May 19, 2018



Lewis was a leading scholar on Oriental and Middle Eastern studies. His study of antisemitism, Semites and Anti-Semites was a cry against Soviet and Arab attempts to delegitimize Israel. In other works, he argued Arab rage against Israel was disproportionate to other tragedies or injustices in the Muslim world.

Though a champion for Israel, Lewis was an often controversial figure, on this subject and others. He was accused of being a "genocide denier" for his views on the Armenian genocide. His support of the Iraq War has also brought criticism.

...what went wrong.

Bernard Lewis, eminent historian of the Middle East, dies at 101 (Brian Murphy May 19, 2018, Washington Post)

Dr. Lewis had no qualms about hard-edge policies toward the Middle East, once famously advising "get tough or get out," in what some have dubbed the Lewis Doctrine. He repeatedly denied that he backed the invasion of Iraq, saying he advocated for greater aid to Western-allied Kurds in northern Iraq as a counterweight to the Baghdad regime.

"For some, I'm the towering genius," Dr. Lewis told the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. "For others, I'm the devil incarnate."

But what stood out for many, especially in an age of borderless violence, was Dr. Lewis's premise of inevitable friction and competition between the Islamic and Western worlds -- particularly as Islamist militants and other groups exert more influence. He revived his earlier phrase "clash of civilizations" in an article, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," in 1990, two years before it was popularized by the late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington.

Dr. Lewis further argued that the Middle East's troubles were mostly self-inflicted and were not simply inherited ills from colonialism or outside meddling. He praised Islam as a great faith but fretted that it was being hijacked by intolerance and anger.

"He provided intellectual scaffolding for the belief that something was very wrong with Arab societies" and that U.S. support should remain squarely behind Israel, Jacob Heilbrunn, author of "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons," told the Jewish American magazine Moment in 2011.

Beyond the polarizing arguments in which he was swept up, Dr. Lewis was a man of expansive intellectual appetites.

He immersed himself in topics as varied as Sufi mystic poetry and intricacies of Islamic law. Step by step, he crafted a style that combined a professor's gravitas, a pundit's wit and a patrician's confidence, despite his upbringing outside England's upper crust as the son of a modestly successful Jewish real estate agent and a housewife.

And, like his subjects and prose, Dr. Lewis defied easy definition.

He was, at times, an academic sleuth, poring over ancient Arabic volumes or poking through lonely archives in Turkey. He could quickly shift to become a commentator on present-day issues such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood ("dangerous"), aspects of Saudi Arabia's Salafist brand of Islam ("extreme and fanatical") and Iran's theocracy ("encourage resistance").

In his works -- including back-to-back bestsellers after the 9/11 attacks, "What Went Wrong?" (2002) and "The Crisis of Islam" (2003) -- Dr. Lewis increasingly courted a mass audience. He sought to explain Muslim views, but also scolded Western leaders for failing to grasp the reach of groups such as al-Qaeda.

"Osama bin Laden made me famous," he once quipped.

His tone grew more serious in subsequent years as he warned that the Middle East may increasingly breed radicalism and anti-Western fervor. "Either we bring them freedom or they destroy us," he wrote in a 2010 book, "Faith and Power."

Posted by at May 19, 2018 7:21 PM