Bernard Lewis’s reputation is richly deserved, but everyone has blind spots. Several appear in an admiring piece by Peter Waldman in the Wall Street Journal entitled “A Historian’s Take on Islam Steers U.S. in Terrorism Fight: Bernard Lewis”s Blueprint “” Sowing Arab Democracy “” Is Facing a Test in Iraq.” (Thanks to Bassam Madany.) In it is this paragraph:
Mr. Lewis is also close to government circles in Israel and Turkey””non-Arab lands he describes as the only successful modern states in the region. He warmly praises Kemal Attaturk, who made Turkey a secular republic after World War I by suppressing Islam. (He has also said the Ottoman Turks” killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 wasn’t genocide but the brutal byproduct of war. It was a stance for which a French court convicted Mr. Lewis in 1995 under France’s Holocaust-denial statute, imposing a token penalty.) Israeli experts say Mr. Lewis”s contacts with Turkish generals and politicians helped cement Israeli-Turkish military ties in the 1990s.
Not genocide, eh? It was not only genocide; it was jihad. I examine the historical record in Onward Muslim Soldiers. In 1894, long before World War I, the Ottoman government began killing Armenians. According to the Chief Dragoman (Turkish interpreter) of the British embassy, when the Turks initiated the first wave of the Armenian genocide in 1894, they were “guided in their general action by the prescriptions of the Sheri [Sharia] Law. That law prescribes that if the ‘rayah’ [dhimmi] Christian attempts, by having recourse to foreign powers, to overstep the limits of privileges allowed them by their Mussulman [Muslim] masters, and free themselves from their bondage, their lives and property are to be forfeited, and are at the mercy of the Mussulmans. To the Turkish mind the Armenians had tried to overstep those limits by appealing to foreign powers, especially England. They therefore considered it their religious duty and a righteous thing to destroy and seize the lives and properties of the Armenians.” (Vahakn Dadrian, The History of the Armenian Genocide, Berghahn Books, 1995. P. 147.)
The New York Times reported it in 1915: “Both Armenians and Greeks, the two native Christian races of Turkey, are being systematically uprooted from their homes en masse and driven forth summarily to distant provinces, where they are scattered in small groups among Turkish Villages and given the choice between immediate acceptance of Islam or death by the sword or starvation.” (“Turks are Evicting Native Christians,” New York Times, July 11, 1915.)
Over a million Armenians were killed — mostly noncombatants.
The French were right to convict Lewis.