A Fresh Look at a 'Dark Topic': Book Examines Conflicts between Islam, Christianity

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BOOK REVIEW

Infidels A History of the Conflict between Christendom and Islam Andrew Wheatcroft

Penguin Books, 2004 ISBN 0-140-25738-1, 436 pages $21.00

IN 1993, Andrew Wheatcroft started to research what he calls "this dark topic." Ten years later he finished Infidels. Along the way he uncovered some, fascinating facts about the ongoing conflict between the Christian and Islamic worlds. Wheatcroft teaches in the English Department at the University of Stirling in Scotland and is director of the university's Centre for Publishing Studies. Prior to this book he wrote The Ottomans and The Hapsburgs.

The thesis of this book is that both Muslims and Christians consider adherents of the other faith to be infidels and not to be trusted. They have also, from the beginning of the Muslim faith, cursed and fought each other on a regular basis. Infidels is a well-written, well-researched and well-documented account of this ancient, yet very modern subject. It contains copious notes, a massive bibliography and excellent maps of the areas where the two faiths came into conflict.

Mohammed, the founder of Islam, lived around AD 570-632. When he was 40, Muslims believe, he was visited by the angel Gabriel who ordered him to preach the true religion. Shortly after this, God dictated Islam's sacred book, the Koran, to him and Mohammed began to preach its teachings. Within a generation after his death, Islamic armies attacked Byzantium, at that time the most important part of the Christian world. Infidels tells the history of the conflict between the two religions from that time up to and including Osama bin Laden and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and President George W. Bush's subsequent reaction to those attacks. It is the history of Islamic jihads versus Christian Crusades; both considered "holy wars" by the respective faiths. Because of the state of world politics in the 21st century it is a timely book since it puts the current struggle between west and east (Christianity and Islam), represented by President Bush and Osama bin Laden, in context.

Rather than start his story in 633 when Arab armies arose in the desert and attacked. Byzantium, Mr. Wheatcroft begins with the Battle of Lepanto off the coast of southern Greece in 1571. He likely chose this battle because, in addition to being a massive struggle between two huge armadas, it is an example of the concept of a holy war. …