What Went Wrong?


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What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis


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This is the paperback edition. The hardcover is also available.

 

Book Description

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.

About the Author

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.

From the Back Cover
"Only a scholar of Bernard Lewis's quality could produce the sweep and depth of this fascinating analysis. He gives meaning to history, and illumination and challenge to the question he poses. He brings a clear and lively style to this beautifully written book."--George P. Shultz
"A compelling book. One of our most distinguished historians throws a flood-light on that cruel divide between the West and the societies of Islam. Learned and urgent at the same time."--Fouad Ajami, The Johns Hopkins University

"Muslim loss of civilizational leadership and retreat from modernity is at the center of global history over the last five hundred years and remains at this very time a major factor in international conflicts and diplomatic quarrels. What went wrong? Indeed. Muslims often have the feeling that history has somehow betrayed them, and on no comparable issue is the historian's potential contribution more important--the more so because the subject is plagued by ideological commitments, partisan blather, and the constraints of political correctness. People have shunned the topic for all the wrong reasons. All the more reason to be grateful for Bernard Lewis's interventions. No one knows better the languages and motivations of the players, and no one is more reliable in the objectivity of his judgments."--David Landes, Harvard University

Editorial Reviews

Middle East Books

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From Publishers Weekly
In the fields of Islamic and Middle Eastern history, few people are as prominent and prolific as Lewis, emeritus professor at Princeton. This time around, however, he has written a book with an inconsistent argument and an erratic narrative consisting of recycled themes from his earlier books, a work that sheds no new light on Middle Eastern history or on the events of September 11. His general argument is that Islamic civilization, once flourishing and tolerant, has in modern times become stagnant. This, he contends, has led to considerable soul-searching among Muslims, who ask themselves, "What went wrong?" But while sometimes the author states that there is a critical inquiry into the source of economic weakness in Muslim civilizations, other times he says that, instead of looking into the mirror, Muslims have blamed their problems on Europeans or Jews and thus fed their sense of victimhood. In medieval times, Lewis notes, Muslim civilization transmitted scientific ideas into Europe. But after offering intriguing examples of Muslim physicians and astronomers on the cutting edge in the 13th to 15th centuries, this chapter abruptly ends by stating that in modern times the roles have reversed, leaving the reader baffled over what between the 15th and the 20th centuries may have contributed to this reversal. Thus, the book raises more questions than it answers. Furthermore, Lewis discounts the effects of various decisions made by European and American colonial powers that negatively impacted the development of a democratic political community and a viable economy in the Middle East. Lewis's earlier books, such as The Muslim Discovery of Europe and The Middle East and the West, are much more useful for anyone seeking to understand the historical dynamic between these two parts of the world. First serial to Atlantic Monthly.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Amazon.com
Bernard Lewis is the West's greatest historian and interpreter of the Near East. Books such as The Middle East and The Arabs in History are required reading for anybody who hopes to understand the region and its people. Now Lewis offers What Went Wrong?, a concise and timely survey of how Islamic civilization fell from worldwide leadership in almost every frontier of human knowledge five or six centuries ago to a "poor, weak, and ignorant" backwater that is today dominated by "shabby tyrannies ... modern only in their apparatus of repression and terror." He offers no easy answers, but does provide an engaging chronicle of the Arab encounter with Europe in all its military, economic, and cultural dimensions. The most dramatic reversal, he says, may have occurred in the sciences: "Those who had been disciples now became teachers; those who had been masters became pupils, often reluctant and resentful pupils." Today's Arab governments have blamed their plight on any number of external culprits, from Western imperialism to the Jews. Lewis believes they must instead commit to putting their own houses in order: "If the peoples of Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, [and] poverty and oppression." Anybody who wants to understand the historical backdrop to September 11 would do well to look for it on these pages. --John Miller

From Library Journal
Since its inception in the seventh century, Islamic civilization has remained a significant force in the world. In fact, the Muslim world was a leader in the humanities, arts, and sciences while Europe was still in relative darkness and mired in internecine wars and religious zealotry. The Muslim world was also largely responsible for preserving and transmitting Greek and other Western scholarship to Christian Europe. However, Islamic civilization was eventually overshadowed by the achievements of European Christendom, and much of the Muslim world came under the direct or indirect domination of the West. In this highly readable book, eminent historian Lewis (Near Eastern studies, emeritus, Princeton Univ.) explains Islam's encounter with the West and the Middle East's varied responses to the West's sociocultural and political hegemony in the Muslim world. Like many of Lewis's previous writings on this subject (e.g., The Arabs in History), this book will undoubtedly generate significant debate and disagreement among scholars regarding the author's analysis of Islamic responses to modernity and Westernization. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Newsweek
"Arguably the West's most distinguished scholar on the Middle East."

The New York Times Book Review, January 27, 2002
"Lewis has done us all--Muslim and non-Muslim alike--a remarkable service"

Business Week, January 28, 2002
"A timely and provocative contribution to the current raging debate about the tensions between the West and the Islamic world."

The Baltimore Sun, January 13, 2002
"An excitingly knowledgeable antidote to today's natural sense of befuddlement."

Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2002
"Replete with the exceptional historical insight that one has come to expect from the world's foremost Islamic scholar."

Excerpt from 1st Chapter

The Treaty of Carlowitz has a special importance in the history of the Ottoman Empire, and even, more broadly, in the history of the Islamic world, as the first peace signed by a defeated Ottoman Empire with victorious Christian adversaries.

In a global perspective, this was not entirely new. There had been previous defeats of Islam by Christendom; the loss of Spain and Portugal, the rise of Russia, the growing European presence in South and Southeast Asia. But few observers at that time, Muslim or Western, could command a global perspective. In the perspective of the Muslim heartlands in the Middle East, these events were remote and peripheral, barely affecting the balance of power between the Islamic and Christian worlds in the long struggle that had been going on between them since the advent of Islam in the seventh century and the irruption of the Muslim armies from Arabia into the then Christian lands of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, and, for a while, Southern Europe. The Crusaders had briefly halted the triumphal march of Islam, but they had been held, defeated, and ejected. The Muslim advance had continued with the extinction of Byzantium and the Ottoman entry into Europe. The Empire of Constantinople had fallen; the Holy Roman Empire was next. Ottoman and more broadly Muslim consciousness of the world in which they lived is reflected in the very copious historical literature that they produced and, in greater detail, in the millions of documents preserved in the Ottoman archives, illustrating the functioning of the Ottoman state year by year, almost day by day, in its manifold activities. There are occasional references to the loss of Spain, but it appears as a relatively minor issue—far away, not threatening. There is some mention of the arrival of Muslim refugees and of Jewish refugees who came from Spain to the Ottoman lands, but little more.

The peace signed at Carlowitz drove home two lessons. The first was military, defeat by superior force. The second lesson, more complex, was diplomatic, and was learnt in the process of negotiation. In the early centuries of Ottoman experience, a treaty was a simple matter. The Ottoman government dictated its terms, and the defeated enemy accepted them. After the first siege of Vienna there was, for a while, some sort of negotiation, and even—a startling innovation—a concession to the kaiser of equal status with the sultan, but no conclusive result one way or the other. In negotiating the Treaty of Carlowitz, the Ottomans had, for the first time, to resort to that strange art we call diplomacy, by which they tried, through political means, to modify, or even to reduce the results of the military outcome. For the Ottoman officials this was a new task, one in which they had no experience: how to negotiate the best terms they could after a military defeat.

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