In this enthusiastic, adulatory review of Justin Marozzi’s book Islamic Empires, Tunku Varadarajan, executive editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and thus someone who should know better if our academic environment were not so corrupt and compromised, retails present-day academic fictions about Islamic history that outrage the historical record, and that no one who was remotely honest and even glancingly familiar with that record could repeat with a straight face.
Tunku Varadarajan paints a picture of Justin Marozzi as a romantic adventurer, the type that the Tunku Varadarajans of the world apparently aspire to be: “As a teenager in Cairo, he honed his backgammon skills in ‘dirt-cheap coffeehouses, slamming down the counters deep into the early hours.’ In 1980s Tripoli, ‘a beautiful, melancholy place,’ he was taught never to talk to taxi drivers about politics. ‘Anyone here could be an antenna,’ his father had warned, using the Libyan expression for Muammar Gadhafi’s ever-present informers.”
Varadarajan’s adulation doesn’t end there. “The charm of this book,” he hastens to tell us, “lies in the fact that it is so obviously the adult sublimation of a boyhood passion for the lands and history of Islam. Mr. Marozzi is now 49, but his prose often has the wonderment of a young man who has devoured a shelf of books and is dying to tell everyone about the things he has read. Like an erudite magpie, he gathers material from every available source—primary texts, both religious and historical, as well as a profusion of secondary ones—and weaves it all together with dexterity.”
Well, then, Marozzi must know all about Islamic empires, right? Especially in light of the fact that Justin Marozzi is also, Varadarajan tells us, “a history graduate from the University of Cambridge,” as well as “an accomplished and ambitious writer: His previous books include biographies of Herodotus and Tamerlane, the 14th-century Turco-Mongol conqueror whom Mr. Marozzi lauds as ‘one of history’s greatest self-made men.’”
A self-made man he may have been, but making that his sole identifier is rather like calling Hitler a failed artist and leaving it at that.
Tamerlane was much more than simply a self-made man, even one of history’s greatest among such men, yet Tunku Varadarajan and apparently Justin Marozzi don’t see fit to inform us of that fact. In The History of Jihad we learn, among much more about Tamerlane, that Sharaf ad-Din Ali Yazdi, a fifteenth-century Persian who wrote a biography of Tamerlane, observed that “the Qur’an says the highest dignity man can attain is that of making war in person against the enemies of his religion. Muhammad advises the same thing, according to the tradition of the Muslim doctors: wherefore the great Temur always strove to exterminate the infidels, as much to acquire that glory, as to signalise himself by the greatness of his conquests.”
One of history’s greatest self-made men indeed.
The nonsense does not, unfortunately, stop there. “‘One of the defining features of Abbasid Baghdad,’ he writes of the city in its ninth-century heyday, ‘was its cosmopolitanism. Arabs lived alongside Persians, Indians, Turks, Armenians and Kurds in a capital of Jews, Christians and Muslims.’ Tolerance was ‘less something to boast about than a generally accepted way of life.’”
From The History of Jihad: “In the late 770s, the Abbasid caliph al-Mahdi traveled to Aleppo, where twelve thousand Christians greeted him with great honor. Al-Mahdi, however, was not disposed to respond in kind, and told them: ‘You have two options. Either die or convert to our religion.’ Most of the Christians chose to die rather than embrace Islam. In and around Baghdad, he noticed that the Assyrian Christians had built new churches since the Muslim conquest, in violation of dhimmi laws; he ordered them destroyed; five thousand Christians in Syria were given the choice of conversion to Islam or death. Many stayed true to their ancestral faith and chose death.”
There’s your tolerance.
So why does ahistorical twaddle and fantasy such as Islamic Empires get published and praised to the skies in the Wall Street Journal? Because it tells people what they want to hear. In this unthinking age, that’s apparently all that really matters.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.
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