By the "history of Islam," Bauer eccentrically means not a chronicle of the religion of Islam nor of its adherents but a contrast between the outlook of Muslims in two long periods of time, 900-1500 and 1800 to the present. Bauer, a professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies (not history) at the University of Münster in Germany has a simple thesis that he grinds away at in myriad ways over hundreds of pages: Pristine Islamic culture celebrated ambiguity in the form of sometimes frivolous amatory poetry or multiple ideas about Qur'anic exegesis. Then along came Western influence to smash that frail and gentle outlook, replacing it with a monomaniacal, persistent, humorless mentality.
In Bauer's words:
in classical [Islamic] times, the areas of law and religion, language
and literature, ideas about politics and sex, and contact with 'the stranger' were characterized by an equanimous acceptance of complexity and ambiguity, and often by an exuberant pleasure in them. This high degree of tolerance of ambiguity vanished, however, and yielded to the intolerance of ambiguity that conspicuously marks the present time. Many Western observers of Islamic culture now profess to discern in this intolerance of ambiguity the true face of Islam—although all they see is their own reflection in the mirror. It will be one of the aims of this book to demonstrate that the West had a share in the development of this hostility against ambiguity.
In other words, Islamism is "a caricature of the West's own ideologization and disambiguation of the world."
Yawn. Yet another academic conjures up another way to bash the West; Bauer offers himself up to be hailed as the new Edward Said.
Obviously, the West had a vast impact on Muslims and Islam, and obviously, some of it was harmful. This reviewer even wrote a book on one small aspect of that unhappy influence (conspiracy theories). But the West also had a beneficial impact (the scientific method, say), something Bauer never mentions; and the blame for taking rotten aspects of Western culture surely falls no less on Muslims than on Westerners, something that Bauer's portrayal of Muslims as people out of the Arabian Nights never acknowledges.
If a reader seeks to consume a lengthy, tedious, scholarly, anti-Western screed, A Culture of Ambiguity fills the bill. Otherwise, skip it.