The clash of civilizations is really a clash of extremisms, the subject of this middling book on intolerance and its well-contents.
Humans will always find an excuse to kill one another. One of the most effective is religion, and, writes Catherwood (History/Cambridge Univ.; Churchill’s Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq, 2004, etc.), “since most people alive today are religious in some form or another, religion is often the excuse made to slaughter others on a grand scale.” Christians have killed Christians for as long as there has been Christianity, he notes; Muslims are busily killing Muslims today. Catherwood’s grand theme is one that Christopher Hitchens might approve, save that in the latter’s hands the story would have had some verve. As it is, Catherwood blends academic aridity with lecture-note insistence on the righteousness of his subject matter and himself, such that he avers that “it is important for you, the reader, to know where I come from” and takes pains to point out that “the Crusaders did not understand the basic tenets of their own faith,” which surely would have come as news to Richard Lionheart and company. (“Holy war is wrong,” Catherwood adds, rather meekly.) The author strains to hit an appropriate culturally relative note, suggesting that even if jihad really does mean war in the name of Allah, most right-thinking Muslims take it metaphorically. Some census figures would be nice on all this, for surely there are plenty who are at work on the basis of that earlier interpretation, just as there are plenty of their Christian counterparts who would mount a new Crusade given half the opportunity. In the end, knowing that there are bad Serbs and good ones and that the old Westphalian worldview is a thing of the past is not enough, and this book doesn’t offer much more.
No news for anyone who’s read Steven Runciman or James Reston Jr., and too diffuse to instruct those who haven’t heard the news at all.