from an alumni about PAW's Bernard Lewis story in the September 11,
October 24, 2002
Two poorly reasoned critiques of Bernard Lewis appear in the latest issue
of the PAW.
Richard Cummings 59 claims
that Western colonialism justifies Muslim rage, and, by implication, its
terrorism. Many peoples, however, suffered under colonialism, and have
not resorted to mass murder. Why aren't Indians, Filipinos, Guatemalans,
Chinese, Chileans, South Koreans, Mohawks, Ghanians, South Africans, Aborigines,
and Arab Christians, flying planes into packed skyscrapers or blowing
up crowded nightclubs?
Bernard Lewis suggests that the imposition of a 7th century desert law,
characterized by a lack of rights (especially for women) onto a modern
world, cripples Muslim civilization, making a once-great people insecure
about their failures. Randolph Hobler 68,
rebuts that if treatment of women were important, why is Japan successful?
This argument simply displays ignorance. In Japan, women vote, serve in
parliament, speak their minds, create art, run companies, and are not
forced into unwanted marriages or pregnancies. Even during Japan's terrible
recession, the 2001 female unemployment rate was 4.7 percent and, as of
1997, women comprised 41 percent of the workforce.
Nothing justifies the violence against innocent civilians coming from
radical Muslims. Other nations and religions around the world have suffered
as much, if not more so. Rather than picking up arms, these other peoples
have democratized, capitalized, liberalized, and improved their lives.
Muslims must take the hard step of dropping their ancient religious law
and joining the rest of the world in the 21st century.
October, 24, 2002
Is Japan truly an example of a nation that succeeds economically despite
keeping women down? Hardly. Women in Japan are far freer than most of
their counterparts in the Arab world. (Of course they are far less free
than they are here.) If this is the best we can do against Bernard Lewis's
arguments, so much the better for his arguments.
I read Randolph Hobler '68's letter accusing Prof.
Bernard Lewis of bias against Arabs with incredulity and a strong
sense of irony. He complains that Prof. Lewis's irrefutable observation
that the Arab world is, essentially, what we used to call "backward
in the areas of free expression, economics, science, and fairness
lacked merit, because "he is simply stating a truism about the
entire third world, of which the Arab world is a part."
The incredulity I experienced was that Mr. Hobler did not recognize the
irony of his own claim of bias. Anyone with any familiar with Prof. Lewis's
work, or even the article in question, understands that Prof. Lewis's
thesis is that the decline of the Arab world is remarkable because, centuries
ago, the Arab world was at the forefront in progress in every area (save
women's roles) in which it now lags so far behind.
It is this contrast that Prof. Lewis urges us to consider, especially
because it demonstrates contrary to Mr. Hobler's j'accuse
not an inherent inferiority but quite the contrary: A demonstrated capacity
for a kind of national greatness. The same cannot be said of the rest
of the third world, if such a gross term meant to encapsule
scores of nations, ethnic groups, and political, religious and social
systems, is indeed of any use at all in analyzing history and world events.
From him we learn that Arab universities annually turn out thousands of
incompetent engineers, the Arab world's GDP is less than that of Spain,
the Arab world translates but one-fifth of the books that Greece does,
and that members of the House of Saud are fanatical Wahhabis, the branch
of Islam driving the Taliban. Also mentioned was the Middle Easts
"downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and
oppression," led by "brutal and corrupt" Arab "tyrants,
starting with Arafat."
But does Professor Lewis know that the largest Islamic population in the
world is in Indonesia? That there are more Muslims in China than in Saudi
Arabia, the Arab homeland? That Arabic followed the spread of Islam because,
to Muslims, both the written and the spoken words of the Koran are holy?
Are students made aware that a number of states in the area, where Arabic
may be spoken, are not Arab?
Egyptians are not Arabs. Iranians are not Arabs. Turks, adamantly, are
not Arabs. Neither are Kurds, Afghans, Uzbeks, Pakistanis, Tajiks, nor
Armenians. Across Arabic-speaking North Africa, many Libyans, Tunisians,
Algerians, etc., are not Arab, and, in many of the states mentioned above,
as in Lebanon, there are numbers of Christian Arabs.
Professor Lewis mentions a couple of classic alibis for the areas
problems: destruction of the caliphs by the Mongols and imperialism.
Well-founded in Turkish history and culture, the professor certainly knows
that when Tamerlane returned to Samarkand and died, shortly after pushing
Turks into the Aegean, the Mongol invasion collapsed, the troops went
home, and the Turkic Mamluks, and then the Ottomans, were perfectly happy
to revive and take over the. caliphate, without a backward look!
