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Islamic Imperialism: A History [Paperback]

Efraim Karsh
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Book Description

May 16 2007
From the first Arab-Islamic Empire of the mid-seventh century to the Ottomans, the last great Muslim empire, the story of the Middle East has been the story of the rise and fall of universal empires and, no less important, of imperialist dreams. So argues Efraim Karsh in this highly provocative book. Rejecting the conventional Western interpretation of Middle Eastern history as an offshoot of global power politics, Karsh contends that the region’s experience is the culmination of long-existing indigenous trends, passions, and patterns of behavior, and that foremost among these is Islam’s millenarian imperial tradition.
The author explores the history of Islam’s imperialism and the persistence of the Ottoman imperialist dream that outlasted World War I to haunt Islamic and Middle Eastern politics to the present day. September 11 can be seen as simply the latest expression of this dream, and such attacks have little to do with U.S. international behavior or policy in the Middle East, says Karsh. The House of Islam’s war for world mastery is traditional, indeed venerable, and it is a quest that is far from over.

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Middle East scholar Karsh surveys for a general audience the region's Islamic political past. Parallel to his narrative, Karsh frequently contrasts the universalistic proclamations of Islam with cycles of imperial consolidation and fragmentation. After recounting the Prophet Muhammad's religio-political establishment of Islam, and the discord about his legacy that continues today, Karsh narrates the battles over Muhammad's caliphate that eventuated in the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires. Karsh's commentary often looks forward to contemporary ideologues of Islam who ransack history to justify grievances. In Karsh's coverage, the irruption of the Crusaders into the Levant hardly provoked a jihad to eject them; that occurred, in his account, through politically ordinary processes of empire building, eventually by the celebrated Saladin. Islamic unity and zeal, however, had always to be affirmed by reestablishers of the caliphate, a theme Karsh incorporates into his chronicling of the rise and decline of the Ottoman Empire, the distribution of its territories after World War I, and varieties of pan-Arabism prevalent after World War II. An informative foundation for further exploration of Islamic history. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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"'Anyone interested in the debate about the place of Islam in the modern world should read this book... Karsh offers a new approach. He rejects the condescending approach of the apologists and the hateful passion of the Islamophobes. Instead he presents Islam as a rival for Western civilization in what is, after all, a contest for shaping the future of mankind.' Amir Taheri, The Sunday Telegraph 'His narrative helps explain the rage and the sheer hopelessness of so much Muslim engagement with modern politics.' Charles Moore, The Telegraph 'Karsh has produced an impeccable history of how the Muslim mainstream has behaved towards its neighbours... I could not recommend this magnificent effort of reportage and analysis more highly. Efraim Karsh, Professor of Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, is well on his way toward claiming the crown of a new generation of scholars of Islam and I wish him luck. We need him.' Hazhir Teimourian, Literary Review"

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History tells a different story June 30 2007
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
It is always advisable to check the historical record before making any great, earth-shaking pronouncements about the future. This instruction applies to just about everything on the geopolitical front, including the future of Islamic-western relations. In this monograph, Karsh provides a very accurate description of the genesis and evolution of Islamic politics and religion. His thesis suggests that Islam, according to the teachings of the Prophet as found in the Koran, promotes eventual world religious domination. Since that has not happened yet because of the various nationalistic fractures inside the 'household of faith', the original vision has never come close to being realized. Karsh spends considerable time examining the progression of political imperiums that have come and gone within the pale of Islam. Most have failed because of nationalistic dissension within the empire; Nasser's United Arab Republic being the latest fiasco. Karsh leaves the reader to ponder the spread of Islamic imperialism, in its current form of Bin Laden's Al Queda-style terrorism, as having some potential profound impact on changing the fortunes of a Islamic agenda for the west. I appreciated the scholarship Karsh put into this book and recommend it to anyone who wants to get a more balanced perspective on Middle-east affairs.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This opus magnum is a powerful antidote to decades of fraudulent post-modernist "scholarship" by people like inter alia Edward Said, that sought to demonise the West and exalt the so-called "Other."

