Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new …


… and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached… Manuel II Palaiologos, one of the last Christian rulers before the Fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire

This book is ostensibly about Europe and Islam. The question that will become apparent to the discerning reader is, which Europe? There is Western Europe – Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales as well as a dozen postage stamp countries – that have been pulled progressively further west by their ties to a new hemisphere. Even the countries in this group that have Mediterranean borders have more of a colonial experience with Islam with the historical experience of captivity by Islam long gone from living memory.

There is Scandinavian Europe whose primary experience with Islam has only happened in the last 50 years and is negligible but not unimportant. There is Northern Europe comprised of Poland, Germany and the Baltic states who fit into largely the same category. There is Southeastern Europe that goes from the Alps to the Black Sea and includes the sites of the fiercest battles in the history of the confrontation between the two cultures and is the part of Europe where Islam has retained its greatest cultural toehold.

Finally there is European Russia – from the perspective of Europe what used to be called White Russia which extends no farther south or east than Tomsk [and that is probably an overly generous estimation by several time zones] – and while it may ape Europe in many regards the influences from the south [Islam] and the east [Asia] may be the culturally stronger. A further look at a map will reveal that Russia’s entire southern prospect is bordered by Islam from Turkey through the ‘Stans” and that it is far more dependent upon Islam than is Western, Scandinavian or Northern Europe and if Southeastern Europe [followed by Mediterranean Europe] is occupied by Islam it will have no choice short of accommodation.

And that is really what this book is about. How can European Russia survive Islam and the author recognizes that even the remnants of having been a superpower can not save the Muscovites who long for the Paris of the North rather than having to face Mecca. The solutions have more to do with relativism and appeasement – the same things the Soviets favored when they were to their advantage – and maybe turning a blind eye to the glacial movement of the Khan’s hordes as they sweep down on Europe in a new invasion. The Great Game enters a new chapter. Benedict warned us at Regensburg but still no one listens.

The great confrontation: Europe and Islam through the centuries Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003 Ilya V. Gaiduk Europe Relations Islamic countries Hardcover. xiii, 255 p.: maps; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 209-236) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

At first glance the history of relations between Europe and Islam seems to be filled only with armed conflict, victories, and defeats — a record that would confirm the idea of an implacable hostility between two civilizations that has endured for centuries and today manifests itself in the terrorist acts of radical Muslims and their organizations. But an attentive and objective study of this history reveals numerous features of peaceful coexistence, mutual influence, and cooperation.

The “fault lines” between the two cultures have been not only battlefields but also marketplaces and other meeting points that have fostered an exchange of goods, cultural values, and ideas. Ilya Gaiduk’s The Great Confrontation offers a comparative approach to the long and complex history of relations between Europe and Islam, from the early seventh century to the present day. The book differs from other works in its greater emphasis on Russia as part of European civilization and on Russian relations with Islam.

Mr. Gaiduk argues that twentieth-century developments have made “the great confrontation” a phenomenon of the past, that in today’s interrelated and interdependent world, lines of division run not between different civilizations but between civilization and the ills that threaten it —poverty, environmental pollution, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism.

Advertisements

Comments Off on Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new …

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments are closed.