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A Middle East Mosaic: Fragments of Life, Letters and History (Modern…
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375758372, Paperback)Drawing on a long career of reading and reflection, the distinguished Middle East historian Bernard Lewis here gathers documents that illuminate more than two millennia of interactions between the Arab and European worlds--encounters laden with misunderstanding and prejudice on both sides. Four major phases mark this long period, Lewis writes: the Hellenization of the Arab world after the conquests of Alexander the Great; the expansion of the Roman empire into the region; the rise of Christianity; and, finally, the supremacy of Islam. These four cataclysmic changes, he writes, served to "obliterate the religions, the cultures, the languages and, to a large extent, even the nations of the ancient Middle East," replacing them with a faith and a culture that crossed national lines.
The Europeans who encountered the Arab world brought home wildly inaccurate stories of these supposedly savage people. Lewis quotes a Byzantine scribe, for instance, who reported that the Arabs worshiped Aphrodite, and the Anglo-American leader Alexander Hamilton, who wrote disdainfully of "Asiatic despotism and voluptuousness." Arab observers returned the sentiment, decrying what they perceived to be European indolence and lack of religious conviction, and holding that the farther north one traveled, the greater the "stupidity, grossness, and brutishness" one encountered.
Lewis's intriguing anthology provides ample evidence that these misapprehensions of long ago linger today, as the descendants of "Franks" and "Saracens" continue to grapple with one another for regional supremacy. Anyone seeking a greater understanding of the Middle Eastern past and present will benefit from reading his pages. --Gregory McNamee
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:45 -0400)
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