THE MUSLIM DISCOVERY OF EUROPE by Bernard Lewis

THE MUSLIM DISCOVERY OF EUROPE

KIRKUS REVIEW

A leading Orientalist examines Muslim perceptions of Europe from the Arab conquests through the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, some 1200 years--and, in the aggregate, condemns Muslims for failing to see and value the West as Westerners do. Drawing on diverse Arab, Turkish, and Persian writings, Lewis (The Emergence of Modern Turkey, The Middle East and the West) defines the practical and intellectual limits to Muslim knowledge of Europe in chapters on language, intermediaries, and scholarship; then--re religion, economic relations, government and justice, science and techology, cultural life, and social mores--he proceeds to show the paucity of timely and accurate information about Europe available even to Muslim elites. In recording the curious observations of his sources, Lewis expands on an argument from his earlier works: in contrast to their European counterparts, and to their great disadvantage, Middle Eastern Islamic societies had little interest in learning about their millenial rival. Contributory factors, in Lewis' view, were religious prohibition and contempt for a super-ceded religion; the cultural superiority of Islam in the Middle Ages, plus its military power and economic self-sufficiency; and the difficulties encountered by those few Muslims who ventured into Europe. Only with the defeats of the 17th and 18th centuries did the Ottoman Empire acknowledge Western progress and, through observation and instruction, seek the sources of Western strength. Lewis' clear, forceful prose and an introductory chapter on Islamic-European relations from the 7th to the early 19th century make unfamiliar material accessible to nonspecialists. The book does, moreover, provide something of a historical framework for understanding contemporary Islamic reactions against Westernization. But the vast time-span fails to do justice to periods of varying intake and outthrust; the underlying thesis fails to explain the varying response of different Islamic societies to Westernization; pre-modern developments fail to account for the intensity of today's animus/attraction. Lewis has been severely criticized--most prominently, by Edward Said in Orientalism (1978)--for his assumptions about the inferiority of Islam. In form and content, this new book is similarly vulnerable.
Pub Date: June 21st, 1982
ISBN: 0393321657
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1982




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