Review: What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response

5 Star, Diplomacy, Economics, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Truth & Reconciliation

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5.0 out of 5 stars Are We Our Brother’s Keeper, or Not?,

March 10, 2002
Bernard Lewis
The essence of this book that captured my attention was not the impact of the West on the Middle East, but rather the divergent manner in which the West separated religion from business and government, while the Middle East generally did not. I would point readers toward two other books: Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, in Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power, has done a fine job of looking at the differing manner in which Malaysia on the one hand, and Pakistan on the other, utilized Islam as a means of legitimizing the state. In the end, both states had to control their fanatics.The other book, by Howard Bloom, Global Brain: the Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, adds value to the very educated efforts of Bernard Lewis in this volume, because it points out that culturate training kills half the brain by the time one is an adult. This is serious stuff, to wit: if religion and culture can embed in an entire region the makings for a sustained collapse of social and economic measures needed to achieve stability and a minimalist quality of life for the population, is it safe for us to stand back? Are we to leave them to their own devices? What must we do to ensure that we *share* some common brain concepts and what will it take for both their educational system and ours to “build for peace” from grade one?

These are complex issues, even more challenging that the more tangible issues of intervention in the face of epidemics, gang wars, genocide, and so on. Certainly we cannot intervene with force nor confront our Islamic brothers, but we must ask ourselves: at what point should we consider substantial investments in both Islamic studies and socio-economic, even ideo-cultural and techno-demographic assistance, to the nations of Islam?

Are they our brother, or not? If we are to respect the universal declaration of human rights, and acknowledge that human suffering is justification for intervention, ideally peaceful intervention, then at what point do we create a national capability for responding to these needs in a manner that is both appropriate to the tangible challenge and consistent with the religious challenge?

In my view, this book is most valuable for outlining the depths of the challenge of modernization in a deeply religious region, and rather than ending on a note of “on your own heads be it,” I wonder if we might not better ask, “what do we need to do differently to find a middle road toward modernization, one that can be accepted within the strictures of Islam?”

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