Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East by Ussama MakdisiArtillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East by Ussama Makdisi

Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East

byUssama Makdisi

Paperback | July 16, 2009

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The complex relationship between America and the Arab world goes back further than most people realize. In Artillery of Heaven, Ussama Makdisi presents a foundational American encounter with the Arab world that occurred in the nineteenth century, shortly after the arrival of the first American Protestant missionaries in the Middle East. He tells the dramatic tale of the conversion and death of As'ad Shidyaq, the earliest Arab convert to American Protestantism. The struggle over this man's body and soul—and over how his story might be told—changed the actors and cultures on both sides.

In the unfamiliar, multireligious landscape of the Middle East, American missionaries at first conflated Arabs with Native Americans and American culture with an uncompromising evangelical Christianity. In turn, their Christian and Muslim opponents in the Ottoman Empire condemned the missionaries as malevolent intruders. Yet during the ensuing confrontation within and across cultures an unanticipated spirit of toleration was born that cannot be credited to either Americans or Arabs alone. Makdisi provides a genuinely transnational narrative for this new, liberal awakening in the Middle East, and the challenges that beset it.

By exploring missed opportunities for cultural understanding, by retrieving unused historical evidence, and by juxtaposing for the first time Arab perspectives and archives with American ones, this book counters a notion of an inevitable clash of civilizations and thus reshapes our view of the history of America in the Arab world.

Ussama Makdisi is Professor of History and first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University. He is the author of The Culture of Sectarianism and coeditor of Memory and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
Title:Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle EastFormat:PaperbackDimensions:280 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.27 inPublished:July 16, 2009Publisher:Cornell University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801475759

ISBN - 13:9780801475757

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Origins of American University of Beirut In this highly engaging academic monograph, Arab Historian Ussama Makdisi traces the origins of American Protestant Missionaries in the Levant during the 19th century of which eventually became the secular American University of Beirut today. In the book Makdisi attempts to "explain why and how a culture clash involving Americans and Arabs unfolded and... how the encounter between them changed the actors and cultures on both sides" (p.1). The book covers a lot of ground from the Puritan origins of American settlers, to Andrew Jackson's "Trail of Tears", to Ottoman imperial politics, to the sectarian conflicts between Maronite Christians and Muslims within Ottoman Beirut, to the Arabism revival movement. Makdisi assumes the reader has background knowledge in all of these areas which makes the book rather esoteric. Having said that, I found Makdisi's research to be thorough and his conclusions completely rational. The book begins by juxtaposing the Protestant missions that helped to "cleanse" the American native populations with the early attempts by Protestant missions to employ similar methods to "uplift the heathens" of the biblical lands. Makdisi writes: "They came not as crude military crusaders but as the redeemed 'artillery of heaven', men who were determined to reclaim biblical lands from the god of this world" (p.84). Having no knowledge of Arabic or local customs and culture, early Missionaries failed miserably "deny[ing] the importance of locality and history that defined [the] Maronite church and community" (p.117) that had existed for centuries before. The second half of the book narrates the story of the lone early Protestant convert, As'ad Shidyaq, who would eventually be tortured and killed for his apostasy by the Maronites. The Missionaries martyred Shidyaq but for their own political gain. Though the Mission languished on for several decades, a new figure by the name of Butrus al-Bustani, another early convert after Shidyaq, would restore Shidyaq's reputiation and at the same time revitalize the Arab culture through his new Protestant faith, thereby legitimizing the Missionaries. Bustani was an Arabist through and through and believed "[t]heir advancement and salvation ultimately depended on themselves" (p.199). Makdisi has two very important points to make. First, that the rise of American exceptionalism can be traced at the point where "nationalism, racialism, and evangelism fused together" (p.178). Second, the secularization of the Syrian Protestant College (precursor to AUB) was a result of a recognition of multiculturalism and coexistence and the futility of direct evangelism. Overall, Makdisi has produced a highly nuanced well-researched history of this complex region. Anybody with academic knowledge of the region will appreciate this important book.
Date published: 2008-08-18

Editorial Reviews

"This passionately written and engaging book presents interesting material that has not before seen the light of day. Ussama Makdisi addresses very important transnational and intercultural issues concerning the transmission of and reaction to missionary culture. Throughout, he gives a balanced account of American and Maronite/Lebanese relations, revealing details of the social structure and values of Ottoman society. Artillery of Heaven illuminates the cultural contacts and misunderstandings involved at a different time in American cultural expansion."—Ian Tyrrell, Scientia Professor of History, University of New South Wales