Bernard Lewis

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Prof. Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis (born May 31, 1916 in London, England) is a British-American historian, Orientalist, and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He specializes in the history of Islam and the interaction between Islam and the West, and is especially famous in academic circles for his works on the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Lewis is a widely-read expert on the Middle East, and is regarded as one of the West’s leading scholars of that region.[1] His advice has been frequently sought by policymakers, including the former Bush administration.[2] In the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing Martin Kramer, whose Ph.D. thesis was directed by Lewis, considered that, over a 60-year career, he has emerged as "the most influential postwar historian of Islam and the Middle East."[3]


[edit] Biography

Born to middle-class Jewish parents in Stoke Newington, London, Lewis became attracted to languages and history from an early age. While preparing for his bar mitzvah ceremony at the age of eleven or twelve, the young Bernard, fascinated by a new language, and especially a new script, discovered an interest in Hebrew. He subsequently moved on to studying Aramaic and then Arabic, and later still, some Latin, Greek, Persian, and Turkish. As with Semitic languages, Lewis's interest in history was stirred thanks to the bar mitzvah ceremony, during which he received as a gift a book on Jewish history.[4]

He graduated in 1936 from the then School of Oriental Studies (now SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of London with a B.A. in History with special reference to the Near and Middle East, and obtaining his Ph.D. three years later, also from SOAS, specializing in the History of Islam.[5] Lewis also studied law, going part of the way toward becoming a barrister, but returned to study Middle Eastern history. He undertook post-graduate studies at the University of Paris, where he studied with the orientalist Louis Massignon and earned the "Diplôme des Études Sémitiques" in 1937.[3] He returned to SOAS in 1938 as an assistant lecturer in Islamic History.

During the Second World War, Lewis served in the British Army in the Royal Armoured Corps and Intelligence Corps in 1940–41, before being seconded to the Foreign Office. After the war, he returned to SOAS, and in 1949 – as he was one of the very rare specialists – he was appointed to the new chair in Near and Middle Eastern History at the age of 33.[6]

In 1974, Lewis accepted a joint position at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, also located in Princeton, New Jersey. The terms of his appointment were such that Lewis taught only one semester per year, and being free from administrative responsibilities, he could devote more time to research than previously. Consequently, Lewis's arrival at Princeton marked the beginning of the most prolific period in his research career during which he published numerous books and articles based on the previously accumulated materials.[7] In addition, it was in the U.S. that Lewis became a public intellectual. Upon his retirement from Princeton in 1986, Lewis served at Cornell University until 1990.[3]

Lewis has been a naturalized citizen of the United States since 1982. He married Ruth Hélène Oppenhejm in 1947 with whom he had a daughter and a son before the marriage was dissolved in 1974.[3]

Lewis is a founding member of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). Formed October 24, 2007, the organization is an academic society dedicated to promoting the highest standards of research and teaching in Middle Eastern and African studies, and related fields. Lewis is Chairman of its academic council.[8]

In 1990 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Lewis for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. His lecture, entitled "Western Civilization: A View from the East,"[9] was revised and reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly under the title "The Roots of Muslim Rage."[10] His 2007 Irving Kristol Lecture, given to the American Enterprise Institute, was published as Europe and Islam.

[edit] Research

Lewis' influence extends beyond the academe to the general public. He is a pioneer of the social and economic history of the Middle East and is famous for his extensive research of the Ottoman archives.[3]

Bernard Lewis began his research career with the study of medieval Arab, especially Syrian, history.[3] His first article, dedicated to professional guilds of medieval Islam, had been widely regarded as the most authoritative work on the subject for about thirty years.[11]

However, after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, scholars of Jewish origin found it more and more difficult to conduct archival and field research in the Arab countries where they were suspected of espionage. Therefore, Lewis switched to the study of the Ottoman Empire, while continuing to research Arab history through the Ottoman archives,[3] which had only recently been opened to Western researchers. A series of articles that Lewis published over the next several years revolutionized the history of the Middle East by giving a broad picture of Islamic society, including its government, economy, and demographics.[11]

Lewis argues that the Middle East is currently backward and its decline was a largely self-inflicted condition resulting from both culture and religion, as opposed to the post-colonialist view which posits the problems of the region as economic and political maldevelopment mainly due to the 19th century European colonization.[citation needed] In his 1982 work Muslim Discovery of Europe, Lewis argues that Muslim societies could not keep pace with the west and that "Crusader successes were due in no small part to Muslim weakness." [12] Further, he suggested that as early as the 11th century Islamic societies were decaying, primarily the byproduct of internal problems like "cultural arrogance," which was a barrier to creative borrowing, rather than external pressures like the Crusades. [3].

