The Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis – This book written back in 2003 has stood the test of news time – which is to say it is still relevant and telling 5 years after its publication. This is the definitive analysis of the religious background that distinguishes Islam from most of the other major religions of the World. It reflects balance in its praise of Islam’s stellar contributions to World culture particularly during the Dark Ages in Europe and changes in regimes in China and India (circa 800-1300 AD). It also is unrelentingly caustic about the effects of not just Western imperialism from 1700’s through to 1950’s but also the dual standard of support for ill-legitimate regimes in Muslim countries by Western Powers while making Democracy and Capitalism merely line-item pledges since the 1950’s.
But perhaps the best analysis is the two central problems of Islam. Muslim doctrines are not just religious but also social, political and military in nature.Lewis describes how the decline of the Ottoman Empire as the head of Islamic religious and legal/political thinking has never been adequately replaced. Now Iran, Saudia Arbaia and other other regional Islamic centers vie for primacy in setting Islamic “policy”. The second problem extends from the first. the lack of an acknowledged Islamic theological authority to pronounce on Islam religious/social beliefs has allowed the theological basis for jihad, fatwa , and fedayeen terror-suicide to become ever more malignant and diverse in forms in the hands of various factions and fundamentalists who themselves vary among Sunni, Wahabi, Shia and other extremes.
But what becomes astonishingly clear is that a)religion and politics including war are still inextricably bound together in basic Islam beliefs in contrast to the separation of Church and State (still touch and go in Pentecostal parts of America and Shinto favoring regions of Japan) has not happened meaningfully in Islam. And b)the supposed tolerance of other religions, is only a salve indicated by the ferocity of attack against apostasy – no punishment is too much for those who dare to fall away from their Islamic faith – even to a “neutral” atheism. This intolerance towards freedom of religion, in Lewis’ view incapacitates the ability of many Islamic regions to incorporate innovation and modernity. Morocco, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia and Indonesia will put this hypothesis to the test. In sum, if you wondered how the world got to 9/11 and beyond – this book offers much light and insight on the questions. One caution – I would like more information on the history of the Sunni, Shia, Wahabi origins and sometimes divisive struggles.