||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
Yale professor Frank Griffel has posted to Academia his Die Welt des Islams review of SF Starr, Lost Enlightenment. This is not Griffel’s first rodeo; the man has reviewed other books that tackle “the Muslim Mind” of the post-Umayyad Middle Ages. Of Griffel’s targets, the one I’d read before our reviewer got to it was Reilly’s Closing of the Muslim Mind. I was unimpressed with Griffel’s take on that book. Griffel has issues with this one, too… and, again, I have issues with Griffel’s review. I disclose up front that, this time, I have not read the source material. But that wasn’t necessary in this case…
Here, Starr was working the Central Asian beat. The Silk Road has featured in several recent English-language treatments, of variant quality. A few of these books have been reviewed at Razib’s place. I shan’t complain about yet another book on this topic, concerning its Islamic period; I’d had to read up on this context for mine own work, especially “Throne of Glass”. And Griffel does commend Starr for tying Islamic Central Asia into a narrative.
I concede with Griffel that Starr has fallen into ethnocentric bias. Starr knows Reilly’s phrase
I also agree that it’s high time Islam-skeptics quit holding Ghazzali as the great satan corrupting the (Sunni) Islamic mind (Griffel, 276-7). Everyone knows that something “went wrong” in the Sunni mind over the last few centuries, but for that Ibn Taymiya and Ibn Kathir are more culpable. As to what I said about Reilly ignoring Ibn Khaldun, here the man whom Starr ignorantly ignores is Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. And we’re all awaiting a good study of the Nishapuri school of tafsir – we don’t even yet have proper editions of most of those tafasir, from Wahidi to Tha’alibi.
But Griffel overreaches too. Griffel notes that Starr sees ethnic conflicts between Turks, Iranians, and Arabs; to Griffel, Starr
Griffel slips back into cant (
It seems we do need a better treatment of post-conquest Central Asia than what Starr has given to us. But tiresome politically-driven pieties are of no service to any reviewer. At this point of reading Griffel’s reviews I don’t anymore think the man can help himself. That’s why we need good editors, better than the ones Die Welt des Islams got.
UPDATE 6/13/2017: Razib Khan's review.
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