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What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East / Edition 1

What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East / Edition 1

3.5 12
by Bernard Lewis

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ISBN-10: 0060516054

ISBN-13: 2900060516054

Pub. Date: 01/07/2003

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

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


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.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Harper Perennial
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Lessons of the Battlefield18
Chapter 2 The Quest for Wealth and Power35
Chapter 3 Social and Cultural Barriers64
Chapter 4 Modernization and Social Equality82
Chapter 5 Secularism and the Civil Society96
Chapter 6 Time, Space, and Modernity117
Chapter 7 Aspects of Cultural Change133

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What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was very satisfied reading from one of the world's foremost historians about the Middle East and Islam. The clash between Islam and "Modernity" is a struggle that reoccurs over and over again throughout world history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tunguz More than 1 year ago
As many other readers have suggested, this is not Bernard Lewes' best work, and it is a bit of a failure in one important respect: it doesn't answer the rhetorical question from the title. Lewis is much better at describing historic events and finding out insightful and important tidbits of information than he is at deeper analysis. This is quite understandable, since he is a historian of the old school and neither political nor social scientist. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating and interesting book, and anyone who is not familiar with the history of the Middle East, especially compared to the history of Europe, would benefit from reading it. The book was completed shortly before 9/11 attacks on the US, but in its themes it proved extremely prescient and relevant. Lewis is very sympathetic towards his subject matter, the peoples and cultures of the Middle East, and is fair minded and balanced when presenting historical facts. His is not the goal of condemning and denigrating Middle Eastern peoples and the Islamic word, but a genuine concern for explaining that part of the world, and through explaining aiding in its understanding. This is an admirable book that goes a long way towards achieving that goal.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is very basic, and not an indepth look at 'What went wrong?' A good book for beginner but breaks no new ground. All in all -- so - so
Guest More than 1 year ago
The most dissappointing thing about this book is that, after reading it, the reader is left still asking him/herself the same question: so what went wrong? The author gives a long list of unconnected facts mostly related not to the Arab world, but to the Turkish empire, without any clear line of argument. The erudition of Lewis is not questioned, but he fails to answer the question that makes the title of his book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book with an open mind to try and understand this kind of perspective. This book honestly (as the title may give it away) is not a book on true history, but mainly to deconstruct the region, and a poor one at that. The basic premise that is understood is that the Arab Muslim will always be a 'thing' to be analyzed and studied for demonization, hence the term Oriental. This man has written and dedicated his entire Orientalist study on the region and yet has never set foot in the Middle East heartland with the exception of Turkey. What is wrong is his historical perspective fits the theory of the 'us versus them'. This has been the position of Orietalist scholars from the West since the 18th century, and today he is the most widely regarded on the subject as outlined in Edward Said's monumental work, Orientalism. He does make few valid points, but overall I felt at odds with the book. The Arabs are a people whom have their own culture, history, language, religion and society irrespective of what anybody in the West may say or feel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bernard Lewis first clearly explains how Islam was not only a conduit for spreading ideas between the East and Medieval Europe, but perhaps more importantly a knowledge society that preserved and built on the legacy of Antiquity (pg. 6-7). The Islamic world developed several centers of excellence that innovated and took over the leadership in most artistic and scientific disciplines for centuries (pg. 7, 78-79, 119, 139-140). Muslims rightly perceived Medieval Europe as an area that had not much use to them, except in terms of slaves and raw materials (pg. 4). However, this complacent, condescending attitude of Islam towards other barbarian, infidel civilizations and a loss of interest in new learning progressively sapped the leadership of the Islamic world at a time that the Europeans started innovating again on a large scale, even before the Renaissance (pg. 7, 79, 81, 125). This attitude is not so surprising when one knows that Christianity and Judaism have been perceived as imperfect precursors of Islam (pg. 36). By that time, China stopped exploring the world behind its borders and entered a period of stagnation that lasted until the 20th century CE. Although the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries CE slowed down the loss of influence of Islam in arts and sciences, the writing was on the wall (pg. 4-21). Not only was the West progressively recovering more and more territories lost to Islamic rulers in the previous centuries, but more ominously regained its prominence in the marketplace (pg. 8, 15). The Western trading companies and their subsequent colonial offspring des-intermediated the Islamic world and started their conquest of Islamic lands (pg. 31). However, the weak Ottoman Empire was kept alive for centuries behind its useful time span. It was not until the 19th century that the West started slicing and dicing the Empire thoroughly (pg. 33). Western powers