Bostom once again hits the bulls eye with his piece on Bernard Lewis. Andy reminds the TT of Prof.Efraim Karsh, who like Bostom, offers excruciatingly concise, and well documented criticisms of those whom the media and academy promotes as premier experts on subjects that they continuously misrepresent. Thanks to Andy for keeping Lewis’ feet to the flame. KGS
Bernard Lewis: Pied Piper Of Islamic Confusion
Bernard Lewis: What Went Wrong?
This summer’s Claremont Review of Books contains a featured review essay by Robert R. Reillyiwhich discusses Bernard Lewis’s essay collection “Faith and Power,” ii and the nonagenarian historian’s reflections upon the so-called Arab Spring unrest in the Middle East, particularly North Africa.iii As distilled by Reilly, Lewis’s views reiterate what the historian described to the Wall Street Journal’s Bari Weiss during an April 2nd interview. iv
The failure of a young journalist v such as Ms. Weiss to appreciate important glaring and irreconcilable inconsistencies in Lewis’s narrative is concerning, but understandable. It is remarkable, and unacceptable, when a writer of some stature vi (reviewed, here vii) such as Reilly, Chairman of the Committee for Western Civilization, and senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, blithely ignores Lewis’s extensive record of self-contradiction. viii Reilly, in his essay, “Bernard Lewis and the Arab Spring”, ix never discusses either Lewis’s contemporary evangelical, even hectoring appeals to “bring them freedom” (i.e., Muslims under the authoritarian rule their systems have always engendered), lest “they” destroy us, x or Lewis’s earlier sobering, 180-degree contradictory analyses of Islam as a totalitarian system devoid of a conceptual basis for Western individual political freedom. xi Without a mention of this intractably confused and confusing record of pronouncements from the early 1950s, through the present, Reilly invokes Lewis as the ultimate clarifying sage on such developments, for whom all owe “thanks.” xii
Lewis’s legacy of intellectual and moral confusion has greatly hindered the ability of sincere American policymakers to think clearly about Islam’s living imperial legacy, driven by unreformed and unrepentant mainstream Islamic doctrine. Reilly’s highly selective and celebratory presentation of Lewis’s understandings—the man Reilly dubs the “foremost historian of the Middle East”— is pathognomonic of the dangerous influence Lewis continues to wield over his uncritical acolytes and supporters. xiii
From Dogmatic Islamophilia to Intellectual and Moral Confusion
During several notable speeches, starting in 2003, 1 including both inaugural and State of the Union addresses, 2 President George W. Bush repeatedly stressed the paramount importance of promoting freedom in the Middle East. Speaking in an almost messianic idiom, he termed such a quest 3
…the calling of our time …the calling of our country.
He reiterated this theme while speaking to The American Legion on February 24, 2006, and offered the following sanguine assessment of progress: 4
Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East. The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad, to Beirut, and beyond. Slowly but surely, we’re helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom. And as freedom reaches more people in this vital region, we’ll have new allies in the war on terror, and new partners in the cause of moderation in the Muslim world and in the cause of peace.
Despite President Bush’s uplifting rhetoric and ebullient appraisal of these events—which epitomized American hopes and values at their quintessential best—there was a profound, deeply troubling flaw in his—and his advisers—analysis which simply ignored the vast gulf between Western and Islamic conceptions of freedom itself. 5 How did that happen?