What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (Anglais) Broché – 7 janvier 2003
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Présentation de l'éditeur
For 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 was seen as an outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief from which there was nothing to learn or to fear. And then everything changed. The West won victory after victory, first on the battlefield and then in the marketplace.
In this elegantly written volume, Bernard Lewis, a renowned authority an Islamic affairs, examines the anguished reaction of the Islamic world as it tried to make sense of how it had been overtaken, overshadowed, and dominated by the West. In a fascinating portrait of a culture in turmoil, Lewis shows how the Middle East turned its attention to understanding European weaponry, industry, government, education, and culture. He also describes how some Middle Easterners fastened blame on a series of scapegoats, while others asked not "Who did this to us?" but rather "Where did we go wrong?"
With a new Afterword that addresses September 11 and its aftermath, What Went Wrong? is an urgent, accessible book that no one who is concerned with contemporary affairs will want to miss.
Biographie de l'auteur
Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University. An eminent authority on Middle Eastern history, he is the author of over two dozen books, most notably The Arabs in History, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, The Political Language of Islam, The Muslim Discovery of Europe, and The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years. What Went Wrong? has been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Arabic and Turkish. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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Lewis clearly belongs to the school, which seeks to explain the fortune or misfortune of civilisations through their cultures, rather than geography or political events. There have been many studies in recent times trying to explain the backwardness of Arab countries in economical and other matters (see e.g. Arab World Competitiveness Report 2002-2002, Arab Human Development report 2002). All of these stop at secondary explanations, such as the discrimination of women, lack of freedom etc..... Lewis traces these back to their roots : the culture of Islam
Lewis paints a picture of an Ottoman world, the most powerful entity in and a proxy for the Islam world, not interested in learning much from the infidel west, except in military matters (to averts defeats). Cultural Exchanges between the West and the Ottoman world had been a one-way street for centuries, the West absorbing what was useful, and the Ottoman empire too aware of its superiority to contemplate learning from infidels. This superiority in part was due to Islam's view of Christianity as a precursor of Islam, i.e. less perfect. Still, military defeats in the 17th and 18th century forced the Ottomans to ask themselves what caused their decline and what was the solution. In the 19th century Ottoman rulers undertook a number of modernisations, which they hoped would strengthen the empire. This led to less freedom and more autocracy in the empire. Lewis points out that, whereas Europeans viewed freedom as the opposite of tyranny, for Ottomans the opposite of tyranny was justice, i.e. the ruler was there by right and that he ruled according to God's law. Little surprise that most experiments with democracy petered out soon. Lewis also notes a fundamental difference between Western and Middle Eastern economic approaches today: in the West one makes money to buy power and influence, in the Middle East one seizes power to make money.
In the chapter on social and cultural barriers, Lewis identifies and analyses three crucial differences, which have played a role: (the discrimination of) women, science and music. Lewis points out that, whereas Western powers imposed the abolition of slavery on the world, including Islam, little or nothing was done to promote the rights of women in the Islam world. Lewis does not attempt to elaborate the impact in economical or other terms of the discrimination of women in the Middle East. As to science, the hostility in Islam to science in later centuries is indeed all the more remarkable given the role Islam has played early on in developing and transmitting science from ancient Greece to Europe. Lewis speculates that, while the Ottoman world was willing to learn science from the infidel in military and medical matters, in other areas of science, which had more philosophical or religious implications this, was not the case.
Nobody can doubt the importance of the first 2 "crucial differences", women's status and the attitude to science, but to describe the different musical tastes of Muslims as a "crucial" difference strikes me as a bit over the top, and probably more illustrative of the cultural gap between Middle East and West, rather than a cause.
Lewis is far more compelling when he describes the very different attitudes between the Islam world and the western world regarding secularism. He notes the well known passage in Matthew where Christ says "render therefore to Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" which has been interpreted as Christ endorsing a separation of the two spheres (I'm not sure though if there is not an element of "hineininterpretieren" or even wishful thinking in this interpretation), but also points out that Christianity has been a persecuted religion for centuries, leading to separate spheres for the (Christian) religion - e.g. canonic law - and worldly or political, whereas Mohammed was both a political ruler and the prophet, hence the only law accepted by Muslims as of divine origin and regulating all aspects of human life, whether civil, commercial, criminal or constitutional is religious law or Sharia. This fundamental difference explains according to Lewis the reluctance of the Muslim world to accept the western import of secularism, because it denies to Islam its role as a religion, which governs every aspect of life, and must be therefore heretic and rejected. It took someone with the stature of Ataturk to impose secularism, although even in Turkey secularism is on the defensive. Lewis clearly suggests that secularism would be a preferable outcome in the Middle East although Lewis does not explain how this could be achieved and this sounds rather like a long shot in view of the very long tradition of the supremacy of religion.