Regarding imperialism: Going back in time, most of the current Islamic
states in the area were European colonies, and previously part of monarchic
empires, Ottoman, Byzantine, or Persian. Neither colonial powers, nor
sultans or emperors, were concerned with responsibility for social welfare
and development. The interest was get the income and forget the people.
As a result, the people have been oppressed for centuries.
Historically described as an aggressive warlike people, the ancient Israelites
followed Abraham out of Mesopotamia millennia ago. Famine forced them
into refugee servitude in Egypt, from where they were led back by Moses.
They conquered Canaan under the charismatic warrior Joshua, who divided
the land among the 12 tribes. A few hundred years later, the Assyrians
drove the tribes out of the north, and, subsequently, the Babylonians
conquered the more southerly Judah, destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon's
Temple I, and took the Jews back to Babylon in slavery. Not long after,
the Persians sacked Babylon, and Cyrus permitted the Jews to return for
a long period of recovery and development. Finally, the Maccabees revived
the Kingdom of Judea, with Roman intervention Herod emerges and rebuilds
Temple II, only to have the Jewish revolt in 66 A.D. lead to another destruction
of Jerusalem and the outcast of the Jews by the Romans in 70 A.D.
I wonder if Professor Lewis has had the imagination to credit the Romans
for the most successful and enduring of Israelite invasions of Palestine?
After all, centuries of the diaspora have equipped the Jews with Western
education, sophistication, technological skills, and capabilities that
are clearly advantageously superior to the poor, disadvantaged, backward,
incapable. downward spiraling Middle Eastern Muslims (read Arabs).
Note that the Israelis daily continue to display their aggressive warlike
behavior (aided by U.S. munitions), much to the dismay, sorrow, and anger
of the Islamic Mid East.
By way of introduction let me say that I have nothing
but admiration for women's intellectual potential, which I have had ample
opportunity to observe in academic life during a lifetime of teaching.
However, the hypotheses increasingly popular in
the press and academic writing that the backwardness of the Islamic
world is principally due to the low cultural status of women is nothing
but a politically correct calumny used to make our anti-jihad jihad palatable
to the liberal segment of our intellectual classes.
At any rate, this preposterous proposition is not supported
by historical analogy. Our own western world had its renaissance, age
of discovery, industrial and scientific revolutions, all without measurable
direct input from women, whether as a result of sheer cultural bias or
While the western world had no harems, until most recently
its leading classes had been quite content to exclude women from political
life, economic entrepreneurship, or scientific research.
A leading light of modern utilitarianism, like Jeremy
Bentham, could spend hundreds of pages of his work (Principles of Morals
and Legislation) arguing that women were congenitally different from
men, and he was by no means alone.
Yet Britain built a global empire, while the US and West
Europe emerged as the hubs of a global material civilization. Given its
empirical flimsiness, the argument appears to reflect the universalist's
groping for an intellectually acceptable expression of a radical form
of particularism, and a potential ideological justification for holding
a prospective adversary inferior and repulsive.
This job, if to be done at all, should be left to politicians
and avoided by academics.
In the latter half of the 1980s, I studied history under John Gaddis at
Ohio University. His field, of course, was American foreign policy with
an emphasis on the Cold War. The Cold War has indeed passed into history
now. It had not yet done so when I was matriculating.
I had four areas of concentration, of which the Middle East was one. My
studies began with the prophet Mohammed and extended to the situation
as it stood in the 1980s. Our Middle East professor was not a power in
the history department. The library was not very well stocked with the
best up-to-date research. Our focus was fixed on Moscow. We had no idea
the communist world was staggering to its collapse. The topics of the
day revolved around nuclear stockpiles, Russian history, war games, superpower
diplomacy, and international theory. How quickly those concerns have become
obsolete. I would have done better to study southwest Asia instead of
concentrating on Europe and Russia.
I lived among many Palestinians in Athens, Ohio. I knew some Lebanese
people and Malaysians too. They grew up under Islam. The Lebanese and
Malaysians were cosmopolitan, and they interacted with the Western world
with ease and grace. I do not know how religious they were. The Palestinians
were a whole other story. They allowed their children to play with our
children, but otherwise they kept themselves rigidly apart. Once a week,
a revamped station wagon came to the Mill Street apartment complex where
we lived. In short order, it became a bazaar of Middle Eastern groceries.
