Bernard Lewis: Historian or Lobbyist for War?

By Ali, Tahir | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Bernard Lewis: Historian or Lobbyist for War?


Ali, Tahir, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


"Treachery thy name is Bernard Lewis," says Ahmed, a former acolyte who was forced to change his opinion of the noted American Jewish scholar after reading in the Oct. 31, 2005 issue of The New Yorker magazine that Professor Lewis had made the following statement to Vice President Dick Cheney: "I believe that one of the things you've got to do with Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power."

Interestingly, no American Jewish organization rebuked Lewis for his racist remarks-while, during the same period, a number of Muslim organizations, notably the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), were denouncing "statements made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who questioned whether the Holocaust took place and suggested that the state of Israel be dismantled and moved to Europe."

Nor, after his intolerant views designed to promote war against Iraq became public, has Professor Lewis himself apologized to the Arab community. Instead he sent a letter to the editor of The New Yorker reiterating, "Yes, I do think that Arabs respect power."

Nor was that all. Using transparently puerile rhetoric, Lewis concluded his letter by quoting the 11th Century Arab thinker Ibn Hezm: "He who treats friend and foe alike will arouse only distaste for his friendship and contempt for his enmity." Once again Lewis' message was clear: The Arabs are the enemies, don't treat them on a par with the world's other nations.

"This exemplifies the prejudice of the learned," commented Prof. Agha Saeed, author of the Encyclopedia of Capitalism essay on "Orientalism and Eurocentrism." "We must distinguish the prejudices of the ignorant," Saeed contended, "which is relatively much easier to remedy than the prejudices of the learned."

The latter-enunciated by poets, novelists, philosophers, thinkers, historians and writers-are far harder to detect and much more difficult to correct because they are embedded in facts and couched in bona fide elements of truth, beauty and wisdom.

"Wars often produce coalitions of soldiers, scholars, politicians and clergymen," Saeed noted. Such a coalition emerged during the recent war against Iraq, and includes Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney, Lewis and Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition.

Today, one can clearly see why the late eminent writer and theorist Edward Said took such strong exception to Lewis's ideological penmanship and barely disguised anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim politics. …

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