Revolted by the Soviet and Arab attempts to delegitimize Israel as a racist country, Lewis wrote a study of anti-Semitism, Semites and Anti-Semites (1986).[3] In other works he argued Arab rage against Israel was startlingly disproportionate to other tragedies or injustices in the Muslim world: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and control of Muslim-majority land in Central Asia, the bloody and destructive fighting during the Hama uprising in Syria (1982), the Algerian civil war (1992–98), and the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88).[13]

In addition to his scholarly works, Lewis wrote several influential books accessible to the general public: The Arabs in History (1950), The Middle East and the West (1964), and The Middle East (1995).[3] In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the interest in Lewis's work surged, especially his 1990 essay The Roots of Muslim Rage. Three of his books were published after 9/11: What Went Wrong? (written before the attacks), The Crisis of Islam, and Islam: The Religion and the People (published in 2009).

[edit] Primer on Islam

Lewis's latest book "Islam: The Religion and the People", is a useful primer for those who are new to this topic.[14] From his research, Lewis draws the following conclusions regarding the modern menace of Middle-Eastern terrorism:(Pages 145-150 of the book):

  1. "At no time did the (Muslim) jurist approve of terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism (in Islamic tradition)."
  2. "Muslims are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged; not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners; to give fair warning of the opening of hosilities;and to honor agreements."
  3. "The emergence of the now widespread terrorism practice of suicide bombing is a development of the 20th century. It has no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition. It is a pity that those who practice this form of terrorism are not better acquainted with their own religion, and with the culture that grew up under the auspices of that religion." [15]
  4. "The fanatical warrior offering his victims the choice of the Koran or the sword is not only untrue, it is impossible."[16]
  5. "Generally speaking, Muslim tolerance of unbelievers was far better than anything available in Christendom, until the rise of secularism in the 17th century."[17]

[edit] Views and influence on contemporary politics

In the mid-1960s, Lewis emerged as a commentator on the issues of the modern Middle East, and his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rise of militant Islam brought him publicity and aroused significant controversy. American historian Joel Beinin has called him "perhaps the most articulate and learned Zionist advocate in the North American Middle East academic community ..." [18] Lewis's policy advice has particular weight thanks to this scholarly authority. [11] U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney remarked: " this new century, his wisdom is sought daily by policymakers, diplomats, fellow academics, and the news media."[19]

A harsh critic of the Soviet Union, Lewis continues the liberal tradition in Islamic historical studies. Although his early Marxist views had a bearing on his first book The Origins of Ismailism, Lewis subsequently discarded Marxism. His later works are a reaction against the left-wing current of Third-worldism, which came to be a significant current in Middle Eastern studies.[3]

Lewis advocates closer Western ties with Israel and Turkey, which he saw as especially important in light of the extension of the Soviet influence in the Middle East. Modern Turkey holds a special place in Lewis's view of the region due to the country's efforts to become a part of the West.[3] He is a Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Turkish Studies, an honor which is given "on the basis of generally recognized scholarly distinction and... long and devoted service to the field of Turkish Studies."[20]

Lewis views Christendom and Islam as civilizations that have been in perpetual collision ever since the advent of Islam in the 7th century. In his essay The Roots of Muslim Rage (1990), he argued that the struggle between the West and Islam was gathering strength. According to one source, this essay (and Lewis' 1990 Jefferson Lecture on which the article was based) first introduced the term "Islamic fundamentalism" to North America.[21] This essay has been credited with coining the phrase "clash of civilizations", which received prominence in the eponymous book by Samuel Huntington.[22] However, another source indicates that Lewis first used the phrase "clash of civilizations" at a meeting in Washington in 1957 where it is recorded in the transcript. [23]

In 1998, Lewis read in a London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi a declaration of war on the United States by Osama bin Laden, a person of whom Lewis had never heard despite his terrorist attacks in Africa and the Middle East. In his essay "A License to Kill", Lewis indicated he considered bin Laden's language as the "ideology of jihad" and warned that bin Laden would be a danger to the West.[22] The essay was published after the Clinton administration and the US intelligence community had begun its hunt for bin Laden in Sudan and then in Afghanistan.

