Bernard Lewis : biography
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.
Views on Islam
Lewis presents some of his conclusions about Islamic culture, Shari’a Law, jihad, and the modern day phenomenon of terrorism in his text, Islam: The Religion and the People.Bernard Lewis and Buntzie Ellis Churchill, Islam: The Religion and the People, Wharton School Publishing, 2008, pp. 145-150 He writes of jihad as a distinct "religious obligation", but suggests that "it is a pity" that people engaging in terrorist activities are not more aware of their own religion:
Muslim fighters are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged unless they attack first; not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners; to give fair warning of the opening of hostilities or their resumption after a truce; and to honor agreements… At no time did the classical jurists offer any approval or legitimacy to what we nowadays call terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism as it is practiced nowadays."[Ibid (page 151)]
In Lewis’ view, the "by now widespread terrorism practice of suicide bombing is a development of the 20th century" with "no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition."[Ibid (page 153)] He further comments that "the fanatical warrior offering his victims the choice of the Koran or the sword is not only untrue, it is impossible" and that "generally speaking, Muslim tolerance of unbelievers was far better than anything available in Christendom, until the rise of secularism in the 17th century."[Ibid (page 146)]
Stance on the Iraq War
Jacob Weisberg has described Lewis as "perhaps the most significant intellectual influence behind the invasion of Iraq". Michael Hirsh has attributed to him 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., Washington Monthly, November 2004. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
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.", Ruthie Blum, The Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2008
Ian Buruma, writing for The New Yorker in an article subtitled "The two minds of Bernard Lewis", finds Lewis’s stance on the war difficult to reconcile with Lewis’s past statements cautioning democracy’s enforcement in the world at large. Buruma ultimately rejects suggestions by his peers that Lewis promotes war with Iraq to safeguard Israel, but instead concludes "perhaps he (Lewis) loves it (the Arab world) too much":
Alleged nuclear threat from Iran
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 August 22, 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 the prophet 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.", Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2006. According to Lewis, mutual assured destruction is not an effective deterrent in the case of Iran, because of what Lewis describes as the Iranian leadership’s "apocalyptic worldview" and the "suicide or martyrdom complex that plagues parts of the Islamic world today".http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008768 He then suggests the possibility of a nuclear strike on Israel on August 22, 2006: