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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.

I welcome comments, discussion and even respectful debating. I will however keep discussions to a respectable level. I reserve the right to ban anyone from this forum.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Book Review: The Crisis of Islam:Holy War and Unholy Terror

Reviewed By: Tiffany George
Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (New York: Random House
Publishing Group, 2003) Pp. 190. $13.95 paper.

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 an afterword. Additionally, he draws on historical references to illustrate his points.
We have all heard various words used for those who commit acts of violence and use religious justifications to back up their actions. Lewis chooses to use the word “fundamentalism” (Lewis 2003, 23) while occasionally using the word “extremism” (Lewis 2003, 138). Language choices used, among other things are important for credibility; alternative words other than “fundamentalism” and “extremism” (Lewis 2003, 138) may be more appropriate in this context. Even though, according to Lewis, the word “fundamentalism” was “transferred to them” (meaning Muslims) from Protestants (Lewis 2003, 24), he still continues to use the word and not suggest a better replacement. However, one person who has suggested a much better replacement is Khaled Abou El Fadl, Islamic scholar and professor at UCLA. He is author of the book, ‘The Great Theft’, a book discussing the roots of terrorism. In the book, he says using the word, ‘fundamentalists’ is “clearly problematic” (Fadl 2005, 18).To explain why, he says, “All Islamic groups and organizations claim to adhere to the fundamentals of Islam”. (Fadl 2005, 18) Suggesting a more appropriate word, Fadl says that the word ‘puritans’ is better “because the distinguishing characteristic of this group is the absolutist and uncompromising nature of its beliefs. “ (Fadl 2005, 18) He goes on to present reasons why other words (e.g. extremism) describing groups such as the Taliban, etc., are not appropriate and goes on to say, “the groups I am discussing in this book are not always, and on every issue fanatical, radical, or extremist, but they are always puritanical “ (Fadl 2005, 19).
In the beginning of the book, Lewis gives the impression that Islam is a violent faith, particularly focusing on modern examples of violence that have 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” (Lewis 2003, 15). He makes it clear that this organization “does not look into human rights abuses and other domestic problems of member states” (Lewis 2003, 16) other than issues surrounding Palestine or other areas Muslims that are not being ruled by other Muslims. 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. As an example, Lewis quotes an hadith regarding “holy war” (Lewis 2003, 32). 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” (Lewis 2003, 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” (Lewis 2003, 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 more specifically, 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. Here, Lewis seems to have exploited his qualifications to create a book that would vastly appeal to the non-Muslim uninformed public while not doing much to increase the bridge of acceptance we so desperately need in this world.
Work Cited
El Fadl, Khaled Abou. 2005. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. New York.
HarperCollins Publishers.


Chiara said...

Great revisions, thanks for posting it!

Anthrogeek10 said...

Your welcome. This is the version I handed in. :)


Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

These both look like books I'd like to add to my bookshelf. A;tho a psychologist by degree and a writer by trade, I have been taking anthropology courses on and off, formally and informally, for as long as I can remember - it's pure fascination for me! Good luck on your education and thanks for the book suggestions/review - tho I'm sure I won't be able to get copies of them here in Saudi...I'll have to pick them up next time I'm back home!

Anthrogeek10 said...


Your welcome. I love anthropology. I do hope to focus on Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard for my M.A.


Anthrogeek10 said...


In KSA, I think there is a bounty on the author of the book The Great Theft for what he says in this book. I have actually spoken to him via email. He is a neat professor with views I personally agree with.


Aynur said...

Are you serious, that there's a bounty on Khaled Abou El Fadl??! I really want to read 'The Great Theft', although I'm not planning on reading the book you reviewed. ;)

Anthrogeek10 said...


Yeah. I read it on the website his students did to support his work. He is not allowed in Egypt and in KSA, he was invited personally but the reality is that the book slams Wahhabism but in tell it like it is kind of way so....it is assumed by El Fadl it is a death sentence. No hajj for him anytime soon!

Regarding Wahhabism, I think alot of people who don't like in KSA speak of it like it is a disease. lol I think it is just a sect of Islam that one can accept or reject. I don't personally perscribe to it. I am more sufi in nature.