Hugh Fitzgerald points out some of the deficiencies in the work of the much-lionized Bernard Lewis:
Bernard Lewis is an acute scholar about many aspects of Islam. He writes beautifully. He is well-trained in languages. He lived during the war in Egypt. He is lionized in Turkey. Even in small shops off Taksim Square, the proprietors, when they discover a visitor is from the United States, ask if that visitor may happen to know “Professor Lewis.”
He has all the right enemies: notably, the absurd Said, who knew nothing about Islam but for some reason thought his being an Arab entitled him to act as an expert (the footnote alone, on “thawra,” in Lewis’ “The Question of Orientalism,” is enough to delicately dismember all of Said’s pretentions; he does not survive the essay); and the apologist Esposito, who is not fit to be mentioned at the same time as Lewis. Esposito is an out-and-out apologist, an ignoramus, and the producer of glossy picture-books about Islam that win the reader over and distract from the apologetic or vapid texts he has chosen, with plenty of local color — venerable mosques, turbans and Iznik tulips, the usual Mughal miniatures of hunting scenes, or Majnoun and Leyla, an apothecary jar or two from Abbassid Baghdad, the obligatory Persian poetry in nastaliq, and of course the Dome of the Rock. Meanwhile, he ignores so many subjects, including Jihad and the treatment of non-Muslims under Islam, or minimizes them to the point of disappearance.
In Lewis’ long academic career in England, he was not listened to sufficiently by the Foreign Office, and their insulting behavior (stemming from antisemitism) could not but affect him. He clearly enjoys being appreciated. Who does not? He enjoys, on his visits to the Middle East, being made much of by Turkish or Arab hosts. If you had spent years learning, and learning well, certain languages, and the only people who could fully appreciate your achievement were, say, Muslim Arabs, or quasi-Muslim Turks, and if they seemed to you to talk a good game of “moderate” Islam (in the case of the Turks, it was meant), you too might not wish to offend those colleagues, those friends, those hosts and patrons. Some may find it telling that Lewis has reproduced, for both his book of translations from the Turkish, Persian, Hebrew, and Arabic, and for his latest collection of articles, “From Babel to Dragomans”, a photograph that shows him sitting in Western dress (he never stoops to the clownish indignity of going native like the mythomane Lawrence, or St. John Philby, or dozens of others) in the tent, or something like it, that belongs to none other than the Hashemite Prince Hassan ibn Talal. Prince Hassan is that plummy-voiced “dialogue-of-civilisations” apologist for Islam: the most plausible, the most outwardly pleasing, the most subtle, and therefore the most convincing and dangerous of such apologists.
That photograph, that desire to have that photograph used on two of his books, might be taken simply as a way to show the members of MESA that — look, the real Arabs know that I tell them the truth.
Lewis in various interviews does seem pleased that he can address two audiences at the same time. “He doth bestride the world like a colossus.” He is proud of the fact that so many of his books have been translated into Turkish, Arabic, Farsi. But the truth is that you cannot write with two audiences in mind, one Muslim, the other non-Muslim. That Muslim audience is so prickly, so defensive, so unwilling to admit the events of its own history (the unwillingness, for example, to even read the scholarship of Bat Ye’or, even among the so-called advanced Arabs in the West, is absolutely flabbergasting), that Lewis finds himself at every turn either pulling his punches or enveloping his thought in veils of velleities. It is not a case of being fortiter in re, suaviter in modo. He is suave in his prose all right, but that suavity is not wrapped around a sufficient amount of truthful iron.
He is attempting a trick that cannot be achieved. You cannot write simultaneously for an audience of Muslims and for an audience of informed non-Muslims. Lewis tries to flatter his Muslim readers with constant, almost formulaic, reassurance about the “greatness” of high classical Islamic civilization — which Lewis always describes, wrongly, as being far above any other civilisation of the time. Has he forgotten China? And does he still accept the older cliches about the “Dark Ages”? It is a poor historian who appeals to the self-esteem problem of part of his audience; that is not the historian’s task.
Lewis now seems, at last, to be fully recognized and triumphant. But is he? He was an enthusiastic supporter of the disastrous Oslo Accords. It is understandable why people such as Clinton, or Tom Friedman, or all the others who know nothing about Islam, should believe in the efficacy of such negotiations and such treaties. But Lewis? Lewis knows all about the rules of Muslim jurisprudence regarding “treaties” with Infidel peoples and polities, and knows perfectly well why every treaty Israel has ever signed with an Arab state has been violated, sometimes completely, and knows too the significance of the Treaty of al-Hudaiybiyya, which Arafat so frequently mentioned to his Muslim audiences. What is Lewis’ excuse for supporting, so loudly and for so long, the Oslo folly?
Lewis describes the series of political, legal, financial, social, sumptuary, and other disablities placed on dhimmis in quite brisk terms, usually limiting himself to a word or two about the jizya and “other disabilities.” He does not stop to really go into the whole monstrous system, or to quizzically ask what that phrase “protected peoples” might mean, or how it was that everywhere that Islam conquered, the treatment of dhimmis, whether they were Christians or Jews or Zoroastrians or even Hindus or Buddhists — was remarkably the same. He doesn’t notice that in all cases the post-conquest (i.e. post-Jihad) institution of dhimmitude led to the enforced status of degradation, humiliation, and permanent insecurity (including intermittent massacres that Lewis hardly ever refers to) of all of these non-Muslim peoples.
Lewis himself must, more and more, have come to see — especially as his beloved Turkey slides away from Kemalism — that in certain essentials he got it wrong. He actually got Islam wrong. He underestimated its malevolence. He underestimated the difficulty of reform. He took as representative men the scholars, or the well-educated exiles, who came out of that world, but who were actually about as representative of it as Stravinsky, Balanchine, and Nabokov were of Soviet Russia. He was wrong; he was wrong on the Oslo Accords; he was wrong in his political advertisement (written with James Woolsey) to promote Prince Hassan to be a new king for Iraq. He remains wrong if he thinks that the United States should continue to be preoccupied with Iraq when there are so many other ways to expose the political, economic, moral, and intellectual failures of Islam. And that, in the long run, is the only thing which will cause, from within, the engendering of lots of local Ataturks who may work to constrain or limit Islam — as its sacred texts, including the authoritative recensions of hadith, are immutable.
Lewis was asked some years ago by the TLS to review Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim. He dawdled and dithered; by the time he told them he just could not do it, it was too late, in the opinion of the TLS, to run any review. Contrast that with how the lefist, even Marxist French scholar of Islam, Maxime Rodinson, treated the same book. He was given it to review by Le Monde, which assumed that Rodinson, known for his tiersmondiste sympathies, would savage the book. (Rodinson’s sympathies also probably explain why Edward Said gave an enthusiastic blurb to Rodinson’s quite critical book on Muhammad — but then Said was known to provide enthusastic blurbs for hundreds of books he never opened, but just guessed as to their general direction; his endorsements were spread around like confetti, and even cheaper). But Rodinson produced a favorable review, much to the chagrin of the editors at Le Monde — and they, acting true to Stalinist form, simply refused to print the review (it can be found in Rodinson’s other publications).
But how could Lewis, after all, praise Ibn Warraq publicly? And he could not publicly deny that the book had great merit either. So best to finesse; delay like Kutuzov; the mere passage of time will solve the problem. Solve it Time did, and consequently that book, one of the most important in recent decades, never received a review in the TLS.
It is fascinating to compare the behavior of Lewis with two other scholars of roughly the same age and status. S. D. Goitein wrote his celebrated “A Mediterranean Society” based on his detailed study of the papers found in the Cairo Geniza — a record of the Jewish community in Cairo, and not only in Cairo, that extended over many centuries. Goitein, who earlier had had a kind of sympathetic, almost sentimental interest in promoting the idea of the natural sympathies and similarities of Muslims and Jews, was severely chastened by his last decades of scholarship. If there was one thing, he wrote, about which he had to revise his opinion, it was about the severity of the jizyah. He now realized what a terrible burden it was, especially on the poor non-Muslims. Just before he died, Goitein was preparing a favorable review of Bat Ye’or.
Even at their advanced ages, both Rodinson and Goitein were willing to break, in pat, with their own pasts, to declare that new evidence, and final summings-up, had led them to conclusions that were not nearly as favorable to Islam as they might once have hoped. Goitein’s study of the Cairo Geniza led him to rethink the problem of the dhimmi, to reconsider his old pieties and sentimentalities. Rodinson, who had been (of course) a great defender of the Arabs against French colonialism, a die-hard tiersmondiste, a Marxist, found that Ibn Warraq’s relentless assault on Islam (above all for its intellectual constraints and failures) deserved the highest praise — and he was willing to disappoint his editors at Le Monde in insisting that they either publish his enthusiastic review, or squash it altogether (of course, they squashed it).
Lewis himself once wrote an essay that identified the philo-Islamic strain in Jewish Orientalists who found what seemed to be the more welcoming world of Islam as compared to the brutalities inflicted on Jews by Western Christendom. He was good at diagnosis, but not as good at self-diagnosis. Lewis has in the past been unwilling to endorse the scholarship of Bat Ye’or, describing it as “too polemical.” Really? If the scrupulous scholarship of The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam is too polemical (is that a word which one applies when scholarship is sometimes informed with passion?), what of all the scholarship on which that book rests? What of Arakel of Tabriz? Or Armand Abel? Or Charles Dufourcq? Or Levi-Provencal? Or what about the scholarship that Bat Ye’or did not use, that of Mary Boyce on the Muslim treatment of Zoroastrians, or K. S. Lal on the Muslim treatment of Hindus?
Bat Ye’or managed both to create a work of scholarship and analysis, much of which was original to her, as well as a synthesis of a large amount of scholarly literature — by French, German, Armenian, Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, and other scholars — scholarship which does not paint quite the picture of the Ottomans as that which Lewis has favored. Not that he has ever been an open apologist for Islam, but he has failed to convey, in book after book, the real nature and horror of dhimmitude. To describe, for example, the forced levy of Christian children by the Turks, as a “recruitment” (which to the modern mind evokes mental images of college or army recruiters dangling inducements) which was often envied by the Muslim parents, is to ignore the work by scholars from parts of Europe once under Ottoman rule, detailing the fear and horror of such events as the devshirme levy. The subject of dhimmitude has not been part of Lewis’ main bailiwick. It is one thing not to treat of a subject, quite another to mislead as to its real significance; quite another still to simply shut out of serious consideration a lonely scholar, outside the regular academic system, who has produced the body of work that Bat Ye’or has produced and continues to produce.
One hesitates to criticize Lewis for this because of the disgraceful treatment of him by the members of MESA (the MIddle Eastern Studies Association). Their relation to Lewis reminds me of a story that the late Tibor Szamuely once wrote in The Spectator. He described a functionary, the compleat chinovnik, of the Soviet Writers’ Union, giving a speech in Tula, famed for its samovars, in the southwest of Moscow. “In bad old Czarist days,” he intoned, “we had only one writer from Tula Province.” And then he noted proudly: “But now, but now we have 3,247 members of the Union of Soviet Writers from Tula Province alone.” (Wild cheering, laughter, applause).
Szamuely drily added: “Yes. He was right. But he forgot to add that the one writer from “bad old Czarist days” was named Lev Tolstoy” and no one would ever remember any of the 3,247 current members of the Writers’ Union from Tula. Well, something like that comes to mind when one thinks of Lewis, and his scholarship, compared to the heaps of Rashid Khalidis and Hamid Dabashis and Joel Beinins, some of whom are former propagandists for the PLO, others of whom spend their academic leisure beavering about in the busy “construction of the Palestinian identity” — which if it really existed, as more than a transparently useful notion, would not require so much endless “construction.” In relation to the MESA members who continue to deny him the recognition he deserves, reminds us of Tolstoy, in Szamuely’s anecdote, in relation to his numerous (3,247, to be exact) epigones. But that does not absolve Lewis of his failures, his elisions, his distortions, his underappreciations, his allowing vanity to cloud his keen sight. How could he continue to deny the Armenian genocide? Out of what misplaced loyalties to Ottomanists and Osmanlis, and to his decades of friendship with many Turks, could he have found himself denying masses of evidence and eyewitness testimony? Which was more important — the continued friendship of Turks, or the scholarly approval of Vahakn Dadrian and others who have studied the Armenian genocide?
