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.