Bernard Lewis

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Bernard Lewis is Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus at Princeton University. He is an established expert on the Near East and Islam, but has also been associated with arguing for democracy promotion and even forced democracy, based on the model of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey.

Speaking of his own interests, Lewis wrote

Like most university teachers, I have had a somewhat narrow field in which I conducted my own research, a rather wider one in which I was willing to assist others undertake research, and a still wider one in which I was willing to risk undergraduate teaching. My earliest interest was in medieval Islamic History, especially that of religious movements such as the Ismailis and Assassins. The war years awakened and nourished an interest in the contemporary Middle East, which I have retained ever since. My major research interest for some time past has been the history of the Ottoman Empire. At the present time I am trying to combine all three by studying the history of the relations between Europe and Islam from early through Ottoman to modern times. [1]

He is co-founder and chairman of the Academic Council, Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. This organization is an alternative to the Middle East Studies Association, which has been criticized as too pro-Islamic by conservatives.

History of the Middle East

Lewis said that the modern history of the Middle East began in 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt, bringing ideas of the French Revolution. [2] At the time, "liberty" was not a political but a legal term in the Islamic world: "You were free if you were not a slave. The word liberty was not used as we use it in the Western world, as a metaphor for good government. So the idea of a republic founded on principles of freedom caused some puzzlement." Later, Sheikh Rifa'a Rafi' al-Tahtawi, "wrote that when the French talk about freedom they mean what Muslims mean when they talk about justice. By equating freedom with justice, he opened a whole new phase in the political and public discourse of the Arab world, and then, more broadly, the Islamic world."

Islam and modern politics

He has written of a Middle Eastern perception, during the Cold War, that the U.S. was weak, and current actions (2007) do little to reverse that perception. Osama bin Laden, he believes, was genuinely surprised by the intensity to the response to the 9/11 Attack, after the lack of response to events such as the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, 1993 World Trade Center bombing and Battle of Mogadishu, 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa, etc. Since the 9/11 attack, he points out, there have been no attacks on U.S. soil, which was due to there having been "a major change in the U.S., and that some revision of their assessment, and of the policies based on that assessment, was necessary[3]

It has been suggested that the George W. Bush Administration followed a "Lewis Doctrine" in conducting the Iraq War, expecting a Kemalist change in that country.[4]

Israel and conflict

European antisemitism, he wrote, was fundamentally alien to classic Muslim customs, but "What has come to be known as the peace process—the developing dialogue between the state of Israel on the one hand and the Palestinians and some Arab governments on the other...aroused a new Arab hostility to Jews, among both those frustrated by its slowness and those alarmed by its rapidity. As a result, anti-Semitism in recent years has conquered new territory and risen to a new intensity." He puts the themes of recasting ancient history to exclude Jews from the region, Holocaust denial, and equating Jews with Nazis, as imports from Europe.[5]