In this article, when Bernard Lewis said that Christianity and Islam have a “common belief,” by “common belief” Lewis meant, I presume, only that both Islam and Christianity are monotheistic faiths that make universalist claims. That is, unlike Hinduism and Judaism, which are linked to specific peoples and make no claims to covering the globe, though both welcome converts, both Islam and Christianity are faiths that make world-covering claims. However, in other respects they are completely different. Islam is a faith that is not merely a religion as we understand that word but a politics and a geopolitics, and offers a complete regulation of life. It is a Total Belief-System, and prompted by that Total Belief-System, its adherents have conquered lands and then, within those lands, established Muslim rule that makes it unpleasant and difficult for non-Muslims to practice their non-Muslim faiths. Therefore over time a great many of those non-Muslims, those of the Ahl al-kitab (Christians and Jews) — for non-People of the Book suffered other fates — submitted to Islam in order to escape from having to endure the humiliation, degradation, and physical insecurity that the status of dhimmi signified.
Christians are interested in saving individual souls for Christ; Muslims are interested in swelling the ranks of the army of Islam. One is individualist; the other collectivist. One tries to make the doctrine clear to those it wishes to convert, wants them to understand; the other is indifferent to their understanding and indeed, often withholds a full knowledge of Islam for fear that it will put off would-be “reverts.” This withholding of knowledge about Islam is discussed openly at Muslim websites dealing with how to handle potential “reverts.” They are very different, despite these “common beliefs” that Lewis so carelessly alludes to.
As for the phrase “a long succession of jihad and crusade, jihad and crusade” — Lewis was careless in his phrasing, and he knows, or should, that his phrases have a way of being picked up, and used, and if they can be used in defense of Islam, they certainly will be. Lewis knows that “Jihad” and “the Crusades” are very different things, with the former unlimited in time and in space, and the latter limited in both.
That Lewis is perfectly aware of how different “Jihad” and “Crusade” are. In fact, soon after 9/11/2001 he published a piece in The Wall Street Journal that discussed, and distinguished, the two words. In that piece, he wrote this:
I have no wish to defend or excuse the often atrocious behavior of the crusaders, both in their countries of origin and in the countries they invaded, but the imperialist parallel is highly misleading. The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad–a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war.
One can take issue with some of Lewis’s comments at the end of this 2001 article — for example, when he says that “Classical Islam in all its different forms and versions has never permitted suicide. This is seen as a mortal sin, and brings eternal punishment in the form of the unending repetition of the act by which the suicide killed himself.” In my own article on Lewis, I have discussed Lewis’ seeming inability — or is it a deliberate refusal? — to understand how Muslim theologians have managed to get around the Islamic prohibition on suicide by describing what we call “suicide-bombers” as essentially the modern equivalent of a Muslim warrior, charging, sword in hand, against a much larger group of Infidels, knowing that he will almost certainly be killed, but determined to slaughter as many of those Infidels as possible. And since Muslims know that everything is determined by Allah, then who knows? Possibly even the one we Infidels call a “suicide-bomber” may, inshallah, escape unscathed from his death-defying act of mass-murder.
But the main point is this: Lewis set out, in this piece, to clearly distinguish “Jihad” from “Crusade.” And now, with this careless remark about this “long succession of jihad and crusade, jihad and crusade,” he undoes what he did back on September 27, 2001 — as if heedless of how such a phrase, with all of its implied, even if not meant, equivalences, can be used. For it is now there for all to see, and for Muslims and such Muslim apologists as Esposito and Armstrong, to grab onto, if they so wish.
Being treated as an oracle and World’s Greatest Authority, with former students who are not merely admirers but become acolytes who will defend his every word, has not been good for him, as it is not good for anyone. Carelessness with words, and how those words will be received, is a bad sign.
Jacques Barzun is now 100. His students, too, regard him with affection, admiration, even awe. But he has never let any of this diminish his vigilance with words. A model to emulate.
The same recent article about Lewis says this:
Mr. Lewis said most Americans overlook what Muslims’ deem the main grievances with the U.S. He explained three main complaints are the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, which most find profoundly offensive, the military presence in Iraq and the “statelet” of the dues.
Robert Spencer explains here that the word “dues” must be a rhyming aural mistake for “Jews.” The “statelet” — scarcely visible on a map of the world — is Israel.
The comment, however, attributed to Lewis is absurd and dangerous. I find it hard to believe he actually said this; somehow I wonder if the reporter is not a Muslim or apologist for Islam, and has misreported his remarks. For if Lewis did indeed say such a foolish thing, he merely reinforces the idea that Muslims have a discrete set of “grievances” and that these “grievances” can, as some think, therefore be met and all manner of things shall be well.
If he did indeed say this as reported, then Lewis, as usual, ignores many things, but among the things he, as usual, ignores, is the entire rest of the world outside the Middle East. Suppose the Americans end their “military presence in Iraq” (as they should, as indeed they should have done at the beginning of 2004, after Saddam Hussein was captured and scouring the country for weapons was completed). Suppose the Americans end their “military presence” in Saudi Arabia (as they should, and should tell the Al-Saud that if they want protection — a guarantee of American support in case of dire need — they will have to put the American military on a retainer, something like $100 billion a year, otherwise no guarantee, no rescue, no nothing). And suppose, finally, that Israel is reduced to a helpless state, a dhimmi condition, and either continues in that state, or is put out of its misery by the Muslims within and without that “statelet.”
Then what? Is it Lewis’s position that Muslims in southern Thailand will see their grievances have been met and stop beheading Thai Buddhist monks, farmers, teachers? Does he think the Pakistanis, both terrorist groups and the government of Pakistan, will cease to make demands for Indian-held Kashmir to be turned over to rule by Muslims? Will they end their claims to India, and stop setting off bombs in Mumbai, or even Delhi? Will Muslims in Western Europe, now that Israel is gone, and the Americans have pulled out of Iraq and out of Saudi Arabia, cease to make demands for an end to the exercise of Western individual liberties? Will they cease to claim that they will inherit, and should inherit, Great Britain? Will they stop campaigns of Da’wa, and of intimidation that may not necessarily include, at this point, terrorism (which hurts the “image” of Islam)? Will Muslim behavior anywhere change?
Of course not. Because the texts, the tenets, the attitudes, the atmospherics of Islam, in states and societies suffused with this Total System, will not have changed.
Bat Ye’or has exasperatedly come to the conclusion, after long experience with Lewis and his machinations behind the scene, that he is simply someone who, despite his immense learning, and despite — or possibly because of — his Muslim friends and acquaintances, and because, not despite, of his great interest in modern Turkey and his assumption that Kemalism was forever, he does not quite grasp the subject that matters most: the subject of Islam, and how it effects the minds of the vast masses of primitive Believers. Lewis has himself described, without realizing it, his susceptibility to flattery by Muslims. He has been lionized in Istanbul. And those descriptions of his witticisms evoking appreciative laughter round the table in Amman, where his patron and friend Prince Hassan, of the plummy philippe-de-montebello voice, offers him hospitality, are embarrassing, and also alarming.
Make of it what you will. Others have, and will continue to do so, as they compare Lewis at his best — as in “The Political Language of Islam” and “The Multiple Identities of the Middle East” — with Lewis at his dangerously confusing worst.
Yes, the charitable explanation is that the newspaper account is wildly inaccurate. It may well have been.