Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bernard Lewis

Professor Bernard Lewis, the West's premier Orientalist, is interviewed in the Jerusalem Post on a number of topics dealing with the Islamic world, including his thoughts on the effect and desirability of adopting a tactic of negotiation with Islamists.


Bernard Lewis is interviewed in the Jerusalem Post. Some excerpts include:

Lewis: . . . What we are seeing now in much of the Islamic world could only be described as a monstrous perversion of Islam. The things that are now being done in the name of Islam are totally anti-Islamic. Take suicide, for example. The whole Islamic theology and law is totally opposed to suicide. Even if one has led a totally virtuous life, if he dies by his own hand he forfeits paradise and is condemned to eternal damnation. The eternal punishment for suicide is the endless repetition of the act of suicide. That's what it says in the books. So these people who blow themselves up, according to their own religion - which they don't seem to be well-acquainted with - are condemning themselves to an eternity of exploding bombs.

Another example is jihad. Jihad has a number of meanings. Jihad, in the sense of war, is a religious obligation, which means that it is elaborately regulated. Indeed, the laws relating to jihad are quite specific. One should not attack women, children or the elderly, for instance, unless they attack you first. Weapons of mass destruction are also generally disapproved. This is discussed in medieval texts. For instance, poisoning the water supply of an enemy under siege was disapproved, as was the mistreatment of prisoners. In other words, these people are totally disregarding their own tradition.

. . . .

Q: What about the Muslims in the West? In free countries, there are networks spreading radicalism throughout Europe and America, after all.

Lewis: Yes, if you are a Muslim in America or Europe, of course, you would want to give your children some kind of education in their own religion and culture - the way Jews do. And you look around to see what there is, and you find after-school classes and camps, etc. The difference is that these now are overwhelmingly Wahhabi - Saudi-funded - and the version of Islam that they teach is the most fanatical and uncompromising. This has had more of an impact on the immigrant populations in the West than within Muslim countries, because Arab governments have some experience in controlling these things. The European governments have no experience in controlling them, and in any case are far too politically correct and multiculturalist to make the effort.

Q: Is this not cause for despair? On the one hand, there is an attempt to moderate the Arab world, while within free societies radical Islam is allowed to flourish and spread.

Lewis: This is an ongoing struggle. In the West, there are also many Muslims who take the other view, and who work for democracy, peace and understanding.

Q: Isn't the attempt to eradicate the radical elements while encouraging the moderates like finding a needle in a haystack in a country like the US?

Lewis: It is difficult, yes.

Q: Then how is it that you seem and speak like an optimist?

Lewis: I describe my optimism as very cautious and very limited. There is much to worry about, and I don't know where it's going. What I'm trying to say is that the picture is not entirely bad. There are some glimmers of hope within the Muslim and Arab world. A lot will depend on what the Western governments do about it. To quote the wonderful phrase of retired University of Wisconsin professor J.B. Kelly, a great authority on the Arabian Peninsula and a strong critic of the diplomatic approach to Middle Eastern issues, the "diplomacy of the preemptive cringe" is not the way to go.

People of my generation have not forgotten Neville Chamberlain's Munich Agreement with Hitler. That was a perfect example of "preemptive cringe" diplomacy. It was the sort of thing which gave the previously innocent word "appeasement" a bad name.

What we are facing now is the third major threat to the world. The first was Nazism, the second Bolshevism and now this. There are parallels. Germany is a great nation, and German patriotism is a perfectly legitimate expression of the pride and loyalty Germans have for their country. But Nazism was a monstrous perversion of that and a curse to the Germans, as well as a threat to the rest of the world.

The aspiration for social betterment and social justice is very noble. But Bolshevism was a monstrous perversion of that, as well as a curse to Russia and a threat to the rest of the world.

Now we have a third similar situation. Islam is one of the great religions that sponsored one of the greatest civilizations in human history. But it has fallen into the hands of a group of people who are the equivalent of the Nazis and the Bolsheviks. They are a curse to their own people, as well as a threat to the rest of the world.

In all three cases, defeat means liberation.

Read the entire article.

(H/T Joshua Pundit)


MK said...

A glimmer of hope, that's all we have left.

Soccer Dad said...

I'm impressed that a few years ago at his 90th birthday party, he had a girlfriend! (OK at my 90th birthday, should I last that long, I want to have my wife there.)

It's funny that in too many precincts of academia, Edward Said and his ideology is what passes for scholarship on the Middle East. Said's discipline wasn't even Islam. He was a professor of English. (Years ago my father introduced me "Orientalism." It was unreadable. You'd think that a professor of English - an expert on Conrad no less - could write easily understandable prose.)

I've read some Lewish, and one that emerges is that he loves the culture of Islam. He's not a political hack, like those populating Middle Eastern studies departments these days. But he's not fashionable.