Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bernard Lewis in old age: a bigot unencumbered by any restraint

I have just received the new book by Bernard Lewis, "Notes on A Century: Reflections of A Middle East Historian", published by Viking.  I naturally started reading and quickly realized that this book will be seen as the most revealing look inside the mind of this influential historian.  He is so unrestrained in his bigotry and racism and even ignorance.  He views his role not as a historian (as he started in his career and especially before arriving into the US and emerging as a Zionist propagandist), but as someone who can supply the Western reader will titillating information about sand niggers--and he sees Arabs just as sand niggers.  Witness him citing one of his close friends: a British official with authority over the Middle East with whom Lewis would meet for lunch regularly while in London.  Lewis cites approvingly the opinion of the man when he compares Arabs and Israelis:  "He had gone there [to Israel] in his official capacity and met a number of senior Israeli politicians and diplomatic officials.  He said that it had been a rare pleasure in that part of the world to be able to converse with politicians as rational adults and not have to watch his words as if he were talking with neurotic children.  I asked him if he had told them that.  He said: "Yes, I did and they were rather flattered [really? I wonder why?], but then one of them said:  'If that is how you feel about us why aren't you nicer to us'"? (p. 227).  This friend would urge the Israelis to not "give back" the Golan heights.  But there are Arabs that Lewis likes, to be fair to the man:  "For many years I traveled almost every year to Jordan, where I had a personal relationship with the royal family." (p. 216).  But Lewis is not only an expert on Islamic history, he also seems to have strong opinions and inside information about furniture in the Middle East.  He informed me:  "Chairs are not part of Middle Eastern tradition or culture". (p. 218).  I read this bit and I was relieved: you see, as an Arab, I have been standing all my life but only considered purchasing a chair when I read this passage. So thank you, Bernard Lewis.  He showers praise on Teddy Kollek (another close friend of his) because he set up a "refreshment counter" (225) for Christians one day.  Kid you not.