Islam - The Roots of Misperception

Akbar Ahmed offers the most timely review of how history and stereotype have often combined to make Western Orientalism a hindrance rather than a help in mutual understanding between two cultures.

In an earlier article for History Today (November 1989) I had pointed out the ongoing and complex confrontation between Islam and the West which was explained by the three historical encounters between them. The encounter first began with the rise of Islam, the conquest of Spain and the appearance of Islamic armies in France and Sicily. It reached its dramatic climax with the Crusades, which in a sense symbolise it for the popular imagination. It ended in the seventeenth century when the Ottomans were halted at Vienna.

The second encounter was brief but ferocious. During it the entire Muslim world would be included in the grip of European colonial imperialism. When this encounter concluded, after the Second World War, it was assumed that a period of harmony and friendship based on equality between Islamic and western nations would follow. However, this was not to be. The hoped for symmetry was destroyed as Western civilisation, driven by the USA and UK began to dominate the world, a process sharpened by the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s.

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