“Bat Ye’or saw all this in 1994, when she said: “˜I do not see serious signs of a Europeanization of Islam anywhere, a move that would be expressed in a relativization of religion, a self-critical view of the history of Islamic imperialism…we are light years away from such a development…On the contrary, I think that we are participating in the Islamization of Europe, reflected both in daily occurrences and in our way of thinking…All the racist fanaticism that permeates the Arab countries and Iran has been manifested in Europe in recent years…” Lewis was light years away from saying anything like this at that time, but it is good to see that he is catching up.” — Robert Spencer on the Islamization of Europe
Bernard Lewis has been wrong about a number of things. He was wrong, dead wrong, in his enthusiasm for the Oslo Accords. Indeed, he debated Douglas Feith once on this, and Feith, who did not know about Islam enough to discuss Muslim treaty-making and the model of Al-Hudaibiyyah, was without a main weapon. Nevertheless, he still managed to defeat Lewis soundly, purely on the basis of the disastrous wording of that agreement and on the consistent pattern of “Palestinian” ignoring of even the most limited promises that it had had to make.
Ask Lewis about his support for the Oslo Accords, and he replies, testily and laconically, “I was wrong.” But he has never written about this. He has never explained what it was that he was wrong about. Was he wrong because Arafat was a bad man who couldn’t be trusted? Was it something in the particular circumstances? Or was it, rather, something deeper, wider, more profound, something that means that any agreement made by Muslims with Infidels is going to be breached whenever and wherever possible? Does Lewis read about the history of Arab treaty-making with Israel? Surely he knows that every single agreement made by Israel with the Arabs, while being scrupulously observed in every jot and tittle by the Israelis, has always been violated by the Arabs whenever they can get away with it, and they have been able to get away with it quite often.
Why does Lewis not write about this? Why doesn’t he explain, or first explain to himself, why he was wrong about the Oslo Accords? Lewis was more than an enthusiast; he would call people up and hector them if they had in public, or in front of any others, differed from Lewis’s at least public unbridled enthusiasm for Oslo.
Such was the experience of one prominent person who had listed all of the many violations by Arafat, early on, of the Oslo Accords. Lewis told him to keep quiet about this, for fear it would “endanger” the Accords themselves — which, of course, were a farce from the beginning. The same prominent personality has reported that when he took issue privately with Lewis for something Lewis had said about how Jerusalem was “sacred to three faiths,” Lewis whispered sub rosa to him words to the effect that “yes, you are right, I agree” but also “right now you shouldn’t say such things.” And others have reported similar discrepancies between Lewis’s private and public remarks. But it is his public remarks that affect the thinking of his acolytes, and his worshippers, and all those who, like Dinesh D’Souza, apparently find Lewis to be the first and also the last word on Islam.
And why doesn’t he, Lewis, explain how wrong he was about that Iraq venture? He helped to persuade people of the correctness of the crazed idea that American soldiers would be “greeted as liberators,” and that “the liberation of Baghdad would make the liberation of Kabul seem like a funeral procession.”
He did nothing to explain to Cheney, or to others upon whom he apparently had a certain influence, what the Sunni-Shi’a split was, how deep and durable it was, and how the recent history of Iraq had only made it worse. He failed to explain how demographic changes in Iraq (the Shi’a having multiplied faster than the Sunnis, just as they have been doing in Lebanon) and the power of fanatical Shi’a in Tehran, not secularists like the Shah, ensured that the Shi’a would never give up. And of course the Sunnis inside and outside Iraq can never acquiesce in losing power in Baghdad, the most important city outside of Mecca in the mythology of Muslims, to the Rafidite dogs, those quasi-Persians, of Shi’a Islam.
He promoted, instead, his Shi’a friends. He was inveigled by them, or rather shared with them their own forgetting what the people and country of Iraq were really like. Chalabi, for example, had been out of Iraq since 1958, when he left it as a boy. Kanan Makiya left it a dozen years ago. Rend al-Rahim Francke, who co-wrote that book with Graham Fuller, and others, were like many of the most westernized, secularized, advanced representatives of the Arabs or Iranians. They exaggerate the numbers of those who think as they do, and forget the primitive masses. They avert their eyes, or will not speak openly, about the permanent presence of the gorilla in the room, Islam, and so are guides in the end to very little.
