The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization
by Richard W. Bulliet
New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 187 pp. $24.50.
Reviewed by Robert Spencer
Middle East Quarterly
Bulliet contends that Samuel Huntington's clash of civilizations thesis and "Islamophobia" are obscuring the common heritage that Christians and Muslims share. Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, he says, have impinged upon one another and influenced each other for centuries and cannot be understood in isolation from one another; an adversarial relationship is not a constant of history and is unnecessary today. Bulliet, like so many other followers of Edward Said, condemns those who hold that a clash of civilizations is upon us for pronouncing "against Islam the same self-righteous and unequivocal sentence of ‘otherness' that American Protestants once visited upon Catholics and Jews."
There is a fundamental inconsistency at the heart of this work: Bulliet recommends that instead of trying to bring Western values to the Islamic world, Westerners should cultivate respect for Islamic values. Then he confidently predicts that the coming decades will see new democracies flowering all over the Islamic world, without considering in any depth the fact that significant numbers of Muslims see democracy itself as a Western import, alien to Islam and unwelcome as a replacement for Shari‘a law.
Bulliet's confidence that secularism will ultimately take root in the Islamic world despite its failure to do so up to now is rooted in his contention that Islam will eventually go through the same stages of development as did the Judeo-Christian tradition. In attempting to make his case, however, he hastily and superficially glosses over significant differences between the traditions—particularly the absence of a secular/sacred distinction within Islamic tradition. Likewise, he ignores or dismisses as "Islamophobic" analyses of just how deeply rooted within Islamic history and thought is a contempt for and adversarial relationship with non-Muslim traditions and cultures. Yet if his irenic vision is to become reality, Muslim reformers will have to acknowledge and confront these aspects of Islamic tradition, not deny or downplay their existence.
Related Topics: Islam | Robert Spencer | Spring 2006 MEQ
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