Tuesday, May 31, 2016
I won't criticize a man on his birthday, especially such a landmark one. In person he has always seemed an eloquent English gentleman. I will note that if Lewis' academic output had ended at, say age 70 or 75, his legacy would be less controversial. Works like The Emergence of Modern Turkey stand as major contributions. (Though that book was not without controversy when later editions softened the language on the Armenian massacres.) Lewis always had his opponents: Jewish and a lifelong Zionist, he was an outspoken supporter of Israel when that was rare in a field dominated by Arabists, though he had a full command of that language.
When Edward Said, in Orientalism, painted Lewis as a prime example of Orientalist discourse, Lewis welcomed the title and debated Said in print and in person. More recently, some of his works on Islam have been increasingly controversial, and he was often seen as the favorite public intellectual of the neocon movement, and seen as a supporter of invading Iraq (though he has denied he supported the war).
There will be time to assess the man and his legacy. Meanwhile, Happy Birthday.