One of the great scholars of our time died this past weekend at age 101. Bernard Lewis, writes Jay Nordlinger at National Review, was an historian of the Middle East as well as an elegant writer.
In a long teaching career, he had hundreds or thousands of students, some of whom called him “the Imam” — the ultimate authority. Lewis, by the way, was a great friend of the Arabs. This is poorly understood both by his enemies and by some of his fans.
In 2003 Tunku Varadarajian interviewed Bernard, Lewis for the WSJ.
(Bernard Lewis) told a joke now doing the rounds in that part of the world: “Two Iranians lament the state of their country. Finally, one says to the other, ‘What we need here is a bin Laden.’ ‘Are you crazy?’ his friend gasps. ‘No!’ the first Iranian says. ‘That way the Americans would come and rescue us.’ ” . . .
Of all the scholars of Islam, Mr. Lewis is the one whom Muslims would do best to heed. So I asked him recently if “What Went Wrong?” had been translated into Arabic. Not yet, apparently, though there’s a version on the way. But “nine or 10” of his other books have been translated into Arabic, Turkish and Persian. Of one, “The Middle East and the West,” published in 1968, he shares a charming story. “It was promptly translated into Hebrew by Israel’s Defense Ministry, and into Arabic—by Egypt’s Muslim Brothers!” The latter, a fundamentalist group, published it in two versions, a full-length one, and as a shortened pamphlet to be sold outside mosques. The pamphlet’s editor, in his introduction, paid Mr. Lewis an austere compliment, one he considers among the finest he has received. He wrote this of the professor: “I don’t know who this man is. He is either a candid friend or an honest enemy, but in either case, one who refuses to deal in falsehoods.”
Read more here.