Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried an unusually important page-one story by Peter Waldman on the policymaking impact of Middle East historian Bernard Lewis: “A historian’s take on Islam steers U.S. in terrorism fight.” Here are the introductory paragraphs:
Bernard Lewis often tells audiences about an encounter he once had in Jordan. The Princeton University historian, author of more than 20 books on Islam and the Middle East, says he was chatting with Arab friends in Amman when one of them trotted out an argument familiar in that part of the world. “We have time, we can wait,” he quotes the Jordanian as saying. “We got rid of the Crusaders. We got rid of the Turks. We’ll get rid of the Jews.”
Hearing this claim “one too many times,” Mr. Lewis says, he politely shot back, “Excuse me, but you’ve got your history wrong. The Turks got rid of the Crusaders. The British got rid of the Turks. The Jews got rid of the British. I wonder who is coming here next.” The vignette, recounted in the 87-year-old scholar’s native British accent, always garners laughs. Yet he tells it to underscore a serious point. Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies, he contends, beckoning outsiders — this time, Americans — to intervene.
Call it the Lewis Doctrine. Though never debated in Congress or sanctified by presidential decree, Mr. Lewis’s diagnosis of the Muslim world’s malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years. The occupation of Iraq is putting the doctrine to the test.
(Courtesy of Little Green Footballs.)