Joan Acocella in The New Yorker:
…however much Muhammad’s immediate successors may have struggled with their souls, they also, in the eighty-some years following his death, conquered Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Anatolia, Iraq, and Persia. By the beginning of the eighth century, Muslim forces stood at the northwest corner of Africa. There, only the Strait of Gibraltar, nine miles wide, separated them from the Iberian Peninsula. Iberia at that time was ruled by the Visigoths, a Christian people who did their best to wipe out other religions within their territory—Judaism, for example. There is some evidence that the Iberian Jews invited the Muslims to invade. In 711, they did so. The state that they established in Iberia, and maintained for almost four centuries, is the subject of David Levering Lewis’s “God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215” (Norton; $29.95).
This book has to be understood in context, or, actually, two contexts. The first is post-colonialism, the effort on the part of scholars from the nineteen-seventies onward to correct the biases that accompanied and justified the colonization of eighty-five per cent of the earth by European powers between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. In that period, according to Edward Said’s 1978 “Orientalism”—the founding document of post-colonial thought—history-writing about the Near East and the Middle East was an arm of empire. Its goal was to make non-Western peoples seem uncivilized, so that European control would appear a boon. Since Said, much writing on Europe’s former colonies has been an effort to redress that injustice.
The other context in which Lewis’s book must be read is, of course, the history of terrorism, since the late nineteen-seventies, on the part of people claiming to be instructed by the Koran.
More here. [Thanks to Asad Raza.]