What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
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For many centuries, the world of Islam was in the forefront of human achievement--the foremost military and economic power in the world, the leader in the arts and sciences of civilization. Christian Europe, a remote land beyond its northwestern frontier, was seen as an outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief from which there was nothing to learn or to fear. And then everything changed, as the previously despised West won victory after victory, first in the battlefield and the marketplace, then in almost every aspect of public and even private life.
In this intriguing volume, Bernard Lewis examines the anguished reaction of the Islamic world as it tried to understand why things had changed--how they had been overtaken, overshadowed, and to an increasing extent dominated by the West. Lewis provides a fascinating portrait of a culture in turmoil. He shows how the Middle East turned its attention to understanding European weaponry and military tactics, commerce and industry, government and diplomacy, education and culture. Lewis highlights the striking differences between the Western and Middle Eastern cultures from the 18th to the 20th centuries through thought-provoking comparisons of such things as Christianity and Islam, music and the arts, the position of women, secularism and the civil society, the clock and the calendar.
Hailed in The New York Times Book Review as "the doyen of Middle Eastern studies," Bernard Lewis is one of the West's foremost authorities on Islamic history and culture. In this striking volume, he offers an incisive look at the historical relationship between the Middle East and Europe.
thousand years, Islam provided the only universally acceptable set of rules and principles for the regulation of public and social life. Even during the period of maximum European influence, in the countries ruled or dominated by European imperial powers as well as in those that remained independent, Islamic political notions and attitudes remained a profound and pervasive influence. In recent years there have been many signs that these notions and attitudes may be returning, albeit in much
sharply on this new problem. Egyptian naval expeditions against the Portuguese in eastern waters were however unsuccessful and no doubt contributed to the defeat of the Egyptian sultanate in 1516–1517 and the incorporation of all its dominions in the Ottoman realm. The Ottomans now took over this task, but fared little better. Their efforts to counter the Portuguese in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea were at best inconclusive. The lack of Ottoman interest in these developments is best
people, noted: “Of the measures and weights used in Egypt I am not able to give an exact account; for, after diligent search, I have not succeeded in finding any two specimens of the same denomination perfectly agreeing with each other, and generally the difference has been very considerable.”4 There was indeed wide variation. The ral, the commonest measure of weight in the marketplace, roughly the equivalent of the European pound, could differ considerably according to the commodity that was
depredations of the goat that, by stripping the bark off trees and tearing up grass by the roots, turned once fertile lands into deserts. Others point to the disuse of wheeled vehicles in the pre-modern Middle East, variously explained as a cause or as a symptom of what went wrong.4 Familiar in antiquity, they became rare in the medieval centuries, and remained so until they were reintroduced under European influence or rule. Western travelers in the Middle East note their absence; Middle-Eastern
forces, to make the most effective use of both. “The superior skill of the Austrian lies only in the use of the musket. They cannot face the sword.”2 The thrust of the argument was that it was no longer sufficient, as in the past, to adopt Western weapons. It was also necessary to adopt Western training, structures, and tactics for their effective use. That was bad enough; even worse was that this adoption by the Ottomans—and later the Persians and other Muslim armies—did not produce the desired