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California Bookwatch...key to understanding not only the Mahdi, but his ongoing importance to events happening today.
This well-researched but reactionary history chronicles the little-known holy war (jihad) led by Sudanese cleric Muhammed Ahmed ibn 'Abdullah—known as the "Mahdi" or "expected one"—against the English Empire. The initial armed encounter took place in late 1882, when 50,000 of the Mahdi's men obliterated a British garrison in Kordofan, after the English became embroiled in regional affairs due to financial concerns about the Suez Canal. Enraged, British Prime Minister Gladstone sent decorated war veteran Gen. Charles "Chinese" Gordon to reassert British control. While Mahdi had sheer manpower, Gordon had superior ammunition. But after holding off a 317-day siege of Khartoum, Gordon's forces crumbled in January 1885, when an Egyptian lieutenant helped the Mahdi into the city. However, the Mahdi died shortly thereafter and in 1899, his short-lived empire was put to rest by a renewed English offensive. Butler lays important tracks into the study of terror, fundamentalism and the early clash between Islam and Christianity, but his account is tarnished by an angry narrative tone, in which he casts Islam as murderous, inflexible and impervious to modernization, while General Gordon is civilization's savior destroyed by savages. 16 pages illus., maps. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
For those looking to find the origins of the extreme terrorism now gripping the planet, this book is the ideal starting point. Butler (Age of Cunard) has extensively researched the struggle for empire in the late 19th-century Middle East among Egypt, Great Britain, and Muhammed Ahmed, the Mahdiâ€”or "Expected One"â€”of what was then the Sudan. This struggle reached the world stage with the siege of Khartoum by Sudanese rebels in 1884 and the subsequent massacre of the Egyptian inhabitants and their British defender, Gen. Charles Gordon. It culminated in the destruction of Mahdist forces at the Battle of Omdurman in 1899. The jihad dissolved into the sands of the desert only to be renewed 100 years later, and the similarities between these two eventsâ€”the jihads, then and nowâ€”are frighteningly real. Although Butler states that his initial purpose was not to draw that parallel, the facts are there for all to see. Highly recommended.
—David Lee Poremba
Posted January 10, 2011
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