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What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response [Kindle Edition]

Bernard Lewis

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For many centuries, the world of Islam was in the forefront of human achievement--the foremost military and economic power in the world, the leader in the arts and sciences of civilization. Christian Europe, a remote land beyond its northwestern frontier, was seen as an outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief from which there was nothing to learn or to fear. And then everything changed, as the previously despised West won victory after victory, first in the battlefield and the marketplace, then in almost every aspect of public and even private life.
In this intriguing volume, Bernard Lewis examines the anguished reaction of the Islamic world as it tried to understand why things had changed--how they had been overtaken, overshadowed, and to an increasing extent dominated by the West. Lewis provides a fascinating portrait of a culture in turmoil. He shows how the Middle East turned its attention to understanding European weaponry and military tactics, commerce and industry, government and diplomacy, education and culture. Lewis highlights the striking differences between the Western and Middle Eastern cultures from the 18th to the 20th centuries through thought-provoking comparisons of such things as Christianity and Islam, music and the arts, the position of women, secularism and the civil society, the clock and the calendar.
Hailed in The New York Times Book Review as "the doyen of Middle Eastern studies," Bernard Lewis is one of the West's foremost authorities on Islamic history and culture. In this striking volume, he offers an incisive look at the historical relationship between the Middle East and Europe.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 803 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 204 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 0195144201
  • Verlag: Oxford University Press, USA (12. Dezember 2001)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ASIN: B004EENYU6
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 3.4 von 5 Sternen  9 Rezensionen
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Faux modern 25. Dezember 2007
Von Harry Eagar - Veröffentlicht auf
The factual material in "What Went Wrong?" has been presented by Bernard Lewis many times before; almost all of it is in the essays collected as "From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East."

So the interpretation and the timing are what matter here. Lewis had completed his text just before Sept. 11, 2001 In this short, but very concentrated form, presumably he was hoping to catch the attention of people unlikely to attempt one of his lengthier, scholarly works,

So what, we ask, is his interpretation? He pulls his punch here. In a summary, he lists what several other people have proposed for the terrible state of the Muslims. He rejects some of these but never quite says what he thinks about it.

As a potted history of the grandest sweep of Islam in its homelands, nothing could be handier. But I have serious problems with the bias. In fact, of all Lewis's books, this one goes the furthest in prettying up an ugly picture. As I have noted in other reviews, this is ironic. Lewis is the magister among westerners writing about Islam, but Muslims and their fellow-travelers, especially but not only of the Edward Said school, consider him the arch-orientalist, besmirching and misunderstanding Muslims.

Lewis makes a distinction here between "modernization" and "Westernization." Although not precisely defined, even by example, by modernization he means attempts by Muslims to gain the benefit of Western things without the baggage of western ideas. Whether this is even possible is not addressed by Lewis, although it has been by, eg, Taner Edis in "An Illusion of Harmony."

Much of the book is devoted to explaining why Muslims would want Western things, since for the first seven centuries or so they despised anything unIslamic. That was before their well-oiled plunder machine starting breaking down.

Here is where Lewis goes off the rails.

First of all, I cannot accept his repeated statements that Islam was the greatest, most scientific civilization in the world during its heyday. It was certainly politically powerful, but Islam was never creative.

One of the flaws, for me, in this book, is that it is limited to the Islamic heartlands -- places where the everyday language was or became Arabic, Turkish or Persian. There is not a word about Islam's spread into black Africa or south Asia. As I shall show later, things happened outside the core lands that call into question Lewis's final remarks.

Back to science. Islam took over the places and people who had provided most of the technological innovation of the human race. Charles Singer's massive "History of Technology" demonstrated that.

Once Islam arrived, it was as if a curtain had been dropped. In the succeeding 14 centuries, not one important device, method or insight has emerged from this area. Lewis's own best example is not scientific at all, merely a minor medical speculation that turned out to be correct, although it took Europeans to prove it.

