The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization

In This Review

The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization

By Richard W. Bulliet
Columbia University Press, 2004
192 pp. $24.50
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What if, instead of viewing the Muslim world as a fundamentally different "other," we saw it as sharing a common cultural tradition? What if, instead of asking what went wrong in the Muslim world, we sought to find out what went on? Presenting comparatively major themes of historical development in the Middle East and the West, Bulliet argues that the two are best understood not in terms of a clash of civilizations but in terms of a "twinned relationship ... over some fourteen centuries." He cannot quite break out of the us-and-them dichotomy. In criticizing the "what went wrong" approach, he notes that it depends on one's criteria of success. Islam has, for example, won many more converts than Christianity has in the last 500 years. Furthermore, he argues, those in the West (and especially Americans) have failed to understand the deep-rooted Islamic norms governing the relationship between state and society. This little book offers a rich lode of penetrating insights encased in two quite different arguments, seemingly contradictory but better seen as complementary: Islam and the West have much in common, and each must be appreciated on its own terms.