In August 2006, in an article about whether the world can rely on the concept of mutual assured destruction as a deterrent in its dealings with Iran, Lewis wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the significance of August 22, 2006 in the Islamic calendar. The Iranian president had indicated he would respond by that date to U.S. demands regarding Iran's development of nuclear power; Lewis wrote that the date corresponded to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427, the day Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad from Jerusalem to heaven and back. Lewis wrote that it would be "an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and, if necessary, of the world." [24] The article received significant press coverage though the day passed without any incident. [25]

[edit] Criticism and controversies

[edit] Debates with Edward Said

Lewis is known for his literary sparrings with Edward W. Said, the Arab literary theorist and activist whose aim was to deconstruct Orientalist scholarship. Said, a professor at Columbia University, defined Lewis's work as a prime example of Orientalism in his 1978 book Orientalism. Said asserted that the field of Orientalism was political intellectualism bent on self-affirmation rather than objective study,[26] a form of racism, and a tool of imperialist domination.[27] He further questioned the scientific neutrality of some leading Orientalist scholars such as Bernard Lewis on the Arab world. In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Said suggested that Lewis' knowledge of the Middle East was so biased it could not be taken seriously, and claimed "Bernard Lewis hasn't set foot in the Middle East, in the Arab world, for at least 40 years. He knows something about Turkey, I'm told, but he knows nothing about the Arab world." [28]

Edward Said considered that Lewis treats Islam as a monolithic entity without the nuance of its plurality, internal dynamics, and historical complexities, and accused him of "demagogy and downright ignorance."[29]

[edit] Lewis' response

Rejecting the view that western scholarship was biased against the Middle East, Lewis responded that Orientalism developed as a facet of European humanism, independently of the past European imperial expansion.[3] He noted the French and English pursued the study of Islam in the 16th and 17th centuries, yet not in an organized way, but long before they had any control or hope of control in the Middle East; and that much of Orientalist study did nothing to advance the cause of imperialism. "What imperial purpose was served by deciphering the ancient Egyptian language, for example, and then restoring to the Egyptians knowledge of and pride in their forgotten, ancient past?"[30]

[edit] Denial of the Armenian Genocide

Bernard Lewis was fined one franc by a French court in a civil proceeding for denying the Armenian Genocide in a November 1993 Le Monde article. Lewis's position was that while mass murders did occur, he did not believe there was sufficient evidence to conclude it was government-sponsored, ordered or controlled and therefore did not constitute a genocide. The court stated that "by concealing elements contrary to his opinion, he neglected his duties of objectivity and prudence"[31].

When Lewis received the prestigious National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush in November 2006, the Armenian National Committee of America took strong objection. Executive Director Aram Hamparian released a statement of pointed disapproval:

The President's decision to honor the work of a known genocide denier — an academic mercenary whose politically motivated efforts to cover up the truth run counter to the very principles this award was established to honor — represents a true betrayal of the public trust.[32]

Lewis' views on the issue were criticized by historians and scholars including Alain Finkielkraut, Yves Ternon, Richard G. Hovannisian, Albert Memmi, Pierre Vidal-Naquet[33][34], Robert Melson[35], David B. MacDonald[36], Norman Finkelstein[37], and Stephen Zunes has described him as a "notorious genocide-denier".[38] According to historian Yair Auron, "Lewis’ stature provided a lofty cover for the Turkish national agenda of obfuscating academic research on the Armenian Genocide".[39] Israel Charny wrote about Lewis' views that "the seemingly scholarly concern with putting the historical facts in the context of Armenians constituting a threat to the Turks as a rebellious force who together with the Russians threatened the Ottoman Empire, and the insistence that only a policy of deportations was executed, barely conceal the fact that the organized deportations constituted systematic mass murder".[40]

[edit] Lewis' response

In response, Lewis argued that:

There is no evidence of a decision to massacre. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence of attempts to prevent it, which were not very successful. Yes there were tremendous massacres, the numbers are very uncertain but a million may well be likely,[41] ...[and] the issue is not whether the massacres happened or not, but rather if these massacres were as a result of a deliberate preconceived decision of the Turkish government... there is no evidence for such a decision.[42]

Lewis stated that he believed "to make [the Armenian Genocide], a parallel with the Holocaust in Germany" was "rather absurd."[41] In an interview with Ha'aretz he stated:

The deniers of Holocaust have a purpose: to prolong Nazism and to return to Nazi legislation. Nobody wants the 'Young Turks' back, and nobody wants to have back the Ottoman Law. What do the Armenians want? The Armenians want to benefit from both worlds. On the one hand, they speak with pride of their struggle against the Ottoman despotism, while on the other hand, they compare their tragedy to the Jewish Holocaust. I do not accept this. I do not say that the Armenians did not suffer terribly. But I find enough cause for me to contain their attempts to use the Armenian massacres to diminish the worth of the Jewish Holocaust and to relate to it instead as an ethnic dispute.[43]

[edit] Stance on the Iraq War

Most recently Lewis has been called "perhaps the most significant intellectual influence behind the invasion of Iraq", who urged regime change in Iraq to provide a jolt that — he argued — would "modernize the Middle East". [44] Critics of Lewis have suggested that Lewis' allegedly 'Orientalist' theories about "What Went Wrong" in the Middle East, and other important works, formed the intellectual basis of the push towards war in Iraq.[45]

Lewis does not advocate imposing freedom and democracy on Islamic nations."There are things you can't impose. Freedom, for example. Or democracy. Democracy is a very strong medicine which has to be administered to the patient in small, gradually increasing doses. Otherwise, you risk killing the patient. In the main, the Muslims have to do it themselves. "[46]

Ian Buruma, writing for The New Yorker in an article subtitled "The two minds of Bernard Lewis", finds Lewis's stance on the war difficult to reconcile with Lewis's past statements cautioning democracy's enforcement in the world at large. Buruma ultimately rejects suggestions by his peers that Lewis, a Jew, promotes war with Iraq to safeguard Israel, but instead concludes "perhaps he (Lewis) loves it (the Arab world) too much":

It is a common phenomenon among Western students of the Orient to fall in love with a civilization. Such love often ends in bitter impatience when reality fails to conform to the ideal. The rage, in this instance, is that of the Western scholar. His beloved civilization is sick. And what would be more heartwarming to an old Orientalist than to see the greatest Western democracy cure the benighted Muslim? It is either that or something less charitable: if a final showdown between the great religions is indeed the inevitable result of a millennial clash, then we had better make sure that we win.[47]

[edit] Books

  • The Origins of Ismailism (1940)
  • A Handbook of Diplomatic and Political Arabic (1947)
  • The Arabs in History (1950)
  • The Emergence of Modern Turkey (1961)
  • Istanbul and the Civilizations of the Ottoman Empire (1963)
  • The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (1967)
  • The Cambridge History of Islam (2 vols. 1970, revised 4 vols. 1978, editor with Peter Malcolm Holt and Ann K.S. Lambton)
  • Islam: From the Prophet Muhammad to the capture of Constantinople (1974, editor)
  • History — Remembered, Recovered, Invented (1975)
  • Race and Color in Islam (1979)
  • Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society (1982, editor with Benjamin Braude)
  • The Muslim Discovery of Europe (1982)
  • The Jews of Islam (1984)
  • Semites and Anti-Semites (1986)
  • Islam from the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople (1987)
  • The Political Language of Islam (1988)
  • Race and Slavery in the Middle East: an Historical Enquiry (1990)
  • Islam and the West (1993)
  • Islam in History (1993)
  • The Shaping of the Modern Middle East (1994)
  • Cultures in Conflict (1994)
  • The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years (published in U.K. as The Middle East: 2,000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day) (1995)
  • The Future of the Middle East (1997)
  • The Multiple Identities of the Middle East (1998)
  • A Middle East Mosaic: Fragments of Life, Letters and History (2000)
  • Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew Poems (2001)
  • The Muslim Discovery of Europe (2001)
  • What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (2002)
  • The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (2003)
  • From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East (2004)
  • Islam: The Religion and the People (2008, with Buntzie Ellis Churchill)

