Jihad and America Two New Studies Portray Distinct Visions of US Relations with Islam; THE CRISIS OF ISLAM: Holy War and Unholy Terror by Bernard Lewis (Weidenfeld, U12.99) AL QAEDA AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE MODERN by John Gray (Faber, U10.99)

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AS war against a murderous Stalinist tyranny rages in Iraq, these two books address the big picture of the West's (meaning America's) relations with Islam, or rather with the Arab world, since neither author has much to say about Bosnia, India or South-East Asia, or indeed about Europe.

Princeton's Bernard Lewis has the not inconsiderable advantage of knowing the languages and history of the Islamic world, whereas the LSE's John Gray expatiates on an enormous range of more-or-less related themes despite his competence in any single field (such as economics, history, the Middle East, religion, terrorism) being unclear.

Exasperated by tiers mondiste indulgence towards "the Other", Lewis tells it like it is in a book that is bleak and sobering. Of the 59 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, one is (fitfully) considered to be a democracy, although there are hardly queues for visas to live in Istanbul.

The oil-rich, good old days of yachts and Pakistani or Filipino helots are nearly over, leaving ever-larger numbers of young Arab men idle and resentful.

Whatever cultural credit the civilisation that built the Alhambra once possessed is long exhausted; the total of all books translated into Arabic since the ninth century equals the annual number of translations into Spanish.

Young Arabs who see the cultural, economic, political and technological achievements of the West on satellite television languish under corrupt kleptocracies, Stalinist single-party dictatorships or feudal monarchies that have discovered the trick of deflecting their people's energies (such as they are) into religious extremism.

Lewis invites us to consider the reality of Saudi Arabia, home of several of the 9/11 murderers, until their primary allegiances transferred to the virtual base of al Qaeda in protest against American forces come to protect them and liberate the Kuwaitis.

Imagine that Houston dynasts put the oil revenues of Texas at the disposal of the Ku Klux Klan. This enabled the KKK to proselytise their racist Christianity via religious seminaries. Maniacs believing in a Black-Catholic-Jewish-Masonic conspiracy proliferated.

Few western liberals would take a very indulgent view towards that scenario, yet even semi-respectable British intellectual publications (and there are few of those) chose to ignore this aspect of 9/11, preferring instead to suggest that the victim nation somehow "deserved it". …


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