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You can't tell the players without a program. Here is a review that offers
a couple of books to clear up the confusion on things Islamic.
What Went Wrong?
By Ahmed Rashid
Issue cover-dated May 09, 2002
Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam," by John Esposito. Oxford
University Press. $25
"What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response," by Bernard
Lewis. Oxford University Press. $23
NOT SURPRISINGLY, books on Islam and Central Asia have proliferated since
the September 11 attacks on the United States. For the discerning reader,
picking through the huge choice now available is not easy. But two new short
books stand out--not least because they have been written by two of
America's best-known specialists on Islam.
John Esposito, one of the leading American academic experts on contemporary
Islam and the Middle East and a long-time advocate of greater understanding
between Islam and the West, has written a profound book that gives the most
comprehensive and rounded view of the origins of "Islamic rage."
Esposito's book is largely written for a Western general audience, but it
has enough insight to be immensely valuable to experts. His most important
contribution is placing Osama bin Laden in a much wider context than a mere
expression of terrorism, jihad or Islamic rage. He explains the developments
that have influenced the growth of terrorism, such as the Afghan war against
the Soviet Union, the policies pursued by Saudi Arabia, the growth of global
jihad ideology, U.S. policies, and the conflicts in the Middle East.
He also delves deeply into the meaning of jihad as it has evolved over the
centuries and how it is interpreted across the Islamic world today, giving
readers the most comprehensive survey of jihad ideology and practice in
Similarly, Esposito gives us a short history of Islamic fundamentalism,
drawing thumbnail sketches of its most important ideologues from the
13th-century Ibn Taymiyya to the 18th-century jihadi movement in Saudi
Arabia, to the three most prominent proponents of jihad in the 20th
century--Hasan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,
Maulana Mawdudi, the founder of the Jamiat-e-Islami in India and Pakistan,
and Sayyid Qutub, who first theorized about a vanguard group of committed
Esposito shows how bin Laden incorporated the teachings of all these figures
in his creation of the Al Qaeda terror movement while using recent events in
Egypt, Afghanistan, Algeria and Palestine to turn theory into practice.
He also draws a useful comparison between the ideological extremists and
modern Muslim reformers--in particular Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy
premier of Malaysia, Mohammed Khatami, president of Iran, and Abdurrahman
Wahid, the former president of Indonesia--showing how their message of
trying to create a dialogue between civilizations has been ignored by the
extremists and the West.
Esposito does not spare his fellow-Americans for their ignorance about the
Islamic world and their lack of exposure to world events and ideas. "Our
knowledge of Islam, of the vast majority of Muslims and its connections to
the Judeo-Christian tradition remains minimal or non-existent," he writes.
Esposito's final warning is to the Muslim regimes who may try to use the war
on terrorism to perpetuate dictatorial rule. "The failure to address the
relationship between faith to national identity and to institution-building
contributes to instability and risks massive social explosions. Governments
that rely on social control rather than consultation, that employ violence
and repression, create a climate that contributes to radicalization and
violence against the state."
His message is clear: The West has to avoid strengthening repressive Muslim
regimes around the world.
While Esposito takes us through the world of contemporary Islam, Princeton
professor Bernard Lewis's book takes us on a historical survey, asking the
very questions that Muslims spend a lot of time debating: What were the
causes of the decline of Islamic civilisation and the rise of the West in
Lewis, who is the foremost American historian on the Muslim world--and whose
short, prescient essay is on The New York Times bestseller list--starts by
explaining how Islam was for centuries the leading civilisation in the
The tension between religious concerns and political needs has always been a
major contradiction for Islamic rulers and society because Islam has no
formal church, and piety and Islamic law, or sharia, have always clashed
with the needs of government.
In Islam, church and state have always been considered one. But, in practice
it never has been so except for a brief period in Arabia when the Prophet
Muhammad was both the religious and political leader.
That is the reason why so many of today's Islamic extremists are determined
to try and recreate that imagined community of believers.
Lewis spends much time explaining the demise of the Ottoman Empire and how
difficult it was for its rulers to gain religious permission to allow
foreigners to train and modernize the court, the military and the
bureaucracy. Even the development of printing and newspapers was delayed
until the ulema, or Islamic scholars, approved.
Lewis makes the critical point that the status of women in Islamic society
and the West "was the most profound single difference" between them. Lewis
demonstrates how Islamic societies have modernized without becoming totally
Westernized. The emancipation of women should have been seen as an attempt
to modernize rather than Westernize. It's an important distinction in
today's Muslim world and something which many rulers have failed to realize.
There are two shortcomings in an otherwise brilliant overview. Lewis fails
to mention the influence of Marxism in Islamic societies in the 20th century
and how, for a time, Marxism gripped the imagination of many Muslims as an
appropriate anti-colonial ideology. And he does not mention how, in the
contemporary period, the Islamic world's perceptions have dramatically
altered due to America's unequivocal support for Israel. Readers should read
both books together in order to understand today's crisis in the Muslim
Ahmed Rashid is a senior writer with the REVIEW and the author of Jihad: The
Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia
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