the Islamic expansion was 900 years old in the 16th century, or 400 years older than the Northern European expansion is today. Now, can we say we are still as energetic as Islamic civilisation was at its 500 year point? That is around 1150 CE ? This was in fact a very vibrant period of Islamic history, and the very period when the ignorant thugs who made up the overwhelming mass of the Crusaders first butted up against this at the time superior culture. And what will be the state of the Northern European expansion in another 400 years from now? On present indications, probably merely a dim memory, long since replaced by something more vigorous which in its turn is having its heyday.
And then some shallow scholar will write a book, entitled "What Went Wrong......."