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.