That right there might answer the "what" of "what went wrong?" Islam somehow prevents its adherents from thinking creatively. (There are other kinds of creativity than making devices, harder to measure than by counting patents or exports. The area taken over by the Muslims also was the hotbed of this immaterial kind of creativity. No one will contend that Muslims have added much to the political or philosophical thinking of the Greeks.)

However that may be, eventually Muslims did want the weapons and wealth that Europe was beginning to acquire. Mere imitation did not work. Military academies were set up and cadets were sent to Germany, Italy and France to study.

Japan did the same a little later.

The difference in outcomes needs no comment.

But it is not at all clear that any significant fraction of Muslims ever even attempted "modernization," much less "Westernization." They may have thought they did, but whether any Muslims ever understood what was behind "modernization" is doubtful.

Let us take two examples, slavery and nationalism.

By now, slavery is illegal everywhere, even in Islamic countries, despite the fact that it is explicitly permitted in the Koran.

But legal antislavery is not the same as moral antislavery. No one wants to be a slave himself. The innovation of the West was moral antislavery, the deeply held notion that no one should be a slave.

This idea is not popular, never having spread east of the Rhine nor west of North America. Certainly there is no evidence that Muslims, any more than Germans, have internalized the idea of moral antislavery. (I have more to say about Lewis's misunderstanding of Islamic slavery in my review of "Race and Slavery in the Middle East.")

The same objections can be made to the idea that Islam was tolerant. It was a one-way tolerance, which is no tolerance at all.

When it comes to "Westernizing," the poster boy is Ataturk, and he is the epitome of the attempt to create a national consciousness out of a previously polyethnic, multireligious empire. But Ataturk was merely a Turk supremacist, he never believed in moral nationalism. Ask the Kurds, Armenians or Bulgarians.

Other examples could be adduced. So it is not clear in what sense Muslims can today be regarded as "modern," even in an anti-Western sense. Lewis gets this in some contexts, commenting on elections without choices and parliaments without power. In one of his other books, "Dragomans," he comments on the oddity of parliamentarism in almost all Islamic countries, even Iran, since it is a pure western import without the slightest sanction in the Koran or tradition. He understands that, with elections, function has not followed form, but fails to apply the same insight to toleration, slavery, nationalism.

Lewis rejects the idea that the failure of Islam was inherent in the religion. He is surely wrong here. The example of imperial China applies to Islam just as well. Fanatical devotion to ancient precepts is a proven road to political and social disaster. Even Europe sends that message; it was, as pro-Muslims love to point out, far weaker and poorer than the Islamic lands. It was the Hussite attack on the inviolability of authority that coincided with Europe's breakout.

Finally, Lewis asserts that the turmoil and anti-Americanism that are gaining so much ground in the Islamic homelands of southwestern Asia are a normal progression from the anti-imperialism formerly aimed to Britain or France. Specifically, in an afterword written following the attacks on New York and Washington, Lewis accepts bin Laden's statement that his primary motivating feeling was resentment at the presence of American troops in the sacred land of Arabia.

This cannot explain the (failed) Islamic coup in Trinidad nor the Islamic terrorism against Buddhists in Thailand.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Lewis is brilliant 22. Januar 2014
Von AlanK - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
This is an excellent examination of the Middle East psyche and the factors contributing to anti-Western attitudes among Levantine peoples.
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2.0 von 5 Sternen A Difficult Read 26. Dezember 2013
Von DasHorn - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
While good history, becomes difficult with so any historical tracks. Read the suary and skip the main body of the book.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Middle East issues 12. Januar 2014
Von Charles R - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Text book like but interesting information if you are seeking to get some kind of handle on the Middle East.
3.0 von 5 Sternen Disappointing but rewarding. 19. Oktober 2014
Von clarence lindsay - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Good on facts substantiating the chasm. Tends to be light on analysis of why the chasm developed either out of political correctness, temperamental reluctance to analyze, or perhaps just lack of intellectual strength.
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