Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton University, is one of the most controversial figures in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean history. Lewis is known for his many books on Middle Eastern history, but also for his influential formulation of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West in a 1990 article in The Atlantic. Samuel Huntington and conservative politicians later expanded and exploited this concept of a “clash of civilizations,” to justify the so-called War on Terror and the Iraq War of 2003-2011.
Bernard Lewis now claims that he opposed Dick Cheney’s drive to invade Iraq in 2003. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses Lewis’s claims, which stem from his new memoir, Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian (Viking, forthcoming).
It appears that Lewis is attempting to rehabilitate his academic reputation, which has been heavily tarnished by his clashes with Edward Said and his support for the War on Terror, as well as for his reductionist portrayal of Islam in constant opposition to the West in numerous books, such as The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (2004) and Islam and the West (1994).
If you need a quick reminder of Lewis’s positions during the Iraq War and the War on Terror, see an interview with him sponsored by the Pew Forum. Note that he quibbles with the term “War on Terror,” but completely supports its policies. Also note that toward the end of the interview he contemplates historians revising their own history: “Remember, Churchill was asked how he thought history would treat him, and he said, ‘Very well; I intend to write it myself.’ (Laughter.) And he did, of course.”
NIU students in HIST 458 Mediterranean World, 1450-1750 will be interested in reading this article, after having discussed historical models based on the “clash of civilizations” concept as well as critiques of it.