What would the world be like without Islam? In A World Without Islam, former CIA official and historian Graham Fuller says it wouldn't be much different from the world today.
According to Fuller, the West's fraught relationship with the Middle East isn't really about religion — and actually predates the spread of Islam.
Fuller tells NPR's Neal Conan that he found "deep-rooted conflicts that still exist over ethnicity or economics or warfare or armies or geopolitics [that] ... really don't have anything to do with Islam, and indeed, existed long before Islam came into existence."
One of those conflicts can be traced all the way back to antiquity.
"The ancient Greeks fought wars with the ancient Persians for several hundred years, from about 500 to 300 B.C., struggling over the same turf," Fuller says. "The people who came to occupy them later, the Byzantine Christians, fought the same wars, and then the Turkish Muslims came and they fought the same wars."
In his book, Fuller says, "I try to run through a whole lot of events and take Islam out of the equation, and see what we're left with."
And what was left was the idea that the continuity of geopolitics and grievances across the Middle East doesn't need Islam to explain it. Rather, he sees Islam — and religion in general — as a banner in that Islam provided the organizing principle for the Muslim empire that took over much of the world.
"I'm not arguing that Islam has not had great impact on the Middle East region and its cultures and civilization," he says. "But I'm arguing that the nature of conflict between the West and the East does not depend on that, and precedes Islam."
Consider, for example, the struggle over oil and energy in the Middle East.
"If the area were Christian, would the region be any more accepting of big Western oil companies trying to come in and dominate those things?" he asks. "I don't think so."
Fuller says that while he finds imagining the world this way an important and informative exercise, he is in no way advocating for a world without Islam.
"I'm really focusing on the nature of struggle between the East and the West," he says, "and whether Islam plays a significant role in that."