Posts Tagged ‘Book Review’

Book Review: Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (Khan)

October 17, 2015

Editor’s Note: This is a recent  review by Jacob J. Prahlow of my book Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey.

This book can be downloaded by clicking on the following link.

— Nasir Khan, Editor


Book Review: Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (Khan)

History is contested. Though far from a novel statement, we often need to be reminded that the past is not as clean and easy as our history textbooks make it out to be. This is especially true in matters of religious history and conflict, where seemingly everyone wants to contribute their two cents to hot button issues. Occasionally, however, someone will produce a historical narrative that—while outside the mainstream—remains valuable enough to warrant consideration. Nasir Khan’s Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms may be one such book.

In Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey (Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2006), Khan traces the history of Christianity and its interactions with Islam, admittedly writing from the perspective of a Muslim historian and political analyst. Weighing in at nearly five hundred pages, Khan’s tome-like work stands as one of the most thorough treatments of Islamic-Christian in recent decades. After three chapters on early Christianity and the pre-Islamic world, Khan devotes two sections to the rise of Islam and early doctrinal differences between Christianity and Islam and two chapters on political influence and spread of Islam. Next come two chapters on the Crusades, a section on Islamic interaction with the Mongol empire, and three chapters on “shifting perceptions” of Islam and then rise of Enlightenment perspectives. Perceptions of Islam closes with two chapters on late-nineteenth and twentieth century interactions between Islam and Christianity.

There is much of value in this volume. In the first place, it is well written and easy to follow, something that cannot be said of every attempt at a historical survey. Khan does an especially admirable job providing a Muslim perspective on the history of Christianity, world history, and Muslim-Christian relations. Books that provide other ways of engaging history—even if they are ultimately disagreeable—are integral to properly engaging the complexities of the past. In this vein, Khan provides a good sense of Muslim interpretations of important events—the Crusades in particular—and how these events continue to shape Muslim perceptions of the West. Finally, he offers some solid reading in the general history of Middle East. Overall, there is much that students of history will find useful in Khan’s presentation.

However, much here also stands in need to critique. Two primary issues loom large throughout this volume: the assumption of modernity and its harshest critiques of Christianity without reciprocity toward Islam and a fundamentally faulty understanding of early Christianity. In the first place, Khan takes a thoroughly modernist approach to history—Marxist it seems, both in term of approach and the laudatory citation of Marx and Lenin. This historiography relies heavily upon considerably older scholarship, especially when it comes to discussing the ills of Christianity. Khan’s primary authorities when considering the history of Christianity are Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Gibbon. Further, he relies on ‘First Quest’ Historical Jesus scholars—Wrede and Renan primarily—when talking about the historical Jesus. This would be problematic in itself, but Khan also almost entirely avoids similarly dated and perspectival criticisms of Islam. This approach to scholarship is simply not acceptable for something published as recently as 2006. Second, Khan’s chapters on early Christianity are filled with numerous inaccuracies, the most troubling of which is a flawed understanding of the Trinity. For a writer who consistently criticizes Christians for not coming to a proper understanding of Islam,[1] this is disappointing.

Overall, Khan’s work stands as something of a mixed bag. The most valuable use of Perspectives of Islam may be that it offers a good indication of “where we’re at” in terms of Muslim-Christian dialogue. Whereas many interfaith-minded authors seem to put the best face possible on any given situation, Khan gives what appears to be his honest opinion, no holds barred. In that sense, this book may serve as a valuable source for where Christians and Muslims need to seek further clarification and understanding. This book comes recommended for those thinking about Muslim-Christian dialogue, and those who already possess a solid foundation in the history of Christianity. For other readers, Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms should only serve as piecemeal source or an example of Muslim perspectives on the history of Christianity.

All opinions in this review belong solely to the reviewer.

[1] For one example of this, see page 329.

Zionism, the United States, and Hegemony in the Middle East

November 26, 2008

Zionism, Militarism, and the Decline OF US Power
By James Petras

Paperback: 192 pages
(Clarity Press, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0-932863-60-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-932863-60-7

Professor James Petras has written another book — Zionism, Militarism, and the Decline OF US Power — probing deeper into what he contends is a Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC) that has infiltrated and largely usurped US foreign policy even using the US military for its ends in the Middle East. Petras fills his book with lots of evidence backed by sound rationales.

Petras’s thesis is that Israel — and not Big Oil — was behind the push to invade and occupy Iraq. That has already happened. What concerns Petras now is the push by the ZPC to have the United States again breach international law and launch an attack against Iran.

