Bernard Lewis

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Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis (Stoke Newington, London, May 31, 1916). Historian and British Orientalist, with dual Israeli and American nationality.

Bernard_Lewis’s Biography

His family was Jewish and middle class. From the age of twelve he felt a keen interest in Semitic languages ​​and history; He began to study Hebrew and history of the Israeli people. He later learned Aramaic and Arabic, and later Latin, Greek, Persian and Turkish, until he mastered a dozen languages. He studied and taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; he was adviser of the British secret services during World War II and consultant of the Council of National Security of the United States and counselor of Benjamin Netanyahu when he was ambassador of Israel in the UN (1984-88); in 1974 he moved to Princeton University, in New Jersey, of which he is Professor Emeritus of Studies on the Near East.

His field of study has been the history of Islam and the Ottoman Empire, as well as the relations between Islam and the West.His books have reached a wide diffusion and he is frequently considered one of the leading Western experts on the Middle East, position from which he has acted as advisor to various institutions, such as the George W. Bush administration, was the first Westerner to be allowed access to the Ottoman archives in Istanbul in 1950. He held a controversial theory about the Armenian genocide, which, for him, was rather a civil war between two peoples who lived in the same country, Turkey. In The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 2nd ed. (1968 in English), Bernard Lewis wrote:

For the Turks, this Armenian secessionist threat appeared as the most undoubted of all. They could still, despite what it was, abandon their Serbian, Bulgarian, Albanian and Greek conquests to bring their own borders closer to those of the empire. But the Armenians, who spread through Turkey to Asia and from the Caucasus border to the Mediterranean coast, were implanted in the heart of the Turkish homeland and renouncing these regions would have meant, rather than secession, the dissolution of the state Turkish. Throughout the centuries the Turkish and Armenian peoples, inextricably mixed, lived in good neighborliness, and behold, a desperate struggle between two nations compromised between them for the possession of a single homeland that ended in the terrible massacres of 1915, in which one and a half million Armenians perished, according to some estimates, and an unknown number of Turks.

On the other hand he confronted the Palestinian Edward Said for fundamental questions about Orientalism. In an article entitled “The Question of Orientalism” (The New York Review of Books, June 24, 1982), Bernard Lewis responded to the attacks of which it was a term on the part of the Orientalists, and in particular those directed by Edward. Said Lewis estimates that Edward Said’s demonstrations were not convincing, and he reproached him for the following:

  • Artificially create a group, the Orientalists, who held the same thesis in the rough, which Bernard Lewis deems absurd.
  • Ignore the works of the Orientalists of the Germanic world to focus on the British and French, and to forget among the latter a good number of older authors, such as Claude Cahen.
  • To often prefer “minor or occasional writings” to “major contributions to science”.
  • Integrate into your analysis authors who are not true orientalists, such as Gérard de Nerval.
  • Committing a series of distortions of truth and factual errors, especially when Edward Said accuses Sylvestre de Sacy of having stolen documents and dishonest translations (“This nonsensical defamation of a great sage has been done without a gram really “), or when he writes that Muslim Armenians have conquered Turkey before North Africa (” that is, that the eleventh century came before the seventh “).
  • Making absurd interpretations of passages written by orientalists, especially of Bernard Lewis himself.
  • Use two criteria and two standards: “Soviet specialists, particularly when dealing with Islamic regions and other non-European regions of the Soviet Union, often refer to – much more than the British and French who condemn – biased literature and demeaning that Edward Said detests so much in the others, but Said never mentions the disputable theses of the Russian authors. “

As a connoisseur of Islamic philosophy and principles, he affirmed that “rules abound in Islam that govern the beginning, development and end of hostilities and deal with such specific issues as behavior with prisoners and with populations. conquered, the punishment of spies, the use of the enemy’s assets and the acquisition and distribution of plunder, although the dispositions show a clear concern for moral values ​​and norms, it is difficult to reconcile them with a moral and spiritual interpretation of jihad as such”. In 2006 he received the National Humanities Medal.

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