previously had no interest in the emergence of a Hapsburgs¿ superpower in Central and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, these Western powers wanted and obtained from the Ottomans that the Western merchants could do business as they saw fit in this part of the Islamic world (pg. 19, 35). The Renaissance, the Reformation and the technological revolution went largely unnoticed in Islamic territories due to a prevalent attitude that nothing good could come from Barbarians and Infidels as Lewis rightly reminds his readers (pg. 7, 145). However, the technological innovation of the West in the military area caught the attention of Muslims (pg. 12, 20, 39, 133-136, 141-143). The Ottomans were the main adopters of European military know how after receiving the blessing of the leaders of the ulema, the Doctors of Holy Law; necessity knows no law (pg. 13, 25, 43). Unlike Europeans who traveled in increasing numbers through the Islamic world, very few Muslims ever visited the West during this to better appreciate the added value of the Western modus operandi to their respective societies (pg. 25, 40). The ulema actively discouraged such travel except for the infidel minorities living in Islamic lands or Western adventurers offering their know how to Islam (pg. 26-29, 36-37, 44, 48-50, 147). Some dissenting voices stressed the need for broader reforms to modernize the Ottoman Empire, but were largely ignored or eliminated until the 19th century CE when it was basically too late (pg. 13, 28, 56-61, 70-71, 76-78, 95). At best, knowledge was perceived as something to be treasured, not as an asset to leverage and expand (pg. 39). This prevailing attitude was in sharp contrast to the modus operandi of medieval Islamic scientists who rose to worldwide prominence due to their openness to both foreign and domestic influences (pg. 79). Others pushed for a return to the past, Islamic and Ottoman, to reverse the ongoing decline of the Islamic civilization (pg. 23, 164-165). This debate is still raging (pg. 23, 63). T
Guest More than 1 year ago
Occidentalism, a recent New York Review of Books article, is destined to become the landmark counterpoint to Orientalism, Edward Said's dishonest 1976 theory. Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma define a cluster of anti-Western and anti-American ideas that played a large role in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The haters see 'arrogance, feebleness, greed, depravity, and decadence' as peculiarly Western or American traits, which they believe must be stamped out. Islamist anti-Western ideas, rooted in fascism, mirror those of Hirohito's Japan, and of course, Hitler's Germany. Jorge Semprun's 1997 Literature or Life also notes the similarity between the two ideologies. He doesn't develop that point, but I was reaching the same conclusion when articles by Benjamin Netanyahu, Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes, among others confirmed my thinking. In exploring Islamism's ideological predecessors, Occidentalism serves as a brilliant companion to Bernard Lewis' equally brilliant book. Readers familiar with Efraim and Inari Karsh's superb Empires of the Sand or David Fromkin's Peace to End All Peace may have an easier time absorbing myriad historical events in Lewis' thin but substantive volume. One need not know the history to understand what he says, however. Lewis explains not the Islamists' anti-Western ideas, but the background for them. I would have liked to have seen a good deal more about Islamic theology and dogma in this book. On what basis do classical Islamic jurists call for jihad and the subjugation of non-Mulsims? Still, the history is interesting. Islam's defeats at the hands of the West--in trade, technology, printing, science, philosophy, political development, modernization, diplomacy, war--stretch back 600 years. In 1502 Venice warned the Ottoman Sultans of the threat posed to the spice trade by the sea route Vasco de Gama had opened up between Europe and Asia. The Ottomans ignored the warning, just as they ignored many other problems, and the Muslim East eventually felt the results. To a Westerner this might seem odd. As Lewis has previously pointed out, Muslim peoples are both shaped by their history and keenly aware of it. The Muslim pulpit, schools, and media nourish the people's sense of history. While often slanted and inaccurate, teachings frequently reference events and personalities of the 7th century. But where in the West, historians consider the past partly to avoid repeating it, the Muslim East historically took different lessons from historical study. In Medieval times, Muslims wrote 'vast, rich and varied historical literature,' none of it on non-Muslims or even on pre-Muslim regional history. Lewis reviews both events centuries before the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the cultural incompatibility which colonial powers carried into the region. The British and French constitutional and parliamentary systems for example collapsed in places unable to understand or support them. The fascist ideological and political systems of 1930s Germany and Italy, on the other hand, gained wide support and rooted, even after those countries were defeated in World War II. Lewis covers myriad other cultural gaps as well. These include widely divergent attitudes on everything from women and science to music. Namik Kemal, a leader of the Young Ottomans, in 1867 expounded on the need to liberate and educate women and an Egyptian named Qasim Amin expanded the views in 1899. Concubinage fell by the wayside; Polygomy is now rare except in Arabia. (Slavery is still practiced in several Arab countries.) But Lewis notes that women's rights have become, for traditionalists, a noxious symbol of Westernization which must be barred from Islam, 'and where it has already entered, must be ruthlessly excised.' Profound differences also occur over separation of faith and state. In Islam, the two are inseparable. In the Christian West, they can and must be separated. Even the sense of time and space is differe
Guest More than 1 year ago
An evenhanded treatment of a complex problem. The author is a scholar who writes clearly and succinctly. Extensive footnotes.