Malise Ruthven’s books include Islam in the World, Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning, and Encounters with Islam: On Religion, Politics and Modernity. (June 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

The Islamic Road to the Modern World

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.

The Caliphate: From Grand to Sordid

Caliphate: The History of an Idea

by Hugh Kennedy

Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea

by Shiraz Maher
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 …

On Today’s Refugee Road

Syrian refugees resting at an aid center on the Serbian side of the border before attempting to cross into Hungary, August 2015
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, …

How to Understand ISIS

Bahraini police dispersing protesters at an unauthorized demonstration by the February 14 Youth Coalition, Manama, January 2013. The coalition is named for the day that Bahrain’s uprising began during the Arab Spring of 2011.

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.

NYR DAILY

Lure of the Caliphate

Tombs of the Caliphs in Cairo, Egypt, circa 1880

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.

The Map ISIS Hates

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.

Hitler’s Monumental Miscalculation

A five-story German observation tower at Guernsey, Channel Islands

Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, a heroic group of American Rangers scaled the one-hundred-foot cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc, a vital promontory on the Norman coast. They were setting out to break through the Atlantic Wall—the German defenses spanning from the Arctic to the Pyrenees. Today, these fortifications are monuments to failure.