June 12, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7517

Arab Writers On Renowned Historian Prof. Bernard Lewis (1916-2018)

June 12, 2018
Special Dispatch No. 7517

Following the death of preeminent historian and Middle East researcher Prof. Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, many articles were published in the Arab media about his activity and his attitude towards the Arab and Islamic countries. Most of the articles expressed opposition to him and his ideas, but quite a few praised him, stating that he possessed profound knowledge and a rational approach, that he was always an enlightening lecturer and was sympathetic towards Islam, and that he was one of the most important historians of the modern era. These writers also rejected claims by his critics, who stated that Lewis, as a Jew, had contributed to the alleged Western plan to partition the Arab world and to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, even while acknowledging that the Arab world had been disintegrating since the dawn of Muslim history.

Prof. Bernard Lewis (Source:

The following are collected quotes from articles in the Arab media about Prof. Bernard Lewis:

Praise For Prof. Lewis: One Of The Most Important Historians Of The Modern Era

Lebanese journalist Nadim Qutaish told of his 2005 meeting with Prof. Lewis at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, and stated that it was Lewis who coined the term "clash of civilizations," not political scientist Samuel Huntington as is commonly thought. He wrote: "[Prof. Lewis] praised Islam for its legacy of tolerance and of recognition of the other, and called it 'one of the world's great religions... [that] has given dignity and meaning to drab and impoverished lives."[1] Such a statement is inconsistent with Lewis's reputation in the Middle East as a hater of Islam and the Muslims... and particularly not with his role in giving cultural weight to the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq, which was made without taking Bernard Lewis's opinion into account...

"Lewis never ceased to amaze, and to present questions challenging conventions. His most alarming question was: 'Most Muslims are not terrorists. But why are most terrorists Muslims?' Truly, why?"[2]

In an article titled "Bernard Lewis, Engineer of the Partition of the Middle East," Saudi journalist Muhammad Al-'Adadi wrote: "Lewis opposed the invasion of Iraq, and said so in more than one interview in the press and on television." Criticizing the argument that Lewis had contributed to the alleged plan to divide the Arab world, he wrote: 'The Arab and Islamic world has been dividing and crumbling since the meeting in the hut of the Banu Sa'ida, to this day,[3] [and this will continue] tomorrow, and this precedes Lewis, America, and Israel by centuries. This is because Islam provides fertile ground for the exploiting of its texts by all the political powers fighting [out of] lust for power and for control of the ummah [Islamic nation]. The most salient example of this is the Sunni-Shi'ite divide, which is nothing but the direct result of a blood feud over the seat of power between 'Ali and A'isha, and then between 'Ali and Mu'awiya, between Yazid and Hussein, and so on,[4] throughout Arab and Islamic history, to this very day...

"Thus, I largely agree with Bernard Lewis regarding the statements attributed to him, according to which the Arab countries are not structurally suited for democracy, because of the remnants of the past and the depth of the heritage of tyrannical control by means of exploitation of the region by all the elements, including by means of deadly weapons that certainly set back [the chance for future democracy] for decades, if not centuries. Proof of this may be the Arab Spring revolutions and their catastrophic results, that we witnessed in Libya, Syria, and Yemen...

"States' schisms, or unity, emanates from within, in accordance with the social, political, and historical makeup of each state – it is not caused by an academic named Bernard Lewis..."[5]

Saudi journalist Mamdouh Al-Muhaini, of Al-Arabiya TV, wrote: "...Bernard Lewis taught at the most important universities, and published important essays on Islamic heritage... He was blessed with profound historic knowledge and [the capability for] rational analysis. Some disagree with him, and have amended some of his conclusions. But he is a celebrated historian [who has nevertheless been called]... a fascist and imperialist... The [smear] campaign [against him] is preventing [Arab] societies from freely conducting intellectual debate and from accepting new ideas without prejudice, [thus] intensifying vituperation and invective, reinforcing the culture of conspiracy [theories], and [seeing] rational intellectuals with answers to our problems as traitors and agents... In this world, Lewis will remain forever one of the most important historians of the modern era."[6]

In an article in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, Jihad Al-Zain wrote: "Bernard Lewis... was one of the people [responsible] for my modest education. He was among those who encouraged me to adhere to a formula that has become fundamental for me – that when reading of any important writer, to refrain from connecting [what I am reading] to his political leanings or to some or all of the biases that drive his cultural instincts – [I do] the opposite...

"Despite Lewis's political criticism of the Arabs, [despite] his enthusiastic pro-Israel bias, and despite his harsh and even cruel statement that we [Arabs] are fundamentally inferior in our capability to adapt to modernity... one can also read his acknowledgement... of the effectiveness of the Palestinian Intifada...

"I call [on you the reader] to read him and afterwards to take any stand you wish. As a politician, Lewis was among the most enlightening of rivals... and like any true scholar, he [was] an enlightening and indispensable lecturer, and I recommend this type of rival."[7]

Anti-Lewis Writers: He Was A Zionist Who Contributed To The Disintegration Of The Arab States

Hani  'Asal, columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, wrote: "Bernard Lewis is dead, but his ideas will not die. Several days ago, the British-American writer, researcher, Orientalist, academic, and intellectual died at a New Jersey medical center, 12 days before his 102nd birthday. He left behind a complex world and a burning Middle East, exactly as he wished.

