Bernard Lewis

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Bernard Lewis : biography

May 31, 1916 –

Bernard Lewis, FBA (born May 31, 1916) is a British-American historian specializing in oriental studies who is also known as a public intellectual and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Lewis’ expertise is in the history of Islam and the interaction between Islam and the West, and is especially famous in academic circles for his works on the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Lewis served in the British Army in the Royal Armoured Corps and Intelligence Corps during the Second World War before being seconded to the Foreign Office. After the war, he returned to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and was appointed to the new chair in Near and Middle Eastern History.

Lewis is a widely read expert on the Middle East, and is regarded as one of the West’s leading scholars of that region.James L. Abrahmson, , American Diplomacy, 8 June 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2008. His advice has been frequently sought by policymakers, including the Bush administration. In the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Martin Kramer, whose Ph.D. thesis was directed by Lewis, considered that, over a 60-year career, Lewis has emerged as "the most influential postwar historian of Islam and the Middle East."

Lewis is known for his controversial views on the Armenian genocide.The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide, Yair Auron, 2003, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 0-7658-0834-X, p. 235La province de la mort, p. 9, Leslie A. Davis, Yves Ternon, 1994Robert Melson, Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, University of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 0-226-51990-2, p. 289 He is notable for his public debates with the late Edward Said, concerning the latter’s book Orientalism (1978), which criticized Lewis and other European Orientalists.

Views and influence on contemporary politics

In the mid-1960s, Lewis emerged as a commentator on the issues of the modern Middle East, and his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rise of militant Islam brought him publicity and aroused significant controversy. American historian Joel Beinin has called him "perhaps the most articulate and learned Zionist advocate in the North American Middle East academic community".Beinin, Joel. , MERIP Middle East Report, No. 147, Egypt’s Critical Moment (Jul., 1987), pp. 43-45. Lewis’s policy advice has particular weight thanks to this scholarly authority. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney remarked that, "in this new century, his wisdom is sought daily by policymakers, diplomats, fellow academics, and the news media."

A harsh critic of the Soviet Union, Lewis continues the liberal tradition in Islamic historical studies. Although his early Marxist views had a bearing on his first book The Origins of Ismailism, Lewis subsequently discarded Marxism. His later works are a reaction against the left-wing current of Third-worldism, which came to be a significant current in Middle Eastern studies.

Lewis advocates closer Western ties with Israel and Turkey, which he saw as especially important in light of the extension of the Soviet influence in the Middle East. Modern Turkey holds a special place in Lewis’s view of the region due to the country’s efforts to become a part of the West. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Turkish Studies, an honor which is given "on the basis of generally recognized scholarly distinction and… long and devoted service to the field of Turkish Studies.", Institute of Turkish Studies website.

Lewis views Christendom and Islam as civilizations that have been in perpetual collision since the advent of Islam in the 7th century. In his essay The Roots of Muslim Rage (1990), he argued that the struggle between the West and Islam was gathering strength. According to one source, this essay (and Lewis’ 1990 Jefferson Lecture on which the article was based) first introduced the term "Islamic fundamentalism" to North America.Amber Haque, "Islamophobia in North America: Confronting the Menace," in Barry van Driel, ed., Confronting Islamophobia in Educational Practice (Trentham Books, 2004), ISBN 1-85856-340-2, p.6, at Google Books. This essay has been credited with coining the phrase "clash of civilizations", which received prominence in the eponymous book by Samuel Huntington. However, another source indicates that Lewis first used the phrase "clash of civilizations" at a meeting in Washington in 1957 where it is recorded in the transcript.Ruthie Blum Liebowitz, Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2008 (interview with Bernard Lewis).