This is a great book. If you ever wanted to know how Muslims see the world, and how their idea of world history differs from that commonly taught in the west, then this book has the answer. Not only that, but it’s delightfully written too.
Tamim Ansary grew up in Afghanistan, but now lives in the United States where, amongst other things, he has been part of a team writing textbooks to teach world history in American schools. So he is ideally placed to see the world from two different perspectives. He understands the way we in the West see world history – a long story leading to the triumph, as Francis Fukuyama once claimed, of liberal democracy – but he also understands how Muslims see it; a tale of human triumphs and disasters equally long, equally complicated, but in many important ways very different. The title – Destiny Disrupted – gives the first clue: human destiny, the end of history, was not supposed to be liberal democracy at all, but the perfect Muslim society. And for nearly a thousand years, as Mr Ansary explains, that’s exactly the way the world seemed to be going. Within a few decades of Mohammed’s death, all the important centres of civilisation outside China were ruled by Muslims – a situation that appeared to many Muslims to last, despite several serious disruptions, until the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution turned the world upside down. Human Destiny had been disrupted, and appeared to many – especially today’s jihadists – to be going in the wrong direction. Hence 9/11.
But most of this book is about the past, not the present. There are many fascinating details in this story, and Mr Ansary tells them very well indeed. It’s easy to see how he has been successful in writing school textbooks. He has a light, easy style and the enviable skill of making the important points clear in a few short, pithy sentences. Wherever possible he tells a story, and there are lots of great stories to tell, most of them unfamiliar to me. How many westerners, even quite well-educated people, really know much about Genghis Khan or Tamerlaine, for example, and the terrible effect they had not only on the Muslim world, but also, as a result, on us? Where did the Ottoman Empire come from, and what was it like in its heyday? How did countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq come into existence? What exactly is the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims, and what are the stories that made this happen? The answers are all here, in clear, simple, entertaining English.
And what exactly is it about Muslim scholarship that made it turn its back on what we call enlightenment and progress, and how is that different to what happened in the Christian church? Mr Ansary makes a good stab at answering that important question too.
If any of these questions intrigue you, I thoroughly recommend this book. And don’t worry, it’s very easy to read!
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