"The late Edward Sa'id did not exaggerate when he accused [Lewis] of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias, and of 'not understanding the Middle East as [well as] he thinks [he does].'  Nevertheless, the West will continue to look upon us for [at least] the next century from this man's point of view – since what he wrote on the region is the ideological basis for the West's current policy and decisions vis-à-vis our countries, and there is little [of what he wrote] that has not yet been implemented in practice.

"The name and ideology of Lewis... are connected to the disasters in our Arab world since the 2003 Iraq war, through [the Arab Spring,] the wave of Arab ruin that began with flowers... in Tunisia  and ended bitterly and thornily in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, which Egypt escaped, albeit temporarily. In his book Faith and Power,[8] he said of the peoples of the Middle East, 'Either we bring them freedom or they destroy us.' In another context, advising Western leaders, he said: 'Get tough or get out.'

"Thus he laid the first brick in the plan to invade the Arab region, plunder its resources, and split it into small states [based on] ethnicity – now in the name of spreading democracy, now in the name of the fight against terrorism. Also attributed to him is a well-known group of maps showing the large states in the region – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan – partitioned into 20 parts. What has been implemented in Iraq, Sudan, and Syria follows these maps to the letter. Egypt specifically appeared in the Sykes-Picot II[9] map, split into four small states...

"Thanks to his Jewish origin and his fierce love for the State of Israel, Lewis had a pro-West bias all along, and supported its intervention [in the Middle East] in order to force freedom and democracy on the Arab and Islamic peoples. His views were the basis of the neoconservative stream in the U.S., particularly the group of hawks headed by George Bush Jr., his vice president Dick Cheney, [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz, and others. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's 'creative chaos' theory is a product of this thought...

"Bernard Lewis, rest in peace, as the Middle East is disintegrating and changing at the hands of its sons, not at the hands of others."[10]

Subhi Hadidi, a Syrian writer residing in Paris, wrote in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi: "There is a difference between Lewis's deep delving into Islamic history, and his placing of his profound [knowledge] at the service of a racist imperialist plan like the Zionist entity in Palestine... He was born in Britain, then lived in the U.S. and earned citizenship there, and there he recently died – but in his will he requested to be buried nowhere else but Tel Aviv..."[11]

Saudi Shura Council member and journalist Muhammad Reda Nasrallah wrote in the Saudi Al-Riyadh daily: "When you type 'Bernard Lewis' into Google, you quickly see, spread out before you, information about his Zionist ideology that has since the end of World War II influenced academic research of issues in the Islamic East, especially of Turkey, and of the Arabs...

"Bernard Lewis compares the principle of Islamic justice with European democracy, which he thinks cannot exist in the Arab world... and can exist [in the Middle East] only in Israel. [Lewis] acquired this hoard of knowledge, and his tools for researching the history of the Near and Middle East, for the sake of its [Israel's] Zionist expansion...

"[Lewis] invested his vast research experience, for decades afterwards, in serving the [element] that took over the role of the British in the region [i.e. Israel] when he showed Torah-based and blatantly Zionist enthusiasm about it – in the stupid expectation of the pro-Zionist messiah's return to the land of Palestine!"[12]

Ahmad Al-Muslimani, Egyptian media personality and columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, wrote: "Bernard Lewis lived and died an extremist – he was the jewel in the crown of immorality in world sociological thought, and spent his whole life in the service of the policy of aggression and imperialism. He never stood with the principles of good or love, and never humanely addressed the suffering of the peoples and the countries, but [approached them] as if he were in a chemistry lab concocting [his perceptions,] without a scrap of emotion.  

"In his youth, he was a British intelligence officer in World War II, and his mission was to sow dissent in the colonial regions...

"His work is rife with arrogance and a low level of knowledge. In his book Power and Faith: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, he stated ignorantly yet with certitude that 'the period of British occupation in Egypt was the freest in all their multimillenial history before and after' [sic].[13] When he discussed the Crusader wars, he praised them and called them wars that were understandable, and that it was stupid to apologize for them!"[14]



[1] Bernard Lewis, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," The Atlantic (US), September 1990.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 25, 2018.

[3] A reference to the meeting held by supporters of the Prophet Muhammad after his death to discuss who would succeed him. See, August 29, 2017.

[4] A reference to the power struggles after the death of Muhammad between his third wife 'Aisha and 'Ali bin 'Abi Talib, the Fourth Caliph; between 'Ali and Mu'awiya, the first Umayyad caliph; and between Yazid son of Mu'awiya and Hussein bin Ali, son of Ali bin Abi Talib, who wanted to regain the caliphate for his family.

[5], May 29, 2018.

[6], May 23, 2018.  

[7] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 24, 2018.

[8] A reference to Lewis's book Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2010.

[9] The Sikes-Picot agreement, signed in 1916 during World War I by France and Britain, set out the parts of the Ottoman Empire that each of the superpowers would control at the end of the war. In this context, the writer is referring to the common Arab argument that the West has drawn up a new Sykes-Picot agreement dividing the countries of the region into smaller states based on ethnicity. See for example MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6461, On 100th Anniversary Of Sykes-Picot Agreement, Some Arab Writers Fear New Sykes-Picot Imposed By U.S., Russia; Others Argue That Internal Arab Strife Is The Real Danger, June 7, 2018.

[10] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 23, 2018.

[11] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 25, 2018.

[12] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 23, 2018.

[13] Lewis actually wrote that he had "been assured by Egyptians, when no one else was around" that this was the case. Faith and Power, pp. 142-3.

[14] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 30, 2018.

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