Sometimes I would buy exotic produce or cheese, but the purpose of this
enterprise was to help the Palestinian community remain separate. Ramadan
was always tense because the Palestinians fasted and became ill-tempered.
I knew only one Palestinian family. Abid and Huda had brought their little
boys to America, and my son played with them. Sometimes gulfs can be crossed
by way of the games of children. Abid always helped newcomers by carrying
their furniture from the van to their new apartments. He didn't care who
they were or where they came from. He was a good, decent man. When Ramadan
ended one year, Huda shared her feast with us. The first intifada was
in progress then. Abid and Huda lived in Nablus on the West Bank. Every
day at six o'clock, their little boys had to go inside to watch the television
news so that they would learn that they would be expected to throw rocks
at Israeli soldiers some day.
Abid was working toward a doctorate in communications. Ohio University
had an outstanding communications program.
It also had an outstanding history department. In addition to Professor
Gaddis, the faculty included Charles Alexander, the great writer of intellectual
and baseball history; Steven Miner, the author of Stalin and Churchill,
a dual biography highly praised in the international humanities community;
and Alonzo Hamby, the renowned American political historian. Quite often,
the faculties of American universities lean rather leftward politically.
Ohio University was a pretty Republican school. We were internationalists,
and we respected differences of culture and religion. We didn't subscribe
to notions that whatever the U.S. did was wrong, imperialistic, and immoral.
But we gave the fanatics in the Muslim world too much respect. We deluded
ourselves that we were open-minded and understood their point of view.
The destruction of the World Trade Center has jolted me away from that
stance. The U.S. isn't perfect, but it is good and we're always trying
to do better.
In the Palestinian community at Ohio University, there was a strict hierarchy.
The father could shout at anybody in the family. The son could shout at
anybody but his father, even if he was only four years old. The mother
could shout at her daughters. The daughters couldn't shout at anybody.
Any of the heads-of-household, including Abid, would have been proud to
fly airplanes into American skyscrapers for Allah.
Literalist Islam really is the enemy. It cannot operate successfully in
the 21st century. In an age of technology and rapid change, Islam generates
no creative power. It has only destructive power. The Palestinians of
my acquaintance resented the common American practice of linking the word
"terrorist" to the word "Palestinian." It is that
very resentment that culminates in the horrors of 9/11. Democracy and
freedom are incompatible with fundamentalist Islam. Religious toleration
on our part is suicidal. I don't suggest burning mosques or nuking the
holy places in Mecca and Medina. But I do suggest that we need to wake
up and see our adversary for what he is. I have no problem with people
wanting to bow toward Mecca five times a day, but I have a huge problem
with terrorism. I don't want to leave the Muslim world behind, but it
has to change radically if it intends to keep up. I hope Muslims all over
the world take that message to heart. Otherwise, the international landscape
will consist of Islam against everybody else, with no hope of surcease.
What else do the arab nations produce in any significant quantity? And
the revenues generated by oil production are controlled by dictatators
and monarchies. With nearly all of the economic power concentrated in
the hands of the vicious and entitled, is it surprising that this culture
has stagnated and its young become so frustrated and hateful? Why bother
breaking one's back to create an economy when you are sitting on the world's
largest oil reserves.
Islamic self-destruction festers in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran,
then spreads and infects the non-oil producing nations. The Palestinians
are not victims of Israeli oppression, they are merely petrochemically-challenged.
I found it odd, though, that the article identified his leading "academic
rival" as Columbia's Edward Said '57. Since when is a professor of
English and Comparative Literature considered an academic rival of a world-leading
scholar of Near East Studies? Shouldn't an academic rival be in the same
field, or at least a related one?
Why should Professor Said's musings on the Middle East be considered any
more authoritative than Prof. Lewis's thoughts about literature?
Although I do not question Emeritus Professor Lewis's general expertise
on the MIddle East, in his interview by Ms. Greenwood (September 11),
I feel that he may have so much detailed knowledge of the trees that he
fails to see the forest.
The professor asserts that Islam's greatest problem is in its oppression
of women: Half the population is not allowed to be educated or productive.
I do not disagree, but I believe this is caused by a universal disability
that particularly affects men, the inability to use logic and reason,
to think clearly and honestly about matters that do not immediately affect
or concern them individually. Male chauvinism, found here and everywhere
to some degree, is one example of immature, selfish, and poor judgment.
