Hugh Fitzgerald comments on the influence Bernard Lewis wields, and does not wield:
Many have spoken approvingly of Bernard Lewis” influence in the Islamic world, and of the power of that influence when he claims that “suicide bombing” is un-Islamic. But in reality, Bernard Lewis has no influence among the Muslim masses. Prince Hassan, Halil Inalcik, Fouad Ajami, and others of that ilk are hardly the Muslim masses who need to be persuaded that Lewis” position on “suicide bombing” is correct from an Islamic point of view.
Lewis’s real and only audience, at this point, are intelligent Infidels. The effect of his enthusiasm for the Oslo Accords, and for the Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations Project which he now claims was “mishandled,” has been disastrous. He has contended that it was merely a matter of botched execution, and not of something that was always messianic, silly, and missing-the-point. The point in fact was not to make a Muslim state a splendid example of what could be done if only an entire Infidel army came in, overturned the regime, and spent a few hundred billion dollars. Rather, it was, or should have been, to create the conditions in which the camp of Jihad would be divided and demoralized. Instead, as of now, the camp of Infidels is divided and demoralized. And the warriors of Jihad are successfully exploiting, in Western Europe, the pre-existing mental conditions of antisemitism and anti-Americanism in order to divide the two parts of the Western Alliance, America and Europe.
Lewis may believe he can have some effect on Muslims worldwide. He can’t. But he has an effect on Cheney and others in the Administration. Instead of distancing himself now from the policy about which he was such an enthusiast (or at least, that is what so many took him to be), he ought to explain that the Iraq business was a mistake. He should explain that the hostility between Shi’a and Sunni cannot be overcome, and that he grossly underestimated both the Shi’a resentment and the crazed Sunni determination not to give up political (and therefore economic and every other kind of) power. And that he underestimated the willingness of the Kurds to continue to remain in an Arab-ruled state. He should acknowledge that he had not given much thought to the exploitation of the situation in Iraq, which turns out to be the ideal place to allow sectarian and ethnic fissures within Islam to fester and to grow, and to hope that outside Muslim states, chiefly Iran and Saudi Arabia, would in turn be forced to use up men, materiel, money, and attention in helping their respective sectarian sides within Iraq — instead of using up men, material, money and attention in the Jihad against the West.
He could say this. He could admit to it, instead of refusing to discuss Iraq in public at all, except to allude to the “mistakes” of others — always of others, never of Bernard Lewis.
In making claims belied by Muslims themselves, enough of whom engage in the logic-chopping necessary so that attacks that kill Infidels, even if suicidal in nature, are no longer considered “suicide,” Lewis may indeed be trying to somehow create a new form of Islam that will be less lethal to the West. But this is, if not his own private Islam, certainly an Islam that Muslims themselves will, en masse, not agree to — for the hysteria of suicide-bombing is clearly permitted by all too many religious authorities. In doing what he does, at this stage of the game, Lewis does not change a single Muslim mind. But he does continue to contribute to keeping Infidels less alarmed, more unwary, more touchingly convinced that if only enough good things are done to and for Muslims (make them prosperous, bring them good government, satisfy their every local grievance which can always be presented not as prompted by the unassuagable demands that Islam makes, but by assuagable desires for “self-determination” or “nationalism” by local Muslims), everything will be all right.
Lewis, enthusiast for the Oslo Accords, enthusiast (now backing away, blaming all the “mistakes” in execution by the Bush Administration, and refusing to admit that his own enthusiasm was wrong) for the Light Unto the Muslim Nations Project in Iraq, liked to pretend that he was simply a scholar in the stacks, unaccustomed to influencing those in power, a man au-dessus de la melee. It was nonsense. But perhaps in light of the consequences of his two major ventures (the third, his attempt to help some of the outwardly more plausible “reformers” in Egypt, such as Saad Eddin Ibrahim also has been misplaced, for it assumes that reform, and not establishment of the conditions that will force Muslims to constrain Islam, is the answer, and that the way to do this is not to threaten a small reduction, but to end altogether the Jizyah of foreign aid, and not just to the Mubarak regime, but to Egypt), it will become true at last.