Monday, September 27, 2010

A World without Islam

When Graham E. Fuller imagines what the world would be like if Islam had never existed, he sees pretty much the same world we live in today.  Fuller believes that the current East vs. West conflict would exist even if religious differences had not been used over the centuries to motivate the common man to fight for his own particular version of heaven.  He, in fact, sees numerous factors, none of them having anything to do with Islam, which would have led to the tensions between the West and the Middle East.   
Fuller cites “economic interests, geopolitical interests, power struggles between regional empires, ethnic struggles, nationalisms, even severe clashes within Christianity itself” (between the churches of Rome and Constantinople) as important factors.  A World without Islam explores these conflicts, many of which actually predate the birth of Islam, as Fuller tries to explain how we arrived in this post-911 world.  The author recognizes that Islam serves as “a flag or banner” behind which millions of people unite, but he believes that, if not behind Islam, the same people would unite under some other “flag.”  Islam, to Fuller’s mind, happens to serve that purpose better than any of today’s alternatives.
A World without Islam begins with a chapter devoted to reminding the reader just how closely related are the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Despite the obvious differences between the three, each is a monotheistic faith recognizing the input of the prophet Abraham.  As Fuller sees it, much of the antagonism between the religions is caused by the way politicians stress differences for their own purposes.  Fuller goes on to explore the early conflict between Rome’s Western Christianity and that of Constantinople’s Eastern Christianity, a dispute he views as having been one of the early building blocks in the tensions between East and West still felt today.  
After a chapter on the Great Crusades (1095-1272), wars that were often as much about expanding Western territory and influence as they were about wresting the Holy Land from Islamic control, Fuller moves on to Islam’s relationship with three of the West’s natural rivals: India, China and Russia.  As the author points out, these seemingly natural allies against Western expansion have not always had an easy relationship within the borders of those three countries.  
The final section of A World without Islam explores the great cultural and intellectual decline suffered by the Muslim world, and how and why it happened.  Once dominant of the countries of the West, Eastern cultures would ultimately be swamped by the scientific, cultural and military accomplishments of those very same countries.  This resulted in both a resentment of the West and in the inferiority complex so common in Muslim countries today.  Fuller contends that this Eastern decline had little, if anything, to do with Islam, furthering his argument that today’s conflict would exist even if Islam had not.
Fuller offers Western leaders a plan to end terrorism, a plan that calls for the United States, and other Western nations, to leave the Middle East to itself.  Among other things, he suggests that finding a solution to the Palestinian conflict and a ceasing of support for corrupt Middle Eastern dictatorships will begin to ease the tension.  Rather than the West spending trillions of dollars on war and aggression, he believes that spending a tenth of that money on universities, schools, clinics and hospitals in the Middle East would cripple the sources of terrorism.
A World without Islam offers an interesting, if dryly presented, theory about Islam’s responsibility (or lack of responsibility) for the dangerous world in which we live today.  What Fuller has to say has merit, but his argument would be a stronger one if he had devoted equal time to Islam’s failure to control those within the faith who have turned to terrorism as a way of life.  Little is said about the silence of mainstream Muslim leaders to condemn the activities of those who slaughter thousands around the world in the name of God.  

While I might concede that the world would be much the same even if Islam had never existed, the author did not convince me that the present conflict would be playing out in the same terms today if that were the case.  Islam, with its encouragement of religious martyrdom, has changed the world in a negative way that would have been unlikely without the existence of it or a similar religion.
A World without Islam offers many ideas, some new, some not, which will, at the least, make the reader think about his own preconceived notions.
Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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