We all accumulate prejudices and neurotic misperceptions much more easily
than we do wisdom.
O. W. Holmes 100 years ago made the general observation that "the
greatest need is for education in the obvious." I believe it to be
an imperative possibility, but no classroom in the world offers education
in HOW to think with balanced objectivity, how to use basic logic and
critical thought. The world has not yet made the hard effort required
or is incapable of seeing this obvious problem.
With rare exception, the world's religions, whether immensely wealthy
and powerful or a tiny sect, all zealously guard their exclusive possession
of access to God and Heaven.
Christians, Muslims, and Jews are all trapped in holy-political wars of
hate, death, and destruction, led mostly by conservatives and fundamentalists
in their respective faiths/countries.
All religions rely on ancient myths, fantasies, and customs, prejudices
that demand the unquestioning faith of followers, while they encourage
divisiveness and the aggressive defense of their vision of truth and God.
Fundamentalist "thinking" is primitive, absolutist, and merciless,
aggressive and prowar, simplistic. Such thinking is well nurtured by extremes
of wealth and success, or poverty and failure. Conservatives have adversely
affected the atmosphere far and wide, by damning an open mind, tolerance,
and analytic thinking.
Narrow and shallow, the thinking of "rightists" is very much
at odds with my own theory of (intellectual) maturity. That theory bears
Man is born intelligent, barring brain damage, but only a tiny percentage
of even the well-educated develop or broaden their cognitive abilities.
Mature thinking is never directly taught in a classroom; few learn the
art and science of thinking clearly. Of course we all have personal areas
of interest and "expertise," but we accumulate prejudices, misinformation,
and neuroses far more easily than we do wisdom. The more aware we become,
the more mature is our outlook. The more our Id and our Superego merge
with, become part of our Ego, the greater our maturity.
A collorary: Blind faith in a remote, rigid, and vengeful deity precludes
an inquisitive mind, deters awareness of and faith in the inner God of
Conscience, the Superego that too often is remote from consciousness.
We go to church to be blessed in our pursuit of victory over infidels,
the enemy, to kill and destroy others.
Conscience, our inner sense of responsibility and spiritual power, is
In the introduction to this interesting article, we are advised that Mr.
Lewis's positions are opposed by another distinguished scholar, Professor
Edward Said '57 of Columbia University. He has called Lewis an "apologist
for Zionism and imperialism." I translate that to mean, a conservative
who favors the establishment and the status quo, that Said has a more
open (liberal) outlook.
It would be instructive on an extremely important subject were PAW to
publish an interview with Professor Said.
Many statements by Bernard
Lewis in your cover story of the September 11 issue about Muslims,
in particular Arabs, defy common sense and do not exhibit the critical
thinking that is a cornerstone of a Princeton education and end up betraying
his bias (cited by Edward Said 57 in the article) against Arabs.
Ill just cite two.
When he says The level of performance in freedom of expression,
education, job creation, rights for women, science and technology is abysmal
in the Arab world, he is not enlightening us about the Arab world,
he is simply stating a truism about the entire Third World, of which the
Arab world is a part. To carry his argument to its logical conclusion
would force him to decry the entire third world on these points. To single
out the Arab world for such criticism is not only reflects his bias, it
does not serve to usefully inform the reader what, in particular, distinguishes
the Arab world from the Third World. This, in turn, further serves to
confuse any rational analysis of Middle Eastern politics.
When asked, What do you think is the most important single factor
for their [the Arabs] falling behind? his illogical reply concerns
their treatment of women and lack of women in the workforce. If employment
of women is a necessary principle of economic success, how in the world
does Dr. Lewis explain the economic success of Japan?
What he did not say is whats different about the Arab world, is
the impact of the U.S. media and special interest groups thatfor
ulterior political motives--have been systematically demonizing Arabs
for over 50 years to the point where the average American equates Arab
with terrorist. The fact that Dr. Lewis must revert to illogical
arguments demonstrates his bias. If you have truth on your side, you can
be logical and fair.
Burdening women with excessive pregnancies and childbearing is one form
of male domination common in Muslim countries. In my work in the fwnlly-planning
programs of several countries, I found that Muslim men considered it their
religious duty to procreate many children, regardless of the effect on
their wives or on the children themselves. In several Islamic countries
in Africa and Asia, women still average six or more births, and the Palestinian
Territory is reported to have the world's highest annual rate of natural
increase (excess of births over deaths), 3.5 percent.
