Two weeks ago the American Enterprise Institute, with all kinds of its associated panjandrums — members, friends, supporters, admirers — present, gave the “Irving Kristol Prize” to Bernard Lewis.
In the audience was Vice President Cheney, who is reputed to be, if not an acolyte of Lewis, at least someone who thinks of him as the last word on Islam and how to deal with Islam. He apparently reveres Lewis’ acuity, and all that “greatest-living-scholar-of-Islam” stuff (god, how it rankles, and god how untrue, and god, how silly, up there with the description of colleges as “world-class” and the usual inflation and exaggeration that has crept into everything).
Lewis crept up on, but never quite got to, various topics. He alluded quickly, in his scattered, a batons rompus discussion, this or that topic, then skittered away or went on to something else. Nothing was concluded, nothing was said that told you where Lewis stood about matters today. He didn’t praise the “war on terror” and he didn’t attack the “war on terror.” He never said that the phrase “the war on terror” is a misleading thing.
Instead, he pretended to be an historian, au-dessus de la melee, who would provide an historian’s perspective. He mentioned how, centuries ago, Muslim jurists in Morocco were asked if it was licit for Muslims to continue to live in the Iberian peninsula, but under non-Muslim rule, and they were told that they were not. And then, the audience waited to hear what he might say about Muslims living in Europe today, and how they manage to reconcile the idea of refusing to live under rule by non-Muslims with, for example, their new strength in numbers and money and easy links, through technology (telephone, Internet, airplanes) to Dar al-Islam, that make them able to remain in Europe, but not be of Europe, and not have their Islam weakened by distance but often strengthened.
He said nothing about this, quickly going on to something else.
And then he did something truly astonishing. Earlier he had mentioned the two Muslim assaults on Europe: the Arab one that ended in the West, near Poitiers with the victory of Charles Martel in 732. And the one that started in the East, with the Turks, which was marked by the two assaults on Vienna, the second one in 1683, the high-water mark of Ottoman power in Europe.
And so, just toward the end, was this unremarked but remarkable sentence:
“Third time lucky?”
And that was how Bernard Lewis, sage of the age, the man whom so many in the Pentagon took as the last word because, you see, compared to Esposito and MESA Nostra he may appear to be that last word, dealt with the most terrifying danger to the survival of the West ever — that of the Muslims now settled deep within that West, and playing not only on the two pre-existing mental pathologies of antisemitism and anti-Americanism, but also on the sentimental weaknesses of the entire Western world, that has forgotten its own achievements, the legacy that needs to be protected, and its own superiority to Islam and everything about Islam. Indeed, such words as “superiority” and “primitivism” are no longer used, are regarded as somehow smacking not of all of those in the past — and that was everyone — who might have used them (including William James, including Jacques Barzun) — but necessarily of “race superiority” or assumptions about those living in what is wrongly called “the Third World.” Such words need, however, to be brought back, if the Western peoples are to visit their museums and libraries, and law courts, and newspapers, and the deliberations of their parliaments (however unseemly their current leaders or those “taking a leadership role”) and realize that yes, the civilization they inherited is indeed not only different from, but could never for a minute have been produced by, the world of Islam. And they need to realize also that the whole thing can go under, not through “terrorism” (though that has its place) but through Da’wa and demographic conquest, if not now opposed, halted, and reversed.
And all Bernard Lewis could do was allude to this, archly and quickly, thus trivializing the matter that should have been the subject of a serious lecture devoted to the matter of the islamization of Europe, and the instruments of that islamization, and the terrible waste, in every sense, of that war in Iraq for which Lewis, too, bears responsibility. H has been telling friends that that responsibility does not belong to him, his influence was really quite exaggerated, so much was done wrongly. This is a not-untypical response by Lewis, who still gets angry when forced to declare he was wrong about Oslo and has yet to tell us WHY he was wrong about the Oslo Accords, what he didn’t understand. Was it Arafat only, or was it Islam and its deep effect on the minds of men, that Lewis, friend of Prince Hassan and of Ahmed Chalabi, those most unrepresentative men, just has never quite gotten? He has gotten it in books but not grasped it, the way, for example, that St. Clair Tisdall, or Snouck Hurgronje, or Arthur Jeffery, or even that bookish man Joseph Schacht, grasped it? Has Lewis been led astray by his own admirers in the Arab world and among those Turks who revere him?
Whatever it is, he had a chance to talk about the islamization of Europe and how much more important it is than trivial and hopeless Iraq. But he couldn’t. He was already compromised, and being Bernard Lewis that means never having to say you’re sorry before the adoring crowd at A. E. I.
And so it was left to three little words to describe the Muslim assault on Europe today:
“Third time lucky?”