Prof. Bernard Lewis – unique realism on the Islamic threat

Ettinger-Yoram photo SmallThe litany of books and essays on Islam and the Middle East by Prof. Bernard Lewis – who passed away on May 19, 2018 – have been vindicated throughout the recent global and Middle East turbulence and unpredictability. They have exposed the self-defeating policies by most Western policy-makers, who have sacrificed realism on the altar of well-intentioned wishful-thinking and oversimplification, especially when it comes to facing the clear, present and lethal Islamic threat to Western democracies.

Prof. Bernard Lewis’ January 1976 essay in Commentary Magazine highlighted the fundamentals of the Islamic threat well before the current intensification of Islamic terrorism in Europe, the proliferation of Islamic cells in the USA and Latin America, the 2010 eruption of the Arab/Islamic Tsunami, the 2001 assault on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 1995-96 bombings of US targets in Saudi Arabia, the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy and the US Marines headquarters in Lebanon, the 1980s rise of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and the 1979 Ayatollahs’ rise to power in Iran:

“…. Is a resurgent Islam prepared to tolerate a non-Islamic enclave, whether Jewish or Christian, in the heart of the Islamic world….? Islam from its inception is a religion of power, and in the Muslim worldview it is right and proper that power should be wielded by Muslims alone.  Others may receive the tolerance, even the benevolence, of the Muslim state, provided that they clearly recognize Muslim supremacy.  That Muslim should rule over non-Muslims is right and normal.  That non-Muslims should rule over Muslims is an offense against the laws of God and nature, and this is true whether in Kashmir, Palestine, Lebanon or Cyprus…. Islam is not conceived as a religion in the limited Western sense, but as a community, a loyalty and a way of life…. The Islamic community is still recovering from the traumatic era when Muslim governments and empires were overthrown and Muslim peoples were forcibly subjected to alien, infidel rule.  Both the ‘Saturday people’ and the ‘Sunday people’ are now suffering the consequences.”

“….To the modern Western mind, it is not conceivable that men would fight and die [in intra-Islamic conflicts] in such numbers over mere differences of religion…. To admit that an entire [Islamic] civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much…. This is reflected in the present inability to recognize the importance of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world….

“There are two essential points which need to be grasped: the universality of religion as a factor in the lives of the Muslim peoples and its centrality….

“The three major Middle Eastern religions are significantly different in their relations with the state and their attitudes to political power. Judaism was associated with the state and was then disentangled from it…. Christianity, during the first formative centuries was separate from, and indeed antagonistic to, the state…. Islam, from the lifetime of its founder was the state.  The identity of religion and government is indelibly stamped on the memories and awareness of the faithful from their own sacred writings, history and experience….

“Muhammad did not die on the cross.  As well as a Prophet, he was a soldier and a statesman, the head of a state and the founder of an empire, and his followers were sustained by a belief in the manifestation of divine approval through success and victory.  Islam was associated with power from the very beginning…. This association between religion and power, community and polity, can already be seen in the Qur’an itself and in the other early religious texts on which Muslims base their beliefs.  One consequence is that in Islam religion is not, as it is in Christendom, one sector or segment of life; it is concerned with the whole of life…. In such a society the very idea of the separation of church and state is meaningless…. Church and state, religious and political authority, are one and the same….

“The imagery and symbolism of the [Palestinian] Fatah is strikingly Islamic. Yasir Arafat’s nom de guerre, Abu Ammar (the father of Ammar) is an allusion to the historic figure of Ammar ibn Yasir, the son of Yasir, a companion of the Prophet [Muhammad] and a valiant fighter in all his battles.  The name Fatah [Fatih, the Conqueror] is a term meaning a conquest for Islam gained in the Holy War…. The Palestinian Liberation Army brigades are names after great victories won by Muslims… in holy wars against non-Muslims – Qadisiyya against the Zoroastrian Persians, Hattin against the Crusaders, Ayn Jalut against the Mongols….

“As the [Arab] nationalist movement has become genuinely popular, so it has become less national and more religious – less Arab and more Islamic…. In moments of crisis it is the instinctive communal loyalty which outweighs all others…. The world is divided basically into two.  One is the community of the Muslims, the other that of the unbelievers.  The subdivisions among the latter are of secondary importance….

“The war is a holy war, and the rewards of martyrdom, as specified in scripture, await those who are killed in it….

“Islam is still the most effective form of consensus in Muslim countries, the basic group identity among the masses…. As regimes come closer to the populace, even if their verbiage is left-wing and ideological, they become more Islamic….

“In the period immediately preceding the Six-Day War in 1967, an ominous phrase was sometimes heard: “First the ‘Saturday people,’ then the ‘Sunday people.”’ The ‘Saturday people’ have proved unexpectedly recalcitrant, and recent events in Lebanon indicate that the priorities may have been reversed….”

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Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

Ambassador (Retired) Yoram Ettinger is an insider on US-Israel relations, Mideast politics and overseas investments in Israel's high tech. He is a consultant to members of the Israeli Cabinet and Knesset, and regularly briefs US legislators and their staff. His OpEds have been published in Israel and the US he has been interviewed in both Australia and the U.S. A graduate of UCLA and undergraduate at UTEP, he served amongst other things, as Minister for Congressional Affairs at Israel's Embassy in Washington. He is the editor of "Straight from the Jerusalem Cloakroom and Boardroom" newsletters on issues of national security and overseas investments in Israel's high-tech.

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