In Iran, however, where Khomeini sought to outlaw all birth control, there
has been a complete reversal of policy, and the present government actively
promotes contraception and sterilization. Birth rates have also fallen
substantially in Bangladesh and several other non-Arab Muslim countries.
With regard to Kathryn
Frederici Greenwood's interview with Bernard Lewis (September 11),
I feel compelled to take note of Mr. Lewis's call for a regime change
in Iran to further democracy. In fact, Iran had something of a fledgling
democracy in the early 1950s, headed by Prime Minister Mohammahd Mossadegh.
When he nationalized the oil fields that had been exploited by the Anglo-Iranian
Oil Company, the British, when they had lost in the World Court, persuaded
the Americans to get them back for them. Kermit Roosevelt, head of the
CIA mission in Teheran, organized the CIA-backed coup that overthrew the
legitimate government of Iran and engineered the return to the throne
of the Shah, an absolute dictator who used his secret service, SAVAK,
to brutally torture his political opponents. The Shah received unqualified
support from the United States.
Is it any wonder that there is deep suspicion of American motives in the
Middle East, given this kind of history? The U.S. has uniformly supported
the worst and most repressive regimes in order to control the natural
resources it needs. Besides this, there is the rather abysmal colonial
record of both Britain and France in the Islamic world, including the
destruction of Beirut by the French. Britain invented Iraq, Kuwait and
Trans Jordan (later, Jordan) and placed dubious kings on thrones that
suited British hegemony.
The Jordanian royal family and the former royal family of Iraq are both
descendants of Hussein ibn Ali, King of the Hejaz, who lost the war for
control of Arabia to the House of Saud and Abdul Assiz Ibn Saud. As an
ally of the British, Hussein got a consolation prize for his Hashemite
family. When Britain was finally obliged to give Egypt its independence,
did it give the Egyptians democracy? No. It gave them King Farouk. The
legacy of the Middle East and the Islamic world is something Fanon understood
perfectly. The kind of rage the West has engendered will go away only
if this history is acknowledged.
Richard Cummings '59
(The writer served as attorney-advisor with the
Near East South Asia region of U.S.A.I.D., as the lawyer for the A.I.D.
program in Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. He gave a lecture
cosponsored by the Arab Society of Princeton and the Institute for the
Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and
Central Asia, at Princeton this past February entitled, "Now Or Never-Human
Rights, International Law and the Prospects for Peace in the Middle East,"
which was posted on the PAW website. A graduate of Columbia Law School,
he holds a Ph.D. in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University.
He has taught at the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the University
of the West Indies, Barbados.)
due respect to Bernard Lewis, I believe that it is ingenuous to equate
free elections with democracy. A free election is merely a mechanism to
select recipients of political power. It is how these recipients then
wield that power that really determines the nature of democracy. A free
election can provide a government by the people, but not necessarily of
the people or for the people. It may be necessary but is not sufficient
for democracy. In other words, it is only the beginning of democracy,
not its end.
Once in power, an administration may be less than forthcoming with the
electorate. It may promote policies that further the fortunes of particular
interests against those of the general public, and the public may be none
the wiser. On a sinister note, these interests are liable to be those
which have provided the greatest financial support. An administration
does not really have to do a good job, so long as it is seen to be doing
a good job, and can sell itself successfully to the electorate at the
right time. A roomful of spin-doctors may be more important than anything
else in winning elections.
There are one thousand and one ways of manipulating public opinion, and
they are becoming more and more sophisticated every year. What good is
a free election if the public is misinformed, or saturated with diabolically
clever emotional appeals, or drugged on sound-bytes? Given the nature
of modern marketing techniques the "freedom" of "free elections"
becomes problematic. It is not the better man who wins, but the one who
is the most adept (or ruthless) campaigner, and often the better financed.
Dr. Lewis avers that democracies do not start wars. Of course they do,
and there is no theoretical reason why they shouldn't. With the skilled
use of propaganda and the support of the press, an administration may
start a war and cultivate public approval. The Spanish-American war comes
to mind, but there are others more recent. There is usually little difficulty
in getting public support. No population is so inveterately peace-loving
or so immune to the call of patriotism, that it can not be willingly led
into battle. But if that fails, there is always the draft. And what can
be more appealing than a war without any casualties on your side?
Free elections are no guarantee that political leaders will be sensible
men of peace. Fine leadership can arise within any political system. A
democracy based on a fickle, misled, apathetic electorate may be no improvement
over a monarchy, and no less prone to war.