And Lewis would write articles that stooped to political advertising for a specific candidate — the most egregious being that article he wrote proposing a Hashemite king for Iraq, a preposterously unrealistic proposal, which he co-signed with James Woolsey for the Wall Street Journal. This piece was so transparently meant to promote plummy-voiced Prince Hassan of Jordan, Lewis’s friend and host in Amman, that he should have been ashamed to publish it.
And then he got angry, got visibly angry, about those who questioned the democracy project, the belief, in Bush’s unforgettable words, that “ordinary moms and dads in the Middle East” just want freedom. Lewis’s own contribution to the standard authority on Islam, written several decades ago, explains why the Arab “hurriya” is not the same thing as English “freedom.” Lewis knows, or once did, that in Islam it is the revealed will of Allah that should be the guide to the slaves of Allah. It is not the slaves of Allah expressing their will through mere head-counting, mere elections, mere expressions of what mere mortals want or think they want, that should determine political legitimacy. And the location in Islam of legitimacy of government in the Ruler who is a Muslim, and never in the people, is something Lewis knows but once again has ignored.
Lewis, who has on more than one occasion tried to hush people up and told them they should not raise certain issues, and should go along with certain pretenses about Islam, now looks about and sees that whenever he has supported a policy — the Oslo Accords, the Iraq farce — he has been wrong. And yet he does not stop to think about exactly how and why he was wrong, or what obligation he has to his many acolytes and admirers who bristle at any criticism of him, to explain why he was wrong. And why was he wrong? He was wrong because all his life he has simply failed to make sense of his vast learning, in order to see clearly the permanent menace and malevolence of Islam toward Infidels.
He missed, he underplayed, he would not quite allow himself to understand, that anti-Jewish feeling in the world of Islam had no need, as he has maintained, of the example of Europe’s antisemitism or of the Nazis. Just because the antisemitism of Islam differs in its origins from that to be found, historically, in Western Christendom, and just because the Muslim mistreatment of Jews was only part of a larger program of mistreatment of all non-Muslims, this is no reason to deny, as Lewis has, the antisemitism or anti-Jewish aspect of Islam. That antisemitism is clear and strong, and not to be denied or whitewashed.
Finally, why did Lewis for so many years behave so badly toward Bat Ye’or? Why did he urge others not to give her a forum in Israel? Why did he do nothing to encourage the reception of her work, and behind her back try to undercut it as “polemical” (and go on to echo Muslim objections) except when his interlocutor proved too knowledgeable for him to get away with those behind-the-scenes belittlements?
Now that he is going about telling us that the threat to the Western world is real, that Israel is imperiled (and imperiled partly by the doings of Bernard Lewis and the powerful people he has helped to mislead about the Oslo Accords about “democracy” in Iraq, about antisemitism in Islam, and about Islam itself), he owes it to us to set down in writing why he supported the Oslo Accords and why he was wrong to do so. He should also explain why he believed that in Iraq Americans would be greeted as “liberators” and that the whole Iraq the Model project made sense because he apparently believed that democracy and Islam can go together quite well — after all, didn’t caliphs and other Muslim rulers have advisers? Why, yes, they did. And didn’t they consult with others? Why yes, they did. They did consult, in order to make sure that they were doing the wise, the islamically correct, thing. So what? What does that have to do with Western-style democracy, with its location of legitimacy in the expressed will of the people, and its emphasis on the rights of the individual?
Cultivated, linguistically well-trained, clearly much more learned than most, possessing a fluent pen, the last of the old-style Orientalists, feline when he wants to be (that masterful dispatching of Said in an essay, and especially that single footnote about “thawra”) — Lewis is all these things. So why can’t he, along with his friends such as Bassam Tibi, at long last do what Goitein did? Goitein came to respect, admire, and endorse the work and the warnings of the far-sighted Bat Ye’or. Maxine Rodinson, after a lifetime of left-wing tiersmondiste sympathy for Islam, finally came to appreciate Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim. (That book was assigned to Lewis for review by the TLS, but that was a review he never dared to write.) Why can’t Lewis do the intelligent, correct, and finally, the decent thing, and tell us where he was wrong, and why Bat Ye’or, and why Ibn Warraq, and why others, have been grimly right?
Now. While he still has time. And when it matters.