Middle East studies in the News
Bernard Lewis and What He Ignores
by Hugh Fitzgerald
A Jihad Watch poster recently remarked that Bernard Lewis "is considered a foremost expert of islam by almost everybody."
No, he isn't. It is just that those who do Middle Eastern studies come in two varieties. First are the apologists for Islam, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who hate Lewis for knowing a bit too much about Islam, and for so intelligently attacking Edward Said. In other words, the espositos and the armstrongs and dabashis and khalidis and ernst-sells brigade all hate him.
And these apologists for Islam have cleverly wormed their way into academic department after academic department. They have more or less taken over MESA Nostra. Also, they now dominate the editorial boards of professional journals, where they permit publication of either Islamic propaganda about the Lesser Jihad (hypertrophied attention to "the Palestinians"), or anodyne articles on subjects sufficiently abstruse. The effect of this is that Islam is seen not steadily and whole, but only in this or that untroubling aspect. There is, of course, nothing about Jihad-conquest, nothing about the treatment of dhimmis. These apologists are so obviously awful, and so obviously against Lewis, that one wishes, and many have assumed, that Lewis is a tremendously learned (he is) and therefore reliable (he isn't) truth-teller about Islam.
Meanwhile, there is a second group. Lewis, who takes a generous interest in his students, has produced a cadre of acolytes who are not capable of recognizing when the gold-leaf on their idol comes off in their hands. And they defend him, and will not hear of attacks, especially attacks by those who are much cruder and ruder than he.
And then there are still others who are impressed by the fact of age. They are unwilling to see someone who is over 90, with all his faculties intact, criticized for his enthusiastic support of the Oslo Accords, or for the Iraq venture, or for his belated recognition of the menace of Europe's islamization -- which is then followed not by any intelligent setting out of Things To Do, but rather of seeming to support, yet again, the hopeless squandering in Iraq. For how else can one interpret that recent remark by Lewis that itself needs to be remarked upon, which was "Either we bring them freedom, or they will destroy us"? What a statement. What an astounding thing to say.
Try to imagine, in the middle of World War II, FDR or Churchill saying that "either we bring them [the people of Nazi Germany] freedom, or they will destroy us." The goal of Churchill and FDR was not to "bring freedom" but to destroy our enemies, so that they would lack the capacity to harm us, and so that they would be so damaged that they would lose whatever hold they had on the minds and allegiances of men.
Lewis has been wrong, obviously wrong, in his practical prescriptions, and shallow, finally, in his comprehension of the full malevolence and menace toward Infidels that Islam poses. And this is partly, one feels, the result of personal vanity, which is always embarrassing to bring up.
But there it is.
Take his recent assertions about Islamic antisemitism. When Bernard Lewis attempts to suggest that "antisemitism" (a word that should be written in the plural: there are "antisemitisms") in the Muslim world is merely an import from Europe, he reveals that for some reason he has chosen to overlook a great deal in Islam. He has chosen to ignore a tremendous amount of material in the canonical texts and in the writings of Muslim jurisconsults, and indeed, in the work of Western scholars of Islam -- whom he appears, judging by certain footnotes, to have read, but has overlooked what they actually wrote (egregious particularly with Georges Vajda).
Anti-Jewish sentiments are found everywhere in the Qur'an and Hadith and Sira. A collection of both Muslim texts, and the studies of Western scholars, should change the minds of those mentally prepared, even former acolytes, not to keep treating Lewis as the last word on "Muslim antisemitism," and will do much to disabuse a wider public of the idea that Muslim antisemitism reflects only fury at Israel's existence, or was inspired mainly by the European version of antisemitism that has been such a grim feature of the last century.
Such a collection, I have heard, is now well along in its preparation.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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