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Welcome to my blog. Here I share my successes and failures along my journey to becoming an anthropologist. My most prominent interest anthropologically are the new approaches to handing food security/healthy eating in the US, particularly in urban "food deserts". I enjoy the Anthropology of Tourism as well; combining food and tourism has scholarly promise. My other interests which have converted into anthropological hobbies of sorts include converts to Islam, diaspora of Muslims, and MENA in general. I also have some interest in historical archaeology.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror book review

Review Author: Tiffany C. George
Lewis, Bernard. The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy terror. New York: Random House Publishing Group. 2003. 190 pgs.

Bernard Lewis has had a sixty-year career writing about Middle East history and current events. In this book, he focuses on the grievances the Islamic world has against the West and why some Muslims have turned to violence. Here, he writes for the general public in a somewhat informal writing style, and he provides background information and maps to situate his discussion. The book is arranged topically with an introduction and a forward. Additionally, he draws on historical references to illustrate his points.
In the beginning of the book, Lewis gives the impression that Islam is a violent faith, particularly focusing on modern examples of violence that has been perpetrated against Westerners or Western interests. Later, however, he presents points that go against that viewpoint. Still, the book seems to be slanted toward an unfavorable appraisal of Islam.
Lewis provides some basic information about Islam as a faith, but he emphasizes how Muslims have historically practiced their religion with a combination of ideology and politics. One of the ways he implies that Islam has a tendency toward violence is through using the example of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is concerned, among other things, with “the international position of Islam and of Muslims” (15). He makes it clear that this organization”does not look into human rights abuses and other domestic problems of member states” (16) other than issues surrounding Palestine (for example). This seems to be a not so subtle way of implying that Islam as a faith is unjust and condones violence, implying that only the West and Christianity are concerned with justice and human rights.
Another way Lewis attempts to prove that Islam as a faith is at fault for recent violence in the Middle East is by using jihad as an example. Although he acknowledges the basic moral meaning of jihad as striving for the path of God, he puts more emphasis on the places in the Qur’an where jihad seems to imply an armed struggle. This seems to suggest that, for Lewis, the ultimate meaning of jihad is to justify violent acts based upon the faith.
Later in the book, however, Lewis defends the Islamic faith against charges of terrorism. Regarding the attacks of September 11, 2001, he says clearly that they had “no justification in Islamic doctrine or law and no precedent in Islamic history” (154). He goes on to say that those acts have been considered blasphemy by other Muslims because they were done in the name of the Islamic faith.
Finally, from an anthropological perspective, the book exhibits some ethnocentricity. An example is his claim that one of the benefits of colonial rule in the Middle East was “the considerable reduction though not elimination of polygamy” (57). Lewis neglects to consider that having more than one spouse has had and continues to have positive social functions in different societies around the world. In Islam, polygyny (having more than one wife) is allowed with some restrictions because historically men were sometimes killed in wars and women needed protectors. While it is true that Muslim women today may sometimes be critical of polygamy that is not an issue for the West (or non-Muslims) to decide.
In summary, I did not find this book to be as informative or as balanced as I had hoped it would be. In my view, there are better books on the market about Islam written for the general public.

11 comments:

The Queen said...

'While it is true that Muslim women today may sometimes be critical of polygamy that is not an issue for the West (or non-Muslims) to decide.'

Ok, but what if it is a Western, non-Muslim woman that finds herself in a polygamous relationship with a Muslim man who inserted himself into her 'western' world? Then would she have a say about polygamy? lol

Anthrogeek10 said...

I guess if there was open knowledge about wife one prior to the involvement, well, my view is that it is a choice. Here, I had to make my writing tight and to the point. This was an assignment for class. :)

Anthrogeek10 said...

Oh...was that your issue CoolRed? :-) I am well versed in polygny....unfortunately.
anthrogeek10

Chiara said...

Great overview/review. I long ago came to the conclusion that not only is Bernard Lewis outmoded, he is ethnocentric, and as chief reference for the Bush administration contributed to their misunderstanding of the Islamic world.

Anthrogeek10 said...

Thanks Chiara,

I will send you the revision. I had to add more for the Islam class. :) I earned full credit for this assignment!

This book was written under the direction of the Bush Administration....
anthrogeek10

Anthrogeek10 said...

Chiara

Posted the final version. I wrote you a full email reply and the computer is running oddly. I posted the final review as a new post.

anthrogeek10

Chiara said...

Thanks for the posted revision.
A Bush administration commissioned book--well that says alot doesn't it! :x

Anthrogeek10 said...

"A Bush administration commissioned book--well that says alot doesn't it!" :x

LOL Sure does!

Usman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Usman said...

Have a look at this book:The Jews of Islam (1984) by Bernard Lewis.

I haven't got a chance to read it in full. But I have heard some good reviews about it. This book is a great shock for those who think Jews and Muslims can't live peacefully together.

Chiara said...

Usman--I haven't read that book, but in general Bernard Lewis is subtly on the Israeli/ Jewish side of matters. He was a main adviser to the Bush administration on the Iraq war.
His books, and only his books are prominently featured in the Middle Eastern section of Indigo's bookshops which are owned by proud Zionist Heather Reisman, who also sponsors scholarships for any Jew in the world willing to serve 2 years in the IDF. Once their 2 years is completed her scholarship provides 4 years tuition, books, etc and all living expenses for a 4 year degree at any Israeli university.