Bernard Lewis: ‘Opposed Invading Iraq’

Bernard Lewis: ‘Opposed Invading Iraq’

This is an excellent article on Bernard Lewis, noted scholar of Islam and bon vivant.  Try not to bring ideological positions into reading this piece; I haven’t checked the background of this author, David P. Goldman, in Tablet. I think the article gives us an insight into the long evolution of “Orientalism” and how it is ideologically manipulated by all sides.  I enjoyed the piece so much that I wanted to share it. — Lilly
Here’s a sample from its beginning:

…. Notes on a Century—his personal and professional memoir—makes for sad reading…. Part of the reason is ideological. The post-colonial-studies movement typified by the late Edward Said has ruined a field that once was called “Orientalism”—meaning simply a specialty in Near Eastern philology rather than Greek and Roman. Saudi and other Gulf State funding of Middle East studies programs, meanwhile, has made a critical stance toward Muslim culture an academic career-killer. Even without the ideological divide, though, our culture has grown too brittle to nurture another mind of Lewis’ depth.

The second, even sadder reason is the disappointment of Lewis’ hope for what he calls the “heirs of an old and great civilization.” For decades, Lewis balanced a clear-sighted critique of the failings of Muslim society with an underlying optimism about the future of the Arabs, Turks, and Persians. The backwardness of Muslim societies, he insisted, was a self-inflicted condition rather than the crime of Western colonialists. But he never lost faith that the West that defeated Hitler and overcame communism also could find a way to nurture modern institutions of civil society in Muslim countries. 

…. This optimism made Lewis an icon for American conservatives, and an enormous, if reluctant influence on American policy: Although he advised against the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, Lewis is indelibly (if unfairly) linked with inflated neo-conservative expectations for Muslim democracy. But Lewis explicitly warned against a simple-minded rush to parliamentary forms in the Muslim world, hoping instead for a gradual expansion of existing consultative mechanisms into something that would approach democracy at some undermined date. But Lewis and the neo-conservatives shared an inherent optimism about the changing Muslim culture that informed the national mood after Sept. 11. 

…. His criticism of Muslim society was always tempered by respect and even affection. Part of his great popularity as a writer may be explained by the fact that his hopes resonated with characteristic American generosity and optimism. And so his disappointment also is ours. …. 

Click here for the entire article online.

By | 2012-05-15T11:31:00-04:00 May 15th, 2012|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Anonymous May 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    It’s quite hard to understand how people in Meretz expect to attract anyone to the even slightly to the left with continued reactionary posts, reaching a pathetic new low, with a defense of Bernard Lewis.

    To take the most obvious question from the article, without even entering into the debate about Lewis’ racist views of Arabs, are we really to believe Lewis’ claims that he did not support the Iraq war, depsite all the evidence? (2004 WSJ article

    If somehow it was true that Lewis did not support the Iraq war, despite all the evidence to the contrary, are we supposed to then forgive him for remaining silent and failing to stand up and say that people like Dick Cheney were misrepresenting his views on national TV to justify a war?

    I would feel concerned if I really wanted to see Meretz grow that these continued reactionary and morally bankrupt posts, this one defending an over the hill theorist, do not suggest to the public that Meretz is a party of the future.


  2. Ralph Seliger May 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Ted seems to be correct, as per the article he references about Lewis. The rest of what Ted writes here, however, is in the vein of his usual over-the-top nastiness.

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