A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bernard Lewis on Bernard Lewis

There's an interesting piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education: "'Osama bin Laden Made Me Famous: Bernard Lewis Looks Back.'"  Lewis will be turning 96 soon and is about to publish his 32nd book. The concluding paragraph captures part of the problem in assessing Lewis:
The conversation turns to his legacy. Does he worry that his wading into current affairs has tarnished his reputation as a scholar? "No," he says flatly. "My scholarship is evaluated for what it's worth. People agree with me and people disagree with me, but that's on scholarly grounds." What about his standing as a public intellectual? Lewis flashes a smile. "Oh, that's easy," he says. "For some, I'm the towering genius. For others, I'm the devil incarnate."
Indeed, the man's scholarly work, in fact almost everything he produced until the age of 75 or so, stands apart from the active politically-weighted writing of more recent years. Having become the darling of many neoconservatives, this claim in his new book will surprise many:
But it is Lewis's relationship with Vice President Dick Cheney that will most intrigue readers. And on that score, Lewis drops a small bombshell. The war in Iraq, Lewis writes midway through the book's last chapter, is "sometimes ascribed to my influence with Vice President Cheney. But the reverse is true. I did not recommend it. On the contrary, I opposed it."
News to me. Whatever you think of Lewis (and I think the first quote above pretty much sums up the two main opinions), he's one of the towering figures of the 20th century in Middle East studies, and a scholar whose scholarship deserves to be remembered when his current-affairs political polemics have faded.

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