If one is to believe the Wall Street Journal and other publications, Lewis has had an important influence on American policy in Iraq. By that, one means not the original invasion itself, but the Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations Project, which was to bring “democracy” to Iraq, and then that “democracy,” in turn, would serve as a model for other Arab states, and lead to all manner of good things, including the diminishing of the role of Islam. But Lewis, like those in the Pentagon, was making judgments on the basis of friendship with highly misrepresentative men, Iraqis who were well-educated in the West, who had spent decades in the West (Chalabi has been in the West for 45 years), and who not only had become Western, rational men, but had themselves forgotten just how irrational Iraqi society is, with its ever-present substratum of Islam, the hostility that Islam engenders toward all non-Muslims (which means, of course, that any gratitude toward Infidel Americans for rescuing them from the regime of Saddam Hussein will be either feigned, or fleeting, or both).
Lewis likes to think of himself as unswervingly unpolemical, the historian au-dessus de la melee — but he did not hesitate to co-sign the above-mentioned political advertisement that he wrote with Woolsey on behalf of Prince Hassan of Jordan, to become the new king of Iraq. This advertisement required him to praise the ahistoric fantasies of Amartya Sen about the historically “democratic” strain in Islam, which, if we are talking about modern “democracy” and its connection to human rights, completely misstates the case.
Lewis allowed himself to forget, because he wanted not to remember, essential tenets of Islam: the manichaean split between Believer and Infidel, the inability of the Believer to accept any authority other than the sharia (and certainly not an authority stemmming from the votes of mere mortals), and the impossibility of there being a real defense of human rights (beginning with full freedom of conscience, which is impossible in any Islamic regime).
Lewis lived in Egypt during World War II, when Egypt was essentially ruled by the British under extraordinary wartime conditions (it was the British who jailed Answar Sadat for his pro-Nazi activities). Otherwise, Lewis has visited the Middle East as a dignitary, and Turkey a celebrity. He is feted, treated with famous courtesy. In Amman Prince Hassan himself is a host and patron. In Princeton, dissenters now eager for support within the Administration make sure, as Saad Eddin Ibrahim did, to visit Lewis in Princeton. (Lewis was instrumental in putting pressure on the Egyptian government, through threats to withhold $30 million, to change its treatment of Ibrahim in the courts.) All of this attention, all of this lionizing, has had an affect. Lewis has retailed on more than one occasion his bon mots to gathered Arab admirers in Amman; his natural wariness seems strangely absent in his retelling of a story where his sally met with appreciative laughter. Few of us would respond otherwise. Everyone likes to have a receptive audience.
Lewis did not grow up in the Arab and Muslim world, as did the dry and brilliant Elie Kedourie; nor did he live, among the Arabs in situ, as did J. B. Kelly. (It is quite another thing to live among Arab colleagues in the West). He does not recognize quite as easily, and thus dismiss quite as completely, the nonsense, lies,and blague that are the stock-in-trade in the Arab countries — as Kelly, for example, is wont to do.
What is passing strange is that Lewis’ first and greatest interest was modern Turkey. He admired the Kemalist reforms. He understood how difficult it was to undertake them. He knew that save for that reforms, the class of secularist Turks — the very class from which his own colleagues and friends came — would never have attained the critical mass it did. Yet, when confronted with Iraq, he did not draw any lessons from Kemalism. He did not stop to think that Kemalism was a result purely from within, a result derived from an enlightened despot who was convinced that Islam explained the failures, political, economic, social, and intellectual, of the Muslim peoples, including the Turks — and that Islam would, in its practice, have to be constrained by government fiat. That was what Kemalism was all about.
Now, confronted with Iraq, Lewis ignores the lessons of Kemalism. Yet he must know that had the British tried, for example, with their soldiers still walking the streets of Istanbul, to impose the kind of de-islamizing reforms that Mustafa Kemal imposed, it would never have worked. He now seems to be promoting the idea that “democracy” can come to that most unlikely country, Iraq, where tribalism and not the idea of the individual still rules, and where ethnic (Kurd and Arab) and sectarian (Sunni and Shi’a) rivalries and hatreds have a long and deep history, and where the underlying ideology of Islam is opposed in every fiber to the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — including the right to freedom of conscience (apostasy), the right of equal treatment under the law for believers in all religions (directly contradicted by the sharia), the right to equal treatment of men and women (also contradicted by the sharia), and so on.
