This book was one of the many post 9/11 attempts to answer a question that many in the West had previously been oblivious to: why are so many Muslims so angry at the West? In other words why do they hate us?
Written in 2003 it was inevitable that this book would show some signs of ageing, most notably when the author tried to engage in contemporary geo-politics. However the central question remains incredibly relevant and in many ways so does the answers that Catherwood provides.
This book is at its strongest when dealing with history to enlighten the present. Perspectives on the beginnings of Islam as a militaristic enterprise enable you to avoid the mistake of drawing too many parallels with the anomaly of the Crusades vs the expansion of Islam.
Catherwood rightly points out that essentially Islam has posed a violent question to the world for 1400 years now but also depending on how you interpret the Qu’ran that it is entirely possible for many Muslims to argue that Islam is not inherently violent. This apparent paradox pushes you towards a better understanding of the many different traditions within Islam and in particular the notion of jihad and the influence of men like Sayyid Qutb and the mix of religion & politics in Saudi Arabia.
The other interesting historical perspective, which Catherwood is right to highlight, is how important the fall of the Ottaman Empire in 1918 was and why it so disturbed the worldview of fundamentalist Islam. For 1300 years Islam could make a good case to have been ascendant (or at least post the defeat at the gates of Vienna holding its own). But since the First World War, politically Islamic nations have been mostly a tragic, sorry story – compounded by the failure of Arab socialism and the 1967 defeat by Israel – as this article by The Economist confirms.
All of this led to the conviction of a need to purify the house of Islam and, to restore the Caliphate. At the time of writing ISIS was not in existence and it was Osama bin Laden who was the main villain yet subsequent events have only served to gives weight to the authors thesis.
Christians, Catherwood argues, should avoid simplistic stereotypes of Muslims recognising that Islam in Indonesia is not quite the same as Islam in Saudi Arabia or of Arabs, noting correctly that millions of Arabs would identify as Christians, albeit no longer living in the Middle-East. Christians should remember that Muslims don’t have a monopoly on massacres and evil behaviour and that the weapons for a Christian are spiritual not military. In much of this it feels as if the author is primarily talking to an American audience that was struggling to come to terms with 9/11.
The book does have the tendency to meander in the manner of a slow moving English river. It could certainly have benefited from some tighter editing and being about 50 pages shorter which ultimately would have given us a sharper, more focused and more useful book.