Yet more reasons not to like Bernard Lewis

Read from my referrer here. This man is an Ottomanist who has become the most vocal interpreter of modern, Arab Islam in the US right now. It boggles the mind that he is considered an expert on the topics for which he is consulted – topics that affect whether or not we go to war. Even his medieval Arab history has been attacked as being slip shod and polemical.

2 thoughts on “Yet more reasons not to like Bernard Lewis

  1. Many of Hirsh’s criticisms of Lewis are probably accurate. His area of expertese does not equip him to make political decisions; he is disconcertingly fond of Attaturk; he seems out-of-touch with modern day Arab and Muslim populations.
    However, I think that this article misrepresents Lewis’ views in a number of respects. First, Lewis consistently depicts Wahhabiism as a radical fringe movement that has attained undue power with the help of Western governments acting in their own immediate economic and political self-interest. Like his critics, Lewis believes (or claims to believe) that Islam is fundamentally a moderate religion and that it need not be adverse to modernization.
    Second, this article makes the common error of equating democracy with secularism. It is undeniable that secular dictatorships can be as brutal as religious dictatorships — Communist totalitarianism has proven that. On the other hand, democracy need not entail separation of church and state (as we have in the U.S.) or enforced secularism (as exists in France). Depending on their constitution, members of a democracy may be free to elect leaders who support religious institutions. On paper, at least, Lewis generally argues in favor of democracy and against totalitarianism, not in favor of secularism and against religious rule.
    Finally, I think it unfair to assume that Lewis hates Arabs on the basis of his support of Israel. It is possible to be sympathetic to both sides of an unfortunate conflict. For his part, Lewis supports the creation of a democratic (not necessarily secular) Palestinian state, which he argues would be able to coexist peacefully with the democratic (not quite secular) state of Israel. His particular vision may or may not be misguided. Either way, Israel is not about to disappear, and any realistic vision for the future of the Middle East must incorporate the Jewish state in some form. To deny that reality is self-defeating.

  2. elf, I grant you the first point. Lewis does relegate Wahhabism to the margins. However, like Daniel Pipes, he also seems to suggest that only good Muslim is a non-believing Muslim. So, I’m not sure what he would say about progressive Muslims (lowe-case “p,” so as not be confused with the movement).
    Point two: true.
    I agree the logic is faulty, but again, looking at the corpus of Lewis’ work, he clearly does not believe that Arab civilization has produced anything of value, and only by being totally “Western,” can the “Arab” become fully-realized humans. See for example “What Went Wrong?”

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