Petras reasons that the ZPC’s purpose is to incorporate Palestine and consolidate its hegemony in the Middle East. Strategically, gaining and holding sway over the planet’s preeminent military power has been a major plank toward this goal.

The professor provides numerous examples of the sway the ZPC wields and how it wields it: through its propaganda and media arms (Petras cites how, pre-“war,” the Lobby produced about 8,800 pro-Iraq attack pieces which were circulated to major Anglo-American media versus zero pro-Iraq attack pieces published from Big Oil spokespeople); through its academic acolytes; through involving US soldiers to fight its wars (Petras charges that the Israel Firsters “ridicule the US military precisely to instigate them to prosecute wars and thereby avoid the loss of Israeli-Jewish lives”); through the relative silence of dissenting voices, including dissenting Jewish voices in mass media; through members of the US Congress beholden through acceptance of campaign contributions form the Lobby.

Campaign contributions turn out, actually, to be an investment. Through seeding the US Congress, Israel has become the prime beneficiary of US “aid,” even though Israel is a relatively well-to-do state, especially compared to many of its neighbors. Petras wavers on what the “US annual ‘tribute to Israel’” is. On page 68, he cites a figure of $6 billion a year; on page 68 he states $3 billion a year; on page 156, it is $2.4 billion a year; and on page 164 it is “well over $3 billion” a year. This irritation contributes to unevenness in Petras’s account.

Exacerbating this irritation is an uneven patchwork of endnotes. Sometimes key points are in the endnotes, and sometimes key points are not in the endnotes. For example, he writes that Big Oil is anxious and fearful about an Israeli-instigated warmongering destabilizing the Middle East citing a source for this claim (p. 32). On page 92 he claims electoral chicanery without citation. Whether the claims are true or not is beside the point, which is that the reader is hindered from checking the professor’s sources. And when there are endnotes, many convey scanty information (e.g., no author, no title, no page) that forces a reader to spend inordinate time tracking down a citation.

Petras, however, deserves kudos for taking on the Lobby which resorts to disreputable tactics to try and silence its critics. Petras does not shirk from identifying how he perceives the threat from the ZPC: “The lesson is clear: the rise of Judeo-fascism represents a clear and present danger to our democratic freedoms in the United States.”

The ZPC is ruthless says Petras, who observes that Israel reneges on obligations as an occupier in Palestine and engages in “meat-grinder genocidal policies in Gaza.” And yet, it has vulnerabilities, such as the “repeated failures and incredible stupidity of the Israeli intelligence agencies.”

The ZPC control apparatus is necessarily twined with the corporate media. “State provocations,” writes Petras, “require uniform mass media complicity in the lead-up to open warfare.”

With a massive media blitz and compliant government, Israel recruits US soldiers to fight its wars. The US, on the other hand, tries to get its victims to fight against their fellow countryfolk. This is a dubious strategy reasons Petras, as Iraqis fighters under occupation “recruited on basis of hunger and unemployment (caused by US war) are unreliable soldiers.”

This, according to Petras, is a losing tactic: “US colonization of Iraq is a blatant denial of the conditions necessary for reconciliation.”

Just how losing a strategy it is to run a militaristic economy is evidenced by the massive capitalistic expansion of non-belligerent China. In fact, the US is becoming less competitive and falling into an increasingly dire economic situation

Petras describes a schism among Jewry. He notes that “most Jewish Americans differ from the leaders of the major American Jewish organizations” … but that “they have not or do not challenge” this leadership. Antiwar sentiment among Jewish Americans, finds Petras, is quite vague.

He writes that “both the progressive majority of Jews and the reactionary minority … have a fundamental point of agreement and convergence: support for and identity with Israel and its anti-Arab prejudices, its expansion, and the dispossession of Palestine [sic].”

Given that the peace movement has gone AWOL, this bodes ill for the peoples of the Middle East. Here again, Petras holds the ZPC responsible since he charges that it has also infiltrated the antiwar movement and split it, rendering it anemic.

Petras notes that everywhere he visits around the globe people from all walks ask him why American citizens tolerate the killing done by the US government/military. This is a good question, but another question is unasked by Petras. Why do these citizens not demand the same answers from their complicit governments which, even when they do not contribute fighters to a so-called Coalition of the Willing, remain silent to the great criminal breaches of international law and the abandonment of morality?

That is why Petras’s thesis in Zionism, Militarism, and the Decline OF US Power is important: innocent people are dying for wicked reasons.

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Kim.

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