Islam and the West Essay - Critical Essays

Islam and the West

The essays range from a technical consideration of thedifficulties of translation from the Arabic and a scholarlytreatment of Gibbon’s view of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, to aconsideration of the inherently fractious nature of Shi’iite Islam(that sect currently in power in Iran) and an “op-ed” level polemicregarding the current attack on scholars such as Lewis, who isproud to call himself by the term coined for those in hisdiscipline in the nineteenth century, an “Orientalist.” Despitethe variety of both its topics and scholarly levels, the collectionis unified by its consistent tone of Enlightenment confidence inthe ultimate power of reasoning to solve problems, as well as byits wide-ranging erudition.

Lewis is here defending the “objective” view of knowledgeagainst those, such as Edward Said (whose influential bookORIENTALISM he picks to pieces), who claim that Western study ofIslam is a fifth column of military expansionism, the tool of thepowerful against the powerless. Lewis draws on his historicalperspective to show that for all but the most recent centuries, itwas Islam that was the powerful civilization, and the West that wasin danger of annihilation. Indeed, it is precisely rationalistthought—that which Lewis defends in the form of hisscholarly discipline—that formed the basis of the West’stechnological surge in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His argument, because rational and well-reasoned (as well as a bitexasperated in tone), is likely to convince only those for whomsuch Western rationalism is already a given.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIX, March 1, 1993, p.1139.

Chicago Tribune. July 7, 1993, V, p.3.

Commentary. XCVI, December, 1993, p.57.

Forbes. CLII, October 11, 1993, p.26.

Library Journal. CXVIII, May 1, 1993, p.90.

National Review. XLV, August 23, 1993, p.58.

The New York Review of Books. XL, October 7, 1993, p.43.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, May 30, 1993, p.8.

San Francisco Chronicle. July 25, 1993, p. REV7.

The Times Literary Supplement. July 9, 1993, p.32.