Karsh chronicles the imperial ambitions of Islam from its 7th century beginning to its manifestations in the 21st century. The end of the Ottoman Empire after World War I halted imperialist designs by the established state. The struggle was then taken up by ideologues like Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, whence organizations like Hamas and Al-Qaeda draw their inspiration.

Besides terror tactics, other means of furthering the religion's expansionist aims are demographic increase through emigration to Europe and high birthrates, and using the West's self-destructive creed of multiculturalism to steadily erode our freedom and undermine our societies.

This may be witnessed today in Europe where the situation has become so alarming thet even the Pope has noticed. The rapid unfolding of events is forming a pattern that cannot be ignored: The Madrid and London bombings, the murder of Theo van Gogh, the Danish cartoon uproar, the low-level French Intifada. These events are well-known, but most people are unaware of the constant outpouring of hatred for Christians and Jews on the Arab state-controlled media.

The first part of the book studies Islamic history up to the 20th century whilst the second part deals with the last 100 years. It includes discussions of the Ummayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Mameluks, Sassanids and Ottomans. It has been said: "It's not what we do, but what we are." The author reveals that the root cause of jihad is the tradition and teaching of Islam.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
246 of 271 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional insight. Required reading. April 10 2006
By M. D Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Professor and Head of Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University of London has here provided a fascinating insight into what he sees as the deep undercurrents permeating both the prevailing situation in the Middle East, and indeed many sections of the International community at this time.

While analysing the different mind-sets and conflicting interpretations as to the root cause behind the 9/11 attacks, the book scrutinises the contention that Islam has allegedly nurtured dreams of world conquest since it's outset in the 7th century AD.

The eminently readable & well written study, that is replete with references/maps, begins with a quotation from the farewell address of the Prophet Muhammad dated March 632AD; - "I was ordered to fight all men until they say `There is no God but Allah' ".

Defining the conquering of foreign lands and the subsequent subjugation of their populations as "imperialism", the investigation then proceeds to expound how this is what the Prophet Muhammad specifically asked of his followers after having fled from his hometown of Mecca in 622AD to Medina, where he is described as then becoming a political and military leader.

Through a detailed historical commentary, the reader is confronted with how Islam then allegedly began to strive towards the creation of what is cited as a new universal order, in which the whole of humanity would embrace Islam or live under it's domination. The book elaborating as to how Islam expanded into what is described as a "universal religion that knew or recognised no territorial or national boundaries".

The vehicle for this growth being what the book cites as the call to "Jihad", with the reader being shown how the latter became a rallying call for worldwide domination that still consumes Islamic and Middle Eastern politics to this very day.

At the closure of this excellent study it is alleged that Osama bin Laden, in what is cited as the historical imagination of many Arabs and Muslims, is nothing short of the new "incarnation" of Saladin.

A statement clarified in the text with the assertion that the House of Islam's "war for world mastery" is far from over.

I would personally recommend this timely and detailed book to anyone with an interest in the history of Islam, the Middle East and the ongoing situation in the region. It is an excellent addition to anyone's library.

Also recommended "The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims" by Andrew G Bostom and "Jihad in the West; Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries" by Paul Fregosi.

Thank you.
207 of 239 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly original April 29 2006
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For the last 100 years Academics have weaved a web of distortion regarding the role of political and temporal Islam in world history. We have been told that the `bad' West invented slavery, racism and imperialism and that because of these terrors the world's problems must all be blamed on western colonialism. This startlingly original book dares to turns the tables on this interpretation. In fact it was Islam that first colonized the West, it was Islamic armies, of African slaves, who invaded France in the 8th century, and Islam then colonized southern Italy and Spain where it created societies where the majority ethnically indigenous Christian population was discriminated against and enslaved. Then Islam colonized eastern Europe where it enslaved Slavs, then it was on to colonize central Asia and India in the 11th century. Then it was eastern Africa and areas near the west coast of Africa where Islamic empires and `sultanates' invaded Africa in order to export slaves.

By 1700 the Islamic empire in Africa and India, eastern Europe and the Middle East merely mirrored what the European empire of 1900 would look like. It was Islamic empire that first deported 11 million Africans for sexual and military slavery. When one blames American `imperialism' for Bin Laden's terrorism, one should recall that it was first Islam that colonized Europe, it was the minaret and mosque that were first symbols of oppression, not the cross and the sword. Many will find this book unsettling because it dares to challenge the traditional interpretation of history where the West is `evil' and Islam is portrayed as the victim.

