The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times
by Christopher de Bellaigue
Freedom in the Arab World: Concepts and Ideologies in Arabic Thought in the Nineteenth Century
by Wael Abu-‘Uksa
In The Islamic Enlightenment, Christopher de Bellaigue aims to address a bias he perceives among general readers about the history of Islamic political liberalization. According to widespread assumptions, efforts to transform Islamic nations into modern societies were mainly imposed “from above” by Western-leaning autocrats—the underlying premise being that the Enlightenment was an exclusively Judeo-Christian (or post-Christian) movement that had no parallel in Islamic societies. This “historical fallacy,” in de Bellaigue’s view, has led “triumphalist Western historians, politicians and commentators, as well as some renegade Muslims who have turned on the religion of their births,” to insist that “Islam [still] needs its Enlightenment.” By contrast, de Bellaigue argues convincingly that efforts to bring modern political ideas to the Muslim world had a “natural constituency” among the educated minority and that, despite opposition, they slowly gained general acceptance.
On July 4, 2014, as Americans were preparing to celebrate Independence Day, an event of comparable symbolism took place in the Grand Mosque of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, which had been taken over by the so-called Islamic State on June 10. Slowly mounting the pulpit on the first day of …
Srjdan, our Serbian innkeeper, is a perfect host. Knowing that we are bound to lose ourselves in the streets of Sombor, a Serbian town near the Hungarian border where the night before we had checked into his bed and breakfast with its opulent furnishings and paintings of lush Italianate beauties, …
The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East
by Marc Lynch
ISIS: A History
by Fawaz A. Gerges
In his best-selling History of the Arab Peoples, published two years before his death in 1993, the Anglo-Lebanese scholar Albert Hourani remarked on the surprising levels of political stability prevailing in the Arab world at that time. Despite the rapid growth of its cities, and many disparities of wealth between the governing elites and newly urbanized masses who were calling for social justice, calm seemed to rule, at least on the surface. The events of 2011 saw a cataclysmic change in this picture of apparent stability and continuity.
What’s clear is that the “big beautiful wall” promised by Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign is already a thing of the past, a technology superseded by electronic surveillance barriers like the ones Homeland Security has been building in Arizona for several years. Whether or not Trump’s prototypes merit the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel’s designation of them as “conceptual art,” they should stand as material testaments to outdated, empty rhetoric.
The challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, and, above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture that have always appealed to people who are at the margins or who are seeking some new source of meaning.
After sweeping into Iraq, the jihadists of ISIS tweeted pictures of a bulldozer crashing through the Syria-Iraq border. This symbolic action against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which such groups are nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence, when Sunni Islam ruled over an unbroken realm and the Shias knew their place.