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The Crisis of Islam

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The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror . By Bernard Lewis. (Random House: 2004. Pg. 224.) ISBN: 0812967852.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - October 24, 2003

Bernard Lewis is a renowned scholar of Islamic studies and he is an emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He has been writing about the Middle East and Islamic History for over fifty years. His newest book, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror was written specifically for a general audience. In this timely work, Lewis provides a concise overview of the history of Islam and explains why a hatred of the "west" seems to permeate Islamic society. He also succinctly shows how modern leaders, from Osama bin Laden to the Saudi royal family have perverted traditional Islamic believes to support their own agendas.

The ongoing 'War on Terrorism' has made it clear to many people in the West that they know little about Islamic history and Islamic religious practices. The Crisis of Islam offers readers an authoritative and readable guide to understanding Islam and the rise of militant Islam - and how, and why, many militant fundamentalists are willing to carry out suicide attacks although the Qur'an (Koran) expressly forbids suicide. He also explains the different definitions of the word Jihad in both spiritual and military terms.

More than just a guide to the religious underpinning of Islam, this book also provides a summary of Islamic history in the Middle East. Lewis takes the reader from the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and how it was divvied up between France and Britain - and the long term resentments engendered by the division of the Middle East by Western powers. From 1918, he moves onto the establishment of the House of Saud and the State of Israel, the impact of the Cold War on Middle Eastern affairs, the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Gulf War, and how the discovery of oil in the Middle East has influence Western interactions with Arab nations. He also provides an historic survey of the rise of Islamic terrorism from its medieval origins to the use of madrasas (religious schools) to teach the Saudi form of fundamentalist Wahhabism. These madrasas have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for modern terrorists.

For many readers, the most important aspect of this book will be Lewis' explanation of why the United States and her allies did nothing, after the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein slaughtered thousands of Shi'a and Kurdish civilians after they rose-up to overthrow him - at the express request of the United States. He also clearly outlines why Israel has been used as a scapegoat for all the political and economic woes besetting the Muslim world. The Crisis of Islam provides a lot of information in a relatively short span and it is a perfect starting point for someone seeking a deeper understanding of Islam, Islamic history, and Islamic attitudes toward the West. For those seeking to continue their study of this subject, I'd recommend Lewis' books, The Middle East and What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response as a starting point.

Related Reviews:

Energy Victory, by Robert Zubrin.
Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. In this book, Zubrin offers a realistic and cogent plan to rapidly wean America off Mideast oil. Most important, his plan is both technologically and economically feasible.

Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, By Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad.
An in-depth look at America's secret biological warfare research and the current efforts underway to thwart a biological attack, and the threat posed by biological weapons, and bioterroism.

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