Holy War by Karen Armstrong
A few years ago I read the author’s ‘Islam – A short history’, which was very enlightening and balanced. This was a book I picked up at JF Kennedy airport on the way home, to understand more about religious conflict (a vital theme in this 9/11 world). I class this as an important book, but not necessarily a classic.
It is certainly a very erudite and eloquent book, though the freight of facts is overwhelming. The approach is purportedly to adopt a balanced triple perspective on the Christians, the Jews and the Muslims, who have all pursued ‘Holy War’. However, I detect a final sympathy, or at need championing of, the Muslim point of view. This is fine, and probably a necessary counter-balance to our Western ignorance and prejudices. The reminder is salutary that the Christians, in the crusades, certainly were important progenitors of the problems in Israel/Palestine.
There are illuminating shifts between history 1000 years ago, and the more recent conflicts in the region. The book was written prior to 9/11, which is only covered briefly in a new foreword. However it is, none the less, relevant.
I have a complaint about the shifts in speed and coverage. Certain things are swept over quickly and covered by assertion, without much proof or detail – a sort of ‘fast forward’ mode. Some important events are not satisfactorily explained, such as why Richard the Lion Heart did not press on to Jerusalem. Then at other times she dwells for pages on certain events and people – such as the religious visions of the first crusade and the character of Saladin, which become somewhat tedious. So the book lacks a consistent pace and structure. It could also be pruned more to keep the main themes in front of the reader’s mind.