Friday, 16 March 2012 00:00
In the last several years, I have not read a book as fascinating and as enlightening as, What Went Wrong? The book written by Bernard Levis, an eminent authority on Middle Eastern history, is a professor at Princeton University.
The book starts with the founding of the Islam religion by Mohammed in the 7th century and really covers history through the terrorist attacks on 9/11. What I found so intriguing was the dominance of Islam from 900 to 1700 around the world. The dominance was not only in terms of military power which spread Islam over much of Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe, but Muslims were dominant in terms of economic power and arts and science during that entire period. If you doubt that, just remember that Christians lost in the efforts to takeover the Middle East during the Crusades.
As I read the book, it became clear to me that Islam failed to adjust to modern times. Swords could no longer win battles against cannons, rifles, and explosives, and even clocks were avoided in the Muslim world until late in the 1700s. During the 15th and 16th centuries Islam comprised three empires: Eastern Europe and Western Asia, northern Africa and modern Iran, and the Indian subcontinent. It is just amazing to review the extent of Islam’s reach compared with the reality of today.
It was not until the middle of the 19th Century that the Ottoman army was capable of defeating any one European country in war. But as the Ottoman Empire fell behind in naval power and technology, Europe surpassed the Ottomans.
It was also interesting for me to note that Islam, in the early period, accepted Jews and Christians in its communities. There was respect for other religions, but then things started to get out of hand. One of the most recent examples of this relates to the case of a Christian Pastor in Iran who was found guilty of “apostasy” – the renunciations of religious faith. Sentenced to death for becoming a Christian, Youcef Nadarkhani, now awaits execution in Iran.
At the same time, U.S. forces and civilians in Afghanistan have been under fire for protests because of the burning of Korans by military personnel. While the United States has apologized for the Koran burnings that has not appeased the Islamic protestors. Over 30 people have been killed since the protests started in late February.
Based on this history, can we even expect an understanding to be reached between the Muslims around the world and the western world? I am not sure. But, to complete this piece, take a look at these two quotes. Osama bin Laden called on his followers in 1998, “to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military…” and to launch attacks against the “armies of the American devils.” While bin Laden is dead, his loyal followers are not.
Bernard Lewis, the author summed it up best when he said, in an afterword to his book, “One can only hope that, in time, the cause of freedom (for all people) will triumph once again… If it does not, the outlook for the Islamic world, and perhaps for the West, will be grim.”