Why did Lewis not apply the lessons of Kemalist Turkey, the only successful or quasi-successful democracy in the Muslim world, to Iraq? Surely the goal is not to bring “democracy” which would mean a Shi’a takeover. The goal for Infidels should be to bring about the kind of end-of-our-tether conditions that will allow a sufficient number of people within the Muslim world to see that Islam itself has failed, politically, economically, morally, and intellectually, and that the Kemalist approach is the only thing that will work. Infidels should not try, hopelessly, to “reform” Islam, but rather to grimly and relentlessly create the conditions that constrain the practice of Islam, so that a secularist class may be nurtured. And in turn, that class will have a stake in continuing to adhere to the local version of Kemalism and to continue to suppress any signs of backsliding, so that Islam can continue to be tamed.
Lewis must know from his own encounter a few days ago with the Turkish Prime Minster, Mr. Erdogan, Kemalism is now under assault, perhaps a successful assault. The assumption that the gains were permanent, that Turkey would remain unaffected by Islam’s natural distempers (not, as Lewis would have it, merely reactions to the disappointments of the modern world), has turned out to be shaky.
Lewis has noted in public lectures that much has been achieved to bring “progress” to the Muslim world by those who would be properly described as enlightened despots, such as King Muhammad V of Morocco, Bourguiba in Tunisia, Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, and especially, and most successfully, by Ataturk in Turkey. Belief in the “people” (i.e. in “democracy”) in the Muslim world is likely to lead to retrograde legislation and a situation that makes things worse, not better, for Infidels.
So why did he apparently promote the idea of Iraq as a likely candidate for something called “democracy’? Just how was that to take place, and what was the final outcome likely to be in Iraq’s power structure? And since there is nothing self-evident about the idea that “democracy” in Iraq will necessarily be worth the vast allocation of men, materiel, money, and attention that is now being spent, monomaniacally, on this project, just how does it relate to encouraging from within Islam lots of local and little Ataturks to recognize the failures of Islam, and in their own way, for the sake of their own peoples, to cunningly fashion ways to constrain its practice and dampen its appeal? What, one wonders, does Lewis think of the many Muslim or ex-Muslim scholars who have written about the total contradiction between the principles of sharia and the principles enshrined inthe Universal Declaration of Human Rights — such scholars, for example, as Rexa Afshari, or Ali Sina, or Ibn Warraq, or Azam Kamguian? Does he give weight to their views, or regard them all as malcontents and (he has sometimes employed the Muslim word) “renegades”?
Particularly when it comes to the Middle East, where Muslims do not brook the slightest criticism of Islam or its greatness, or the greatness of its civilisation and so on, it is hard for scholars who perceive things otherwise to speak their minds fully. There is often a gap between what is said publicly and what is admitted privately. And a good many people like to think that if they spent many decades studying a subject, it must have inherent worth, its civilisation must have been a glorious thing indeed. Those mental pictures pass by in vivid array, those mosques in Samarkand and Tashkent and Bokhara, the Dome of the Rock gleaming in Jerusalem, those turbaned Turks and Iznik tulips, all the local color of that “high Islamic civilization” that Orientalists today still feel that they must formulaically overpraise (and in so doing, either tacitly accept the long-discarded notions of a European “Dark Ages,” or belittle the vaster achievements of other non-Western civilizatons — those of the Mayans, or the Hindus, or the Chinese).
Lewis has outlived almost all of his colleagues. The kind of training he received goes far beyond what the Beinins and the Khalidis can even conceive of, and much further still beyond what they could ever attain. Because he towers over those who foolishly attack him, he has been mistaken for a Giant Sequoia. Had those colleagues remained in the field, he would now be seen as still something impressive — a sturdy English oak, Quercus robur, say — but not quite as tall, or as impressive, as that Giant Sequoia.
Neither “academics” nor anyone else have to maintain a “good relationship with the areas they study.” The academic study of Soviet Russia was, at least in the United States and the United Kingdom and partly in France, in the hands of people who knew exactly what was wrong with Soviet Russia. Think of Hugh Seton-Watson, Richard Pipes, Adam Ulam, Helene Carrere-d’Encausse, Alain Besancon, Karel van het Reve and the Herzen Institute in Amsterdam, Leo Labedz, and his indispensable one-man magazine in London. Think of the emigres, including Kerensky himself, or Nabokov (who stood au-dessus de la melee, but inflicted great damage in all the right quarters, by himself, that “one-man multitude,” on the image of Communism among those who came to inhale his prose and took away a complete worldview). Think of the effect of the Chekhov Publishing House, of Novoye Russkoye Slovo (with educated editors, from Vishniak to Weinbaum, in the old days). Think of the mysteriously-funded French publishing house Les Ils d’Or: I have four of their books right on my desk now: “Staline au pouvoir”, by Alexandre Ouralov, A. Ciliga’s “Au Pays du Mensonge Deconcertant” and “En Siberie,” A. Krakovwiecki’s “Kolyma” (traduit du Polonais).
And when one had to study Russian, whether in college, or at Monterey, or elsewhere, one’s teachers were not sly apologists for, or agents of, Communism or Soviet Russia. They were people who hated Communism.
But with Islam, with the Jihad, everything is different. No official support or recognition is given to the ex-Muslims who have just as much to tell us about Islam as did the defectors from the K.G.B. and the refugees. There is nothing comparable to what existed to inform the West about Soviet Communism. Why is Ibn Warraq not supported? Where are the congressmen who are willing to call Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, and others to testify, and to promote a greater understanding of what Islam is about? Are they all afraid of offending assorted Muslim leaders? Are they all mesmerized by the word “religion,” which implies something — to them — untouchable and off-limits? Can’t they use the word “belief-system,” which has been repeated, in this space, thousands of times?
And as for the grand scheme to throw tens of millions of dollars into the teaching of Arabic and other supposedly relevant languages, that is not likely to bring any greater understanding of things. What, after all, has not been translated? Expert translators at such organizations as MEMRI translate every text, every sermon in the khutbas, every column in Al Watan and Al Ahram and Al-whateveryouwant. There is not much one really a great need, though that is seen as the need, to add to the supply of Arabic speakers. It would take a fortune, and many years, to produce a cadre of Arabic-speakers who could replace those who most obviously are both available and trustworthy — those “refugees” from Islam who know that world so well, including Maronites, Copts (whose relatives are safely out of Egypt), Arabic-speaking Jews (including some from every region of the Arab world, well-versed in its dialect), and the disaffected former Muslims among the Iranian refugees.
What is needed is not lingusitic training so much as the intelligent analysis of the situation and a thorough grasp not only of the tenets of Islam, but of those fissures within the world of Islam that may be exploited and how they may be exploited.
It is unfortunate that the endless naivete of the American government, including Congress and officials at every level, federal and state, is likely to result in greater sums of money being used to employ Arabic-speaking Muslims who will, in their gentle and sly ways, not only be used to first introduce innocent American students to the declensions and conjugations of Arab nouns and verbs, but who will also, along the way, with those encouraging smiles at the tentative first steps of the unaccustomed tongue, and those little asides about “life under occupation” in “Palestine,” or about the “exaggerations” in the American press, slowly but surely — and it will depend a good deal on exquisite politeness, and personal charm, and seeming sympathy (in which Arab culture specializes) — win over those students even as they are officially being prepared to learn the language which supposedly will make them better at comprehending the threat of Jihad, and in warily recognizing all the arts of taqiyya and kitman.
Americans are innocents — abroad and at home. A few of these Arabic-language students will see through the subtle propaganda of their teachers; many, however, will not. It will be nothing like the experience of those who, fifty or forty years ago, studied Russian under those who had suffered from, and hated, Communism.
Although quite a few of those who used to applaud Chairman Mao managed, before they retired or died, to change their tune, few acknowledged their previous silliness. I recall Jonathan Mirsky, a big radical at Dartmouth who now, as a Financial Times writer (if I recall rightly) is no longer a waver of little red books; the same with James Thomson. Orville Schell is now a respectable Dean of the School of Journalism somewhere; has he ever owned up to his previous period of pro-Mao writing and thinking?
