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.