Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: A World Without Islam

When I received an email from a publicist asking me if I would like an advance review copy of A World Without Islam by Graham E. Fuller, I was intrigued. What was the author's thesis?

It turns out that his thesis is quite simple: the present crisis of East-West relations, or between the West and "Islam", has really very little to do with religion and everything to do with political and cultural frictions, interests, rivalries and clashes.

In short, Fuller (former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA and presently adjunct professor of history at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada), argues that if Islam did NOT exist, the present-day geopolitical tensions and conflicts between the West and the Middle East would continue. The major theme of this book is the relationships between religion, power and the state.

As I read the book, I was reminded that the pre-emption of religion by the state in order to consolidate power is truly nothing new under the sun. When the split between Israel and Judah occured in the time of the Old Testament, 1 Kings 12 tells us that King Jeroboam ( a bad king!) appointed priests who would be loyal to him and set up golden calves, altars and alternative religious festivals to keep the people of Israel from traveling to Jerusalem in Judah to offer sacrifices and attend worship and possibly give their allegiance to Rehoboam, King of Judah.

Fuller begins with a theological analysis of the similarities and differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Then he traces the history of the relationship between Islam and the various states and powers in the Middle East over time. He speculates that if the Eastern Orthodox Church had not been displaced by Islam in much of the region, today we would be seeing that faith used in the name of the state in much the same way that we see Islam being used today. That seems like a stretch to me, and I wonder how those in the Orthodox Church would respond.

The book offers a thorough and well-researched history of the development of Islam not only in the Middle East where it began, but in Europe, Russia, China, India and the Far East and highlights the relationships between power and heresy as well as faith and ethnicity. One of the many interesting points he makes is that the Muslims of Europe are predominately working class people in contrast to the more professional backgrounds of most Muslim immigrants to the United States and Canada.

The reader would expect someone with Fuller's background to offer his analysis and solutions for the conflicts between the Middle East and the West, and so he does. In the last section of the book, he advocates the immediate withdrawal of all US and Western forces from "Muslim soil" so that "the area can begin to calm", along with several other policy positions that are popular with the anti-Iraq/Afghan war group.

This is not realistic and does not appear to be the policy of the Obama administration, which Fuller admires and clearly hopes to influence with this book. There are extremist groups who act out of what they perceive as religious reasons. Over the weekend, the Taliban's murder of of twelve members of a Christian humanitarian medical group in a remote area of Afghanistan where they were offering treatment for eye problems appears to have been motivated by the fact that they were Christians-- although by all accounts their mission was strictly medical. Incidents like this make unilateral withdrawal unlikely, as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton noted in her statement condemning the action.

To sum up, A World Without Islam offers a well-researched history of the development of Islam and its relationship to the secular states and cultures where it has become dominant. It is written in a relatively academic style which sometimes makes it difficult to read. The thesis is thought-provoking and challenging and would lends itself well to discussions in book clubs or adult study groups.

I could also see using this book in a church study group for the purpose of focusing on the chapters that cover the history of Islam in different countries. Additionally, the author's discussion of the relationship between religion, faith and power would doubtless prompt lively discussion. Fuller's recommendations will be lauded by those who share his political viewpoint and rejected by those who support past and current administration policies in this area. I'm not persuaded to his point of view but did learn a LOT about the development of Islam in the historical context of many countries from the book.

And if you have read this far, I have a reward for you! Little, Brown and Company has generously offered to send a copy of the book to one of my Gentle Readers. If you are interested in getting your own copy, please let me know in the comments to this post. A week from today I will put the names of those who commented in one of El Jefe's "gimme" caps and let him draw the winner! The book will be released tomorrow and is also available as an e-book for your Kindle, Nook, or IPad.

17 comments:

Robin said...

Well, if El Jefe is going to draw the name, surely it will be mine!

Joan Calvin said...

I'd love to win a copy. On the Eastern Orthodox taking the role of Islam (had Islam not occurred), I wonder what direction Eastern Orthodoxy would have taken had it been a dominant religion in the region. I don't know much, but it seems to me that Russian Orthodoxy was very different under the Czars.

ceemac said...

count me in

Mary Beth said...

Putting my name in the hat...

ROBERTA said...

oh, pick me! pick me:)

Gord said...

Open to Canucks too?

Count me in!

Purple said...

Totally interested. Put my "name" in the "el Jefe" hat.

St Michael's Lutheran Church said...

Sounds fascinating, please add my name to the hat!

Martha Williams Jordan said...

Sounds interesting. Hope my name is drawn

Deb said...

In light of the issue being made of a mosque being built near (not at) Ground Zero in Manhattan, I found this to be an interesting post. Yes. I'd be thrilled to win.

Garry said...

If Islam had not developed would we see a different Biblical commentary on Abraham's first born? Go El Jefe!

Althea N. Agape said...

Count me in!

LeahW said...

Thank you for offering a copy of the book. Your review piqued my interest, as we are planning a class on other religions in our congregation.

revkjarla said...

Count me in, too. I was interested in what you said about how to use it in the context of adult ed--my congo would totally be interested in that!

Dave Hackett said...

Yes, I'm definitely interested in reading this book, so I'll toss my name into the ring! Thanks for the review and your thoughtful critiques of it.

Faith Hope and Cherrytea said...

ok, 1 more for the draw ;)
thx !

Nawsheen said...

me too!i want my name in the list!