Lewis then devotes chapter six to the different perceptions of time, space and modernity and chapter seven to aspects of cultural change, such as the lack of interest in literature etc.... I thought this was interesting, though of secondary importance. Furthermore Lewis only now elaborates on the different musical tastes of Middle East and West (remember the third "crucial" factor of chapter 3 ?)
I think this is a very interesting book but it is not well pieced together or structured. It seems it is based on 3 different lectures given in the past by the author. At first it seems as if Lewis doesn't answer his own question; I think he does, but the answer is mixed up with so many other interesting facts and anecdotes that one needs a second read. It deserves it, because the issue is important (and the book is only 161 pages long).
Lewis traces the insularity of Islam after its heyday during the middle ages, when it rejected or was slow to adopt "infidel" technologies, such as modern weaponry and the printing press. At the same time, Islamic societies did import some of the poorer offerings of the Western World, such as fascism and centralization of state power (brought on by bureaucracy, record keeping, and so on). These led to the Islamofascist dictatorships -- secular strongmen bolstered by an ideology, which we see in Egypt or Syria, or fundamentalist ones such as Iran, and would be examples, such as the resurrection of the caliphate that Bin Ladin seeks. A sad byproduct of this centralization was the elimination of intermediate power holders in the Islamic societies, which acted as a constraint on the capriciousness of central authorities. The loss of Halifa, the "rightful" empire of Islam, has fueled resentment as Muslims confuse Westernization with Modernity, or resent the successes of modernity, which have painfully few roots in the Islamic world.
Note that the work addresses what went wrong with Islam -- including the Middle East but not restricting itself to it. It would be disingenous, however, to assert that the Middle East is not the wellspring of Islam and that Muslims living in "Dar al Harb" are not strongly connected to the Hijaz -- the holy Arabian peninsula. It is similarly specious, as some reviewers contend, that problems in Islam are not profoundly influenced by historical antecedents in the Middle East.
Lewis as a writer is a master of beautful prose -- modest and pithy. He is able to convey complex information to popular audiences without sacrificing the integrity of his scholarship. "What went wrong?" is both the right question and the right book -- essential reading for all concerned about the rather obvious "clash of civilizations" that we see today.
In fact -- this book is the only one that has shed any light on the situation at all. Also, far from running the Islamic people into the ground, it reveals with a grand sweep their sense of humor, their charm, as well as their dumb ideas concerning hierarchy, slavery, and women. But inside of this balanced portrait comes a real willingness to take these people seriously.
I came away from the book appreciating the Islamic situation for the very first time, and actually liking the people.
Sure, he holds them accountable for persecuting women, children, slaves, etc., and doesn't just whine that the west did this to them, but on the other hand, he also does do a lot more finger-pointing at the west than is generally accounted for.
The style is impeccable -- the kind of historical writing that was once practiced by clear-minded scholars instead of Marxist hacks like Edward Said who are often so filled with vitriol they can't think straight. After reading this it seems that Edward Said and his friends just don't want the truth known and so are painting this angel of light the wrong color. Edward Said must be a small-minded fanatic to have said the ageist and anti-Semitic things he has said about Bernard Lewis.
Read this for yourself and see.
Bernard Lewis puts the situation straight, he rights the wrong pictures of leftists, and actually breathes a certain hope into the whole picture through his comprehensive breadth, clarity, and good humor. If you want to understand the middle east, this man is the man, and this book is the book!
This book is a great starting point for the novice in learning more about a failed culture, indeed, a failed people. The hatred and anger the world is witnessing today from groups like al-Qaida is a direct manifistation of a collective realization in the Islamic world that ... they've blown it. Blaming everything on the West is poor cover indeed. How can one of the least densly populated portions of the earth ride on a sea of oil and not have a thing to show for it other than expensive cars and flashy buildings that are built by others? I respect Lewis for pointing out the historical failures, very brave. However, I look forward to a continuation of his analysis in a future book which includes the political impact of the 20th century and the decline of Islamic leadership throughout the region.