|Birth Day:||May 31, 1916|
|Birth Place:||London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom|
|#3||Ruth Hélène Oppenhejm||Spouse||N/A||N/A||N/A|
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In 1936, Lewis graduated from the School of Oriental Studies (now School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS) at the University of London with a BA in history with special reference to the Near and Middle East. He earned his PhD three years later, also from SOAS, specializing in the history of Islam. Lewis also studied law, going part of the way toward becoming a solicitor, but returned to study Middle Eastern history. He undertook post-graduate studies at the University of Paris, where he studied with the orientalist Louis Massignon and earned the "Diplôme des Études Sémitiques" in 1937. He returned to SOAS in 1938 as an assistant lecturer in Islamic History.
Bernard Lewis was born to middle-class British Jewish parents, Harry Lewis and the former Jane Levy, in Stoke Newington, London. He became interested in languages and history while preparing for his bar mitzvah. In 1947 he married Ruth Hélène Oppenhejm, with whom he had a daughter and a son. Their marriage was dissolved in 1974. Lewis became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1982.
Lewis' influence extends beyond academia to the general public. He began his research career with the study of medieval Arab, especially Syrian, history. His first article, dedicated to professional guilds of medieval Islam, had been widely regarded as the most authoritative work on the subject for about thirty years. However, after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, scholars of Jewish origin found it more and more difficult to conduct archival and field research in Arab countries, where they were suspected of espionage. Therefore, Lewis switched to the study of the Ottoman Empire, while continuing to research Arab history through the Ottoman archives which had only recently been opened to Western researchers. A series of articles that Lewis published over the next several years revolutionized the history of the Middle East by giving a broad picture of Islamic society, including its government, economy, and demographics.
During the Second World War, Lewis served in the British Army in the Royal Armoured Corps and as a Corporal in the Intelligence Corps in 1940–41 before being seconded to the Foreign Office. After the war, he returned to SOAS, where he would remain for the next 25 years. In 1949, at the age of 33, he was appointed to the new chair in Near and Middle Eastern History. In 1963, Lewis was granted fellowship of the British Academy.
In 1966, Lewis was a founding member of the learned society, Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), but in 2007 he broke away and founded Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) to challenge MESA, which the New York Sun noted as "dominated by academics who have been critical of Israel and of America's role in the Middle East". The organization was formed as an academic society dedicated to promoting high standards of research and teaching in Middle Eastern and African studies and other related fields, with Lewis as Chairman of its academic council.
During his career Lewis developed ties with governments around the world: during her time as Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir assigned Lewis' articles as reading to her cabinet members, and during the Presidency of George W. Bush, he advised administration members including Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Bush himself. He was also close to King Hussein of Jordan and his brother, Prince Hassan bin Talal. He also had ties to the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, the Turkish military dictatorship led by Kenan Evren, and the Egyptian government of Anwar Sadat: he acted as a go-between between the Sadat administration and Israel in 1971 when he relayed a message to the Israeli government regarding the possibility of a peace agreement at the request of Sadat's spokesman Tahasin Bashir.
In 1974, aged 57, Lewis accepted a joint position at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, also located in Princeton, New Jersey. The terms of his appointment were such that Lewis taught only one semester per year, and being free from administrative responsibilities, he could devote more time to research than previously. Consequently, Lewis's arrival at Princeton marked the beginning of the most prolific period in his research career during which he published numerous books and articles based on previously accumulated materials. After retiring from Princeton in 1986, Lewis served at Cornell University until 1990.
Lewis was known for his literary debates with Edward Said, the Palestinian American literary theorist whose aim was to deconstruct what he called Orientalist scholarship. Said, who was a professor at Columbia University, characterized Lewis' work as a prime example of Orientalism in his 1978 book Orientalism and in his later book Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (1981). Said asserted that the field of Orientalism was political intellectualism bent on self-affirmation rather than objective study, a form of racism, and a tool of imperialist domination. He further questioned the scientific neutrality of some leading Middle East scholars, including Lewis, on the Arab World. In an interview with Al-Ahram weekly, Said suggested that Lewis' knowledge of the Middle East was so biased that it could not be taken seriously and claimed "Bernard Lewis hasn't set foot in the Middle East, in the Arab world, for at least 40 years. He knows something about Turkey, I'm told, but he knows nothing about the Arab world." Said considered that Lewis treats Islam as a monolithic entity without the nuance of its plurality, internal dynamics, and historical complexities, and accused him of "demagogy and downright ignorance". In Covering Islam, Said argued that "Lewis simply cannot deal with the diversity of Muslim, much less human life, because it is closed to him as something foreign, radically different, and other," and he criticised Lewis' "inability to grant that the Islamic peoples are entitled to their own cultural, political, and historical practices, free from Lewis' calculated attempt to show that because they are not Western... they can't be good."
Lewis argued that the Middle East is currently backward and its decline was a largely self-inflicted condition resulting from both culture and religion, as opposed to the post-colonialist view which posits the problems of the region as economic and political maldevelopment mainly due to the 19th-century European colonization. In his 1982 work Muslim Discovery of Europe, Lewis argues that Muslim societies could not keep pace with the West and that "Crusader successes were due in no small part to Muslim weakness." Further, he suggested that as early as the 11th century Islamic societies were decaying, primarily the byproduct of internal problems like "cultural arrogance," which was a barrier to creative borrowing, rather than external pressures like the Crusades.
