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Potent and compelling historical analysis,
This review is from: What Went Wrong?: The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (Hardcover)
Bernard Lewis is one of the greatest living historians on the subject of Islam and the Middle East. Indeed it a testimony to his greatness that he was attacked by the loathsome Edward Said, for stating some home truths about Arabs and Islam. Islamists and radical Left intellectuals see any criticism of the Arab and Islamic worlds as racist. so much for the supposed role of the intellectual that one must question everything and strive after the truth.
Lewis traces the zenith of Islam as a a paramount world civilization in up to the 15th century and is not sparing his praises. But he also honestly examines why Islam has become a backward and violent society-he examines the cultural, social, religious, political and economic aspects.
The slave trade from Africa was started by Muslims and in earlier centuries Muslims had raided Europe for slaves, as far north as England and Scandinavia. This puts paid to the modern myth punted by left wing activists of Muslims as the innocent "other". Muslim religious leaders in past centuries opposed the end of slavery as they saw it a crime to prohibit what Allah had allowed as it was a crime to allow what Allah had prohibited.
The modern history of the Middle East is traced by the author to the 1798 expedition to Egypt General Napoleon Bonaparte. For the first time one of the heartlands of Islam was subjected to the rule of a Western power and the direct impact of Western attitudes and ideas. What particularly enraged the Muslims in Egypt was the abolition of discrimination of the Christian Copts that had long been living under a heavy dhimmi status of enforced subservience. The equality of the Copts and their employment by the French authorities was seen as a blow to Islamic pride.
Also vital in explaining the decline of Islam as a civilization. With only half of the population allowed to take part in all aspects of society-cultural, social, religious political and economic, this is immensely destructive to a society as it sacrificing half of it's potential!
The struggle for the emancipation of women made some progress in the twentieth century in the more socially and economically progressive parts of the Islamic world such as Turkey, and pre 1979 Iran. The violent reaction to this from Islamic fundamentalists was a large factor in the rise of Islamism as a militant political ideology in the 20th and 21st centuries. The Ayatollah Khomeini after seizing power in the bloody
Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 gave the rights afforded to woman under the Shah (Iran under the Shah was in it's time the most progressive country in the Muslim world terms of rights, freedoms and equality for women) prominent place in the misdeeds and crimes attributed to the Shah's government, As Lewis writes : "From the traditional point of view the emancipation of women, specifically allowing them to reveal their faces , their arms and their legs and to mingle socially in the school or the work place with men, is an incitement to immorality and promiscuity, and a deadly blow to the very heart of Islamic society, the Muslim family and home. The battle continues".
Similarly the emancipation forced by the West on non-Muslims negatively impacted on vested interest in the Muslim elite. The roots of Islamic hostility to Israel lie in two areas
1 The resentment of the Jews becoming equals that the Jewish State of Israel meant as the Jews had always been a despised and subservient minority, The idea of a state-no matter how small-in the heart of Arab Islam, ruled by Jews, was too much to bear, and the insult was compounded by the defeats the lowly-regarded Jews had dealt the Arabs after the many Arab attacks on Israel and the Levantine Jews before that.
2 The State of Israel was an example of democracy, equality and freedom for women that struck at the heart of Islam. This negative influence on the Arab masses could not be allowed and so the Jewish presence in Palestine that became the re-established Israel had to be demonized and destroyed. we need to look also at the class roots of whipped up hate against the Yishuv. The Zionist halutzim were importing new ideas of democracy, women's emancipation, free enterprise vis-a-vis feudalism. All this threatened the effindi class that lived off the tenant farmers, didn't it?
Lewis does mention how the Islamic world can get out of this rut but first he points out they have to stop the blame game, blaming the Turks, the Mongols, the 'Imperialists', the Jews, the Americans which grows stronger every year
A potent and compelling account of Islamic history.