[edit] References

  1. ^ James L. Abrahmson, [1] in American Diplomacy, accessed March 6 2008
  2. ^ "AEI's Weird Celebration". Slate (magazine). March 14, 2007. Retrieved on 2008-02-29. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Kramer, Martin (1999). "Bernard Lewis". Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing. Vol. 1. London: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. pp. 719–720. Retrieved on 2006-05-23. 
  4. ^ Lewis, Bernard (2004) (PDF). From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting The Middle East. Oxford University press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0195173368. Retrieved on 2006-05-23. 
  5. ^ "Bernard Lewis Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus", Department of Near Eastern Studies, University of Princeton, retrieved May 26, 2006.
  6. ^ Lewis (2004), pp. 3–4
  7. ^ Lewis (2004), pp. 6–7
  8. ^ ASMEA homepage
  9. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  10. ^ Bernard Lewis, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990.
  11. ^ a b c Humphreys, R. Stephen (May /June 1990). "Bernard Lewis: An Appreciation". Humanities vol. 11 (3): 17–20. 
  12. ^ Lewis, Bernard, Muslim Discovery of Europe, Norton Paperback, 2001, p.22
  13. ^ Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam : Holy War and Unholy Terror, Modern Library, 2003, p.90-91, 108, 110-111
  14. ^ Ghosh, Bobby (03 February 2009). "Q&A: Bernard Lewis on Islam's Crisis". Time Magazine.,8599,1843104,00.html. 
  15. ^ [Ibid (page 53)]
  16. ^ [Ibid (page 146)]
  17. ^ [Ibid (page 146)]
  18. ^ Beinin, Joel. "Review of: Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice by Bernard Lewis, MERIP Middle East Report, No. 147, Egypt's Critical Moment (Jul., 1987), pp. 43-45.
  19. ^ "Remarks by Vice President Cheney at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Luncheon Honoring Professor Bernard Lewis". May 1, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-01-26. 
  20. ^ About ITS, Institute of Turkish Studies website.
  21. ^ Amber Haque, "Islamophobia in North America: Confronting the Menace," in Barry van Driel, ed., Confronting Islamophobia in Educational Practice (Trentham Books, 2004), ISBN 1858563402, p.6, excerpt available online at Google Books.
  22. ^ a b Ajami, Fouad (May 1, 2006). "A Sage in Christendom: A personal tribute to Bernard Lewis". OpinionJournal. Retrieved on 2006-05-23. 
  23. ^ Ruthie Blum Liebowitz, ["One on One: When defeat means liberation," Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2008 (interview with Bernard Lewis).
  24. ^ "August 22. Does Iran have something in store?", Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2006.
  25. ^ August 22 coverage:
  26. ^ Said, Edward, Orientalism (Vintage Books: New York, 1979) ISBN 978-0394740676 Pg 12
  27. ^ Keith Windschuttle, "Edward Said's "Orientalism revisited," The New Criterion January 17, 1999, accessed January 19, 1999.
  28. ^ Said, Edward."Resources of hope," Al-Ahram Weekly April 2, 2003, accessed April 26, 2007.
  29. ^ Said, Edward."The Clash of Ignorance," The Nation October 22, 2001, accessed April 26, 2007.
  30. ^ Lewis, Bernard, Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, 1993, p.126
  31. ^ Lewis receives adverse civil judgment, 21 June 1995 (French)
  32. ^ "Armenian Genocide Denier Bernard Lewis Awarded National Humanities Medal", ANCA, November 22, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  33. ^ The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide, by Yair Auron, 2003, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 076580834X, p. 235
  34. ^ La province de la mort, p. 9, by Leslie A. Davis, Yves Ternon, 1994
  35. ^ Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, By Robert Melson, University of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 0226519902, p. 289
  36. ^ Identity Politics in the Age of Genocide: The Holocaust and Historical Representation, By David B. MacDonald, Routledge, 2008, ISBN 0415430615, p. 241
  37. ^ The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, By Norman G. Finkelstein, Verso, 2003, ISBN 185984488X, p. 69
  38. ^ U.S. Denial of the Armenian Genocide, by Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, October 22, 2007
  39. ^ The Islamization of Europe, By Andrew G. Bostom,, Friday, December 31, 2004
  40. ^ The Psychological Satisfaction of Denials of the Holocaust or Other Genocides by Non-Extremists or Bigots, and Even by Known Scholars, by Israel Charny, "IDEA" journal, July 17, 2001, Vol.6, no.1
  41. ^ a b Statement of Professor Bernard Lewis, Princeton University, "Distinguishing Armenian Case from Holocaust", Assembly of Turkish American Associations, April 14, 2002 (PDF)
  42. ^ Getler, Michael. "Documenting and Debating a 'Genocide'", The Ombudsman Column, PBS, April 21, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  43. ^ Karpel, Dalia."There Was No Genocide: Interview with Prof.Bernard Lewis ", Ha'aretz Weekly, January 23, 1998. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  44. ^ "AEI'S Weird Celebration"
  45. ^ "Bernard Lewis Revisited", Washington Monthly, November 2004. Accessed April 26, 2007.
  46. ^ One on One: When defeat means liberation, Ruthie Blum, The Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2008
  47. ^ Lost in Translation: The two minds of Bernard Lewis, Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, June 14, 2004

[edit] External links

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