In 1990, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Lewis for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. His lecture, entitled "Western Civilization: A View from the East", was revised and reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly under the title "The Roots of Muslim Rage." His 2007 Irving Kristol Lecture, given to the American Enterprise Institute, was published as Europe and Islam.
Rejecting the view that Western scholarship was biased against the Middle East, Lewis responded that Orientalism developed as a facet of European humanism, independently of the past European imperial expansion. He noted the French and English pursued the study of Islam in the 16th and 17th centuries, yet not in an organized way, but long before they had any control or hope of control in the Middle East; and that much of Orientalist study did nothing to advance the cause of imperialism. In his 1993 book Islam and the West, Lewis wrote "What imperial purpose was served by deciphering the ancient Egyptian language, for example, and then restoring to the Egyptians knowledge of and pride in their forgotten, ancient past?"
In 1998, Lewis read in a London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi a declaration of war on the United States by Osama bin Laden. In his essay "A License to Kill", Lewis indicated he considered bin Laden's language as the "ideology of jihad" and warned that bin Laden would be a danger to the West. The essay was published after the Clinton administration and the US intelligence community had begun its hunt for bin Laden in Sudan and then in Afghanistan.
In 2002, Lewis wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal regarding the buildup to the Iraq War entitled "Time for Toppling", where he stated his opinion that "a regime change may well be dangerous, but sometimes the dangers of inaction are greater than those of action". In 2007, Jacob Weisberg described Lewis as "perhaps the most significant intellectual influence behind the invasion of Iraq". Michael Hirsh attributed to Lewis the view that regime change in Iraq would provide a jolt that would "modernize the Middle East" and suggested that Lewis' allegedly 'orientalist' theories about "what went wrong" in the Middle East, and other writings, formed the intellectual basis of the push towards war in Iraq. Hirsch reported that Lewis had told him in an interview that he viewed the 11 September attacks as "the opening salvo of the final battle" between Western and Islamic civilisations: Lewis believed that a forceful response was necessary. In the run up to the Iraq War, he met with Vice President Dick Cheney several times: Hirsch quoted an unnamed official who was present at a number of these meetings, who summarised Lewis' view of Iraq as "Get on with it. Don't dither". Brent Scowcroft quoted Lewis as stating that he believed "that one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power". As'ad AbuKhalil has claimed that Lewis assured Cheney that American troops would be welcomed by Iraqis and Arabs, relying on the opinion of his colleague Fouad Ajami. Hirsch also drew parallels between the Bush administration's plans for post-invasion Iraq and Lewis' views, in particular his admiration for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's secularist and Westernising reforms in the new Republic of Turkey which emerged from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
When Lewis received the National Humanities Medal from US President George W. Bush in November 2006, the Armenian National Committee of America objected: "The President's decision to honor the work of a known genocide denier—an academic mercenary whose politically motivated efforts to cover up the truth run counter to the very principles this award was established to honor—represents a true betrayal of the public trust."
In 2006, Lewis wrote that Iran had been working on a nuclear weapon for fifteen years. In August 2006, in an article about whether the world can rely on the concept of mutual assured destruction as a deterrent in its dealings with Iran, Lewis wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the significance of 22 August 2006 in the Islamic calendar. The Iranian president had indicated he would respond by that date to U.S. demands regarding Iran's development of nuclear power. Lewis wrote that the date corresponded to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427, the day Muslims commemorate the night flight of Muhammad from Jerusalem to heaven and back. Lewis wrote that it would be "an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and, if necessary, of the world".
Writing in 2008, Lewis did not advocate imposing freedom and democracy on Islamic nations. "There are things you can't impose. Freedom, for example. Or democracy. Democracy is a very strong medicine which has to be administered to the patient in small, gradually increasing doses. Otherwise, you risk killing the patient. In the main, the Muslims have to do it themselves."
In his 2009 book Engaging the Muslim World, the American academic Juan Cole responded that there was no evidence to suggest that Iran had been working on a nuclear weapon for fifteen years. He also disagreed with Lewis' suggestion that Ahmadinejad "might deploy this weapon against Israel on 22 August 2006".
Hamid Dabashi, writing on 28 May 2018, in an article subtitled "On Bernard Lewis and 'his extraordinary capacity for getting everything wrong'", asked: "Just imagine: What sort of a person would spend a lifetime studying people he loathes? It is quite a bizarre proposition. But there you have it: the late Bernard Lewis did precisely that." Similarly, Richard Bulliet described Lewis as "...a person who does not like the people he is purporting to have expertise about...he doesn’t respect them, he considers them to be good and worthy only to the degree they follow a Western path". According to As'ad AbuKhalil, "Lewis has poisoned the Middle East academic field more than any other Orientalist and his influence has been both academic and political. But there is a new generation of Middle East experts in the West who now see clearly the political agenda of Bernard Lewis. It was fully exposed in the Bush years."
Bernard Lewis died on 19 May 2018 at the age of 101, at an assisted-living care facility in Voorhees Township, New Jersey, twelve days before his 102nd birthday. He is buried in Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Currently, Bernard Lewis is 105 years, 11 months and 21 days old. Bernard Lewis will celebrate 106th birthday on a Tuesday 31st of May 2022.
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