Bernard Lewis is an interesting Middle Eastern scholar who I will surely talk about more when I get into Orientalism. This book, Crisis of Islam, is about the utter chaos the Islamic World has experienced in the last century. The book explores the history of the Islamic World and the modern context it is now. The book discusses the various edge groups and their opponents in the modern world – from the Salafis to the hidden secularist liberals. This is an extraordinary read that is well worth, insightful, easy to understand, and scholarly.
Professor Lewis is quick to explain that Islam is not inherently linked to terrorism. He goes through the historical roots of terrorism and the history of violence in the Islamic World, and thoroughly demonstrates the lack of relationship between the two. Terrorism has “no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition.” Nevertheless, the terrorist of the Muslim World justify themselves through their religion in an incredulous way. Dealing with the Middle East has thus become so difficult – that the fanatics believe wholeheartedly that they are correct, and that killing them is only good for them.
The crisis of the Islamic World and the rise of extremism can be attributed much to the decline in Islamic thinking, which occurred a little before colonialism and after the fall of the Mongols as a reaction to the Renaissance (the public perception suddenly became that the roots of Islamic decline are because of too much thinking and too little dogma, and this led to only more decline). This was not helped by colonialism centuries later, which destroyed the academic institutions (theological, philosophical, and scientific) forever. In modern times, oil has both been crucial and destructive to the Arab world in particular. Lewis has a famous quote where he flips the common American quote: “No representation without taxation”. The oil rich gulf states have traditionally had almost no taxes on its citizens- the wealth of the nation was generated entirely by oil resources. Their was no need for a parliamentary system to develop a taxation system, and thus the monarchies established themselves permanently, and are only replaced if ever by ruthless tyrants.
His book after explaining what I have said so far in much more details concludes with a solution. The purpose of the text was not really to provide a solution, so it doesn’t focus too much on it, but his conclusion is that the only solution to the Middle East is non-secular democracy (secular preferably, but that is asking for too much too quick). America is a necessary component for reviving the Middle East (Lewis was a big advocate of the Iraq war…before it happened). I won’t comment on what I think about his conclusions, but I am content to say that his identifying of Middle Eastern and Islamic problems was excellent, and his analysis of their roots essential.