Seth J. Frantzman
70 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harsh to read, but I respect it. July 24 2006
By Ibrahim - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a Moslem, I learned a great deal of truth from this book. I understand better why the "other" sees Moslems differently from the way we see ourselves. As a child in Egypt, I learned that the Fetouhat are the greatest achievement on earth; I also learned that my religion is flawless, perfect, that the Koran is exactly the word of God, while other faiths were distorted. So Moslems can feel free to put down other religions, while no one should dare touch our faith. Our Prophet, we were told, is the last Prophet on earth; Moslems therefore have the last word on any subject. This attitude brought calamities on the Middle East, and the whole planet.

The Arab conquests, the Fetouhat, are a source of pride, we were told. Yet, they are nothing other than imperialism. It was very painful to read this book, because it challenges a lot of the assumptions I grew up with.

Professor Karsh, an Israeli, opened my eyes, and I believe every Moslem should start having doubt about our imperialism. This is particularly true today since we are very tempted to use our oil wealth and violence for the sake of becoming again an imperial power that replaces the West. Every Moslem should read this book; it will make him a better person.
61 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book April 13 2006
By Jill Malter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Karsh starts out by explaining that there are two quite different hypotheses that are popular about why we see such opposition to the West from many Muslims. One is that there is a "clash of civilizations," in which Islam, frustrated by its recent poor performance compared to the Christian West, is fighting back. Karsh explains that he thinks this idea, while plausible and sincere, assigns too much significance to Western success. A second idea is that Muslims are actually very tame, and the West is the villain. This idea is plausible as well, but it is rarely sincere, as most of those who promote it are Muslim apologists who know full well that Islam is far from tame and who applaud Muslim aggression.

Karsh instead asks us to consider the long and continuing record of Muslim imperialism as an explanation for what we see today. And this book shows us quite a bit of that record.

I found myself wondering what I would say to those who think that Muslim imperialism is simply a good idea for everyone. Well, I think that imperialism is generally counterproductive in the long run.

First of all, it is a crime to murder, evict, or oppress others. Occasionally, folks may get away with such crimes. But typically the result is a society that has less overall freedom, less happiness, and less prosperity, even for those criminals.

Secondly, use of force tends to result in more and more wars, and that dramatically increases the chance of getting into a losing war (some of the history in this book appears to confirm this). Those who lose a war tend to wind up less prosperous and less happy. In addition, an Imperial Empire tends to have more to lose (because it controls so much territory) and it often has less means with which to defend its stolen territory than a coherent non-Imperial nation.

Finally, I think the lack of rights in an Imperial society generally extends to property rights. Those who are confident of their rights to land will try to improve that land. Those who doubt that they can keep their land (especially once they make it appear to be worth stealing) won't bother to improve it. And those who simply steal land often treat such land carelessly. That contributes to running down the region and rendering it less prosperous.

I think we often see aspects of these problems in Islamic Empires, with lack of freedom, intolerance of minorities, and plentiful deserts. Perhaps Israel is an example of what can happen, by contrast, in a non-Imperial society. We see more freedom there. And we see great respect for land and improvement of the environment: deserts now bloom, swamps have been drained, and trees have actually increased in numbers over the past century. Yes, Israel is threatened by an Imperial enemy, but since it is so small, it has relatively little to lose.

I think this puts some of Islam's imperial history in a better perspective, and I think this may help us see not only what Karsh shows (namely, that Islam's history is strikingly Imperial) but why this aspect of Islam has proved to be counterproductive in the long run.

There is one very minor point that Karsh makes which I feel is easy to misinterpret. Namely, he says that before making a historic decision to make peace with Israel, "Sadat felt compelled to go to war one more time, in October, 1973, in order to buttress his leadership credentials in the Arab world and to force Israel to take his proposals seriously."

