Bernard Lewis as an Academic Ethnic Activist

In doing some research on Geert Wilders, I came across a recent article by Andrew G. Bostrom favorably describing Bernard Lewis’s views of Islam (“Geert Wilders and the Rise of Islamic Political Correctness,” Dec. 8, 2010). Bernard Lewis is the best known academic expert on the Muslim world, so his views carry quite a bit of weight. Bostrom quotes a 1954 essay of Lewis as follows:

I turn now from the accidental to the essential factors, to those deriving from the very nature of Islamic society, tradition, and thought. The first of these is the authoritarianism, perhaps we may even say the totalitarianism, of the Islamic political tradition… There are no parliaments or representative assemblies of any kind, no councils or communes, no chambers of nobility or estates, no municipalities in the history of Islam; nothing but the sovereign power, to which the subject owed complete and unwavering obedience as a religious duty imposed by the Holy Law…For the last thousand years, the political thinking of Islam has been dominated by such maxims as “tyranny is better than anarchy,” and “whose power is established, obedience to him is incumbent.”


Now I have no doubt at all that this Lewis’s views cited here are correct. But the fact is that Bernard Lewis is an exemplar of an academic who has used his gilt-edged reputation to further his ethnic goals. During the run up to the war in Iraq, Lewis was propagating a subtly different message–one quite influential in the Bush administration (to the point that Pres. Bush was seen with a marked-up version of one of Lewis’s papers among his briefing papers): Yes, Arab regimes were undemocratic, but, contrary to the above quote, that was not their essential nature. As reported in the Wall Street Journal in 2004,

After Sept. 11, a book by Mr. Lewis called “What Went Wrong?” was a best-seller that launched the historian, at age 85, as an unlikely celebrity. Witty and a colorful storyteller, he hit the talk-show and lecture circuits, arguing in favor of U.S. intervention in Iraq as a first step toward democratic transformation in the Mideast. Historically, tyranny was foreign to Islam, Mr. Lewis told audiences, while consensual government, if not elections, has deep roots in the Mideast. He said Iraq, with its oil wealth, prior British tutelage and long repression under Saddam Hussein, was the right place to start moving the Mideast toward an open political system.

The subterfuge here was to emphasize the mythical democratic and consensual tendencies of Islam being masked by a veneer of authoritarianism. Deep down there was a yearning for democracy and freedom. The war with Iraq was justified because it would unleash latent democratic tendencies at the heart of Islam–just a modicum of force would be sufficient to result in an avalanche of Arab democracy. Peace will reign in the Middle East. And, oh yes, all of Israel’s enemies will disappear.

(Never mind that democracy has not proved to be a cure for opposition to Israel, as the Hamas government in Gaza shows.)

It’s the same mindset of the psychoanalytic interpretations of the Frankfurt School when they came upon happy, well-adjusted White people who were proud of their families their ethnic group (see Ch. 5 of CofC). Their surface affection for their parents must be masking hatred toward their families, their ethnic confidence a sure sign there was inadequate personality lurking underneath somewhere.

It should come as no surprise that Lewis had close ties to prominent neocons beginning in the 1970s as well as close personal relationships with prominent military and political leaders in Israel.

During the run up to the war, Lewis was a mainstay in the neocon circuit in Washington—yet another in the long line of Jewish gurus that stretches from rabbinical sages surrounded by slavish followers to modern secular versions like Freud and Madoff. Israeli patriot Paul Wolfowitz exclaimed, “Bernard has taught how to understand the complex and important history of the Middle East, and use it to guide us where we will go next to build a better world for generations to come” (See here, p. 50). Lewis spread his wisdom throughout the Bush administration, with Dick Cheney being an avid pupil:

Iraq and its poster villain, Saddam Hussein, offered a unique opportunity for achieving this transformation in one bold stroke (remember “shock and awe”?) while regaining the offensive against the terrorists. So, it was no surprise that in the critical months of 2002 and 2003, while the Bush administration shunned deep thinking and banned State Department Arabists from its councils of power, Bernard Lewis was persona grata, delivering spine-stiffening lectures to Cheney over dinner in undisclosed locations. Abandoning his former scholarly caution, Lewis was among the earliest prominent voices after September 11 to press for a confrontation with Saddam, doing so in a series of op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal with titles like “A War of Resolve” and “Time for Toppling.” (See here.)

And of course, they got what they wanted–the destruction of Iraq and now they desperately want to the US to continue the crusade in Iran. Only this time, I don’t think anyone is going to buy the latent democracy bit.

I noted in an article on neocons that Lewis’s views

run counter to the huge cultural differences between the Middle East and the West that stem ultimately from very different evolutionary pressures. Lewis, as a cultural historian, is in a poor position to understand the deep structure of the cultural differences between Europe and the Middle East. He seems completely unaware of the differences in family and kinship structure between Europe and the Middle East, and he regards the difference in attitudes toward women as a mere cultural difference rather than as a marker for an entirely different social structure. (pp. 50-51)

It’s the same tendencies that are apparent in Judaism deriving from its Middle East roots and increasingly obvious as Israel heads more and more in the direction of a racialist, apartheid state dominated by fanatical religious and ethnonationalist Jews (see here). Democracy is certainly not high on their list of values.

But for Lewis, it’s more than just getting it wrong. As his comment during the 1950s shows, he is well aware of the essential difference between Islam and the West. His “discovery” of democratic impulses at the heart of Islam was completely fabricated to suit the Israeli geopolitical agenda; it was enthusiastically promoted by neocon Israeli patriots who had taken over the Bush administration; and it provided him with a moment of fame and adulation on the lecture circuit.

All in all, it’s another example illustrating the secrets of the success of Jewish activism: Lewis’s views were validated by his connection to an elite academic institution (Princeton). He had access to elite media (beginning with a 1970 Commentary article that argued that the Palestinians had no historical claim to a state). He was closely networked with other neocons who were already entrenched at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

It’s a recurrent problem that has already led to an enormously costly and bloody war and to a foreign policy that is disastrously skewed toward Israel. Moreover, the problem extends well beyond foreign policy because the success of Bernard Lewis reflects the dynamics of Jewish influence throughout the media, in politics, and in the academic world. This modus operandi is apparent in all of the  intellectual and political movements reviewed in The Culture of Critique.

Unless we have some fundamental changes whereby we can discuss Jewish interests openly and honestly in the elite media and in elite political and academic circles, there will be new versions of Bernard Lewis-type gurus confidently phrasing their ethnic interests in terms that are irresistible to the powerful and influential and amplified resoundingly in all the elite institutions throughout the culture. And it will happen again, and again, and again.

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