There are always the exceptions. When it comes to Communist China, there was Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), author of “Chinese Shadows” and “Chairman Mao’s New Clothes,” to embarrass some Sinologist apologists of Mao — if not honest, at least less obviously dishonest.
But most of those who now fill departments of Middle Eastern or Islamic studies in the Western world — not all, but most — are apologists to one degree or another. They may not be quite as blatant as Michael Sells or John Esposito. Their motives vary. Some desire not to offend their quick-to-take-offense Muslim colleagues, with whom they must keep departmental peace. Others fear the reaction of Muslim students. The word “Islamophobia” has been primed and is ready for use at the earliest opportunity — applied whenever anyone dares to question the tenets of Islam or the history of the treatment of non-Muslims under Islam. A few of the most courageous students of dhimmitude manage to escape because they happen to be specialists in, say, Byzantine studies, or Armenian studies — one thinks of Vahakn Dadrian, or Speros Vryonis. These are special cases. Most of those teaching about Islam are hired either by a department where Muslims already predominate, or where they are a powerful presence. It does not take much to silence people into submission. Why, after all, make trouble? Tenure is here, the sun is shining, who cares if these silly little unteachable students are fed propaganda? Those who are worth anything should be able to arrive at the truth by themselves. Yes, who really gives a damn if the universities hire, and then churn out more students in Islamic or Middle Eastern studies whose views coincide so beautifully with those of the Arab League (properly modified for an American audience), or are the equivalent at Al-Azhar of the Propaganda Fide office at the Vatican? Who cares, indeed?
Better to get on with one’s little book on Al-Ghazali — oh, and did you see the really marvellous translations Robert Irwin did of the “singing crows”? And is there honey still for tea?
Meanwhile, those who dare to point out otherwise are marginalized. For example, in France, Anne-Marie Delcambre (who teaches at one of the best lycees) and Jean-Paul Charnay (whose little book on the sharia, and big book on “La strategie arabe” are both worth reading), must go their lonely way. Bat Ye’or is for many a non-person; never on the syllabi, or if put on, carefully denounced to the students so that they won’t even bother to look into her work themselves. Ibn Warraq? Oh, like all ex-Muslims, just an embittered man, “every bit as fanatical” as those he claims to denounce (when in fact he is among the most cultivated, amusing, and bemused people on the face of this earth).
Even those who know better — Michael Cook and Patricia Crone come to mind — often use Aesopian language. Crone’s latest book does not do justice to dhimmitude. She — who allowed herself to be anonymously quoted by Alexander Stille on the “treacly nonsense” about Islam — should perhaps allow herself a little more openness.
So many experts on Islam permit themselves to say in private (a whisper to Bassam Tibi here, a wink to Fouad Ajami or a Behbehani scion there) what they will not say in public. This really has to stop.
As for “the Other,” that little idea has had its academic day, but not before it did a huge amount of intellectual damage. It began rather innocently. See, for example, Henri Baudet’s modest and intelligent essay “Paradise on Earth (Some Thoughts on European Images of non-European Man).” Then the damned thing was taken up by the thuggish and meretricious Said, who used it as a way to block all intelligent investigation of Muslim Arab culture and mores. Though he presented his “Orientalism” as a general defense of the “oppressed Third World cultures,” his intellectual thuggery, as Ibn Warraq noted in his long essay about Said, was designed to cause all “Orientalists” to shut up or at least not to be heeded. And by extension, Said really believed that only only Muslims, or those prepared to follow their scripts, could write about Islam. He obviously exempted himself, because as an Arab he apparently possessed a kind of special, genetic, racial knowledge about the tenets and history of Islam. Yet he made numerous little mistakes, such as his assertion that Islam conquered Byzantium before it did Spain, when it was nearly 800 years later. What did that little lapsus matter when he understood, as an Arab, the “essence of Islam” as someone like Lewis, or Schacht, or Margoliouth, or Snouck Hurgronje, never could, despite 50 or 60 years of intense study?
Ladies and gentlemen, the Desarts Vast of Academic Islam await ye. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.