There's no way I would put up with such a statement on even a high school essay. How would we like to see a claim that Germany, before making a historic decision to make peace with Russia, felt compelled to launch a surprise attack in June of 1941, in order to force the Soviets to take their proposals seriously? Or Japan attacking the United States in December of 1941, in order to force the United States to take their proposals seriously? What about a claim that Iraq really wanted peace, but launched a surprise attack on Kuwait to force folks to take Iraq seriously? Wars are risky. If you really want to make peace, you are taking a very big risk by launching a surprise attack on another nation! All kinds of things can go wrong, after which it is you who will have to be suing for peace, your "proposals" long forgotten. No, the way to get people to take your peace proposals seriously is to make those proposals and stand by them, not by launching a possibly perfidious attack!

Karsh does not portray Sadat as a total peace-loving advocate of human rights, so I won't deduct a star for this, but I think that such a line is easy to misinterpret.

I recommend this book. I think it presents a straightforward case, and I think everyone interested in the topic ought to read it.
127 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Convincing take on Radical Islam May 21 2006
By Fabian Boudville - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Professor Karsh's book is significant because the author questions the traditional assumption that Western Imperialism or Colonialism created the serious scourge of Islamic extremism which now plagues various diverse countries in the world stretching from Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia amongst others. Instead, the author observes that the primary causes of Islamic extremism is not simply a response to Western meddling in their nations but rather a deep rooted impulse in the traditional Islamic belief system where Muslims are directed to expand Islamic power and religion throughout the world. Karsh notes that many "Arabs and Muslims [still] unabashedly pine for the restoration of Spain" under Muslim control even though Spain has been lost to the Islamic world for centuries since the Fall of Granada in 1492. Similiarly, Osama bin Laden himself wistfully referred to "the tragedy of Andalusia" (ie: Granada) after the September 11, 2001 attacks as if to suggest that Muslims were still the rightful owners of Spain in the 21st Century rather than mere colonial occupiers here.

The wish to renew Islam's past medieval imperial glories and proselytise the world pervades the mindset of a significant portion of Muslims. This development is not surprising since the prophet Muhammad himself molded the new religion of Islam with Arab Imperialism when he asked his followers "to strive for a new universal order in which the whole of humanity would embrace Islam or live under its domination." Muhammad's vision was realised after his death with the expansion of Islamic power from Arabia into North Africa, Turkey, parts of the Balkans, the Crimea, Spain and Central Asia under succeeding Muslim Empires such as the Ummayads (who conquered Spain), the Abbasids and, finally, the Ottomans. This desire to expand Islam's global reach and recreate a global Islamic caliphate under Muslim rule helps to explain the mass terrorism of 9/11, according to the author. In Karsh's view, September 11 was neither a punishment for previous US interference in the Middle East nor an expression of hatred toward American culture or political freedoms but rather a reaction to the basic reality that America's position as a great power essentially hindered all "Arab and Islamic imperalist aspirations [to eliminate Israel, expand Islamic power into Europe/Africa, etc]. As such, it is a natural target for [Islamic] aggression." Karsh, hence, views Muslims as active participants on the world stage, rather than powerless pawns, as some commentators assume. The current grouping of Islamic fundamentalist movements such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Qaeda have one common feature: the desire to create a global Muslim caliphate. Hence, they are legitimate heirs to Islam's imperial aspirations.

This book meticulously examines conventional Muslim beliefs and perceptions rather than merely blaming the Western powers for past errors and misdeeds in order to explain the current causes of Islamic terrorism. Karsh believes that the Muslim world's deep rooted yearning for the glories of the old Islamic Empires (like 14th Century Granada or 17th Century Crimea) effectively hobbles their economic and democratic growth prospects and makes them especially succeptible to the control of a whole host of local dictators or autocrats--such as Nasser, Ghaddafi, Saddam Hussein, etc--who constantly invoke the idea of a revival of past Islamic greatness. Karsh notes certain pan-Arab projects--such as the United Arab Republic (from 1958 to 1961) between Egypt and Syria which eventually collapsed when the Syrians realized that Nasser wanted to centralise all government decision making in Cairo and pulled out of this Union--reflected this broad desire to enhance the Muslim world's political influence. In his opinion, until Muslims decisively turn their backs on this past pan-Islamic global vision and make Islam a matter of personal faith rather than one of politics, they will never fully prosper in the modern world or be tolerant of others.
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