Introduction to the History of Western Perceptions of Islam
This paper focuses on the Western perceptions of Islam from the middle ages to the present by analyzing the religious, philosophical and political factors that underline the parameters of the relation between the Islamic world and the West. While the academic construction of Islam as a sub-category of the Middle East crisis continues to be a major stumbling block for a cultural and civilizational understanding of Islam, the lack of knowledge about Islam, its beliefs, history, and cultural diversity in large segments of European and American societies is no less significant in perpetuating such essentialist depictions of Islam as the ‘other' of the West and as a monolithic culture prone to extremism of various kinds. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September the 11th, these attitudes have led to the demonization of Islam and Muslims in the minds of many Westerners. This paper examines the formation of the image of Islam as a theological threat and political rival, and argues that the current perceptions of Islam, perpetuated through a complex network of academics, policy-makers, movies and other literary works, have their roots in the checkered history of Islam and the West.
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