Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War between the Muslim World and the Global North by William R Polk - review by Hugh Kennedy

Hugh Kennedy

Zealous Minds

Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War between the Muslim World and the Global North


Yale University Press 632pp £30 order from our bookshop

The title of a book is often the last thing that the author works on, usually under the ‘guidance’ of the publisher, who wants something eye-catching that sweeps up as large an audience as possible. The title of this book suggests a confrontational polemic designed to inspire rage and confirm prejudices, so I approached it with some foreboding. However, it conceals a long and considered work that is much more nuanced and thoughtful than one might imagine.

Crusade and Jihad is the fruit, and perhaps the culmination, of a very long and distinguished career in that borderland between the academy and the politically powerful that flourished in the USA in the second half of the 20th century (sadly, I think that neither the present incumbent of the White House nor his ever-changing group of advisers would have the time or the inclination to keep up this exchange of ideas). Polk has taught courses on and thought about the peoples of the ‘Muslim South’ for nearly seventy years now and has met many politicians and thinkers from the West and the ‘Muslim world’.

His book reflects a period of hope and optimism about North–South relations and the disappointments that have followed. The Muslim world Polk has studied has changed in many ways, and he tries, honestly and intelligently, to comprehend these changes. When he began his work, he had close connections

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