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Bernard Lewis RIP – “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people”

Bernard Lewis RIP – “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people”

His understanding of Islamism continues to shed light on the war against Jews and Christians: “Both the Saturday people and the Sunday people are now suffering the consequences”

Historian Bernard Lewis died yesterday at age 101.

The accolades are rolling in.

Jay Nordlinger tweeted:

Bernard Lewis was the dean of Middle East scholars — and one of the greatest scholars of our age. One of the most useful too, frankly. Like countless others, I learned a great deal from him. You might like to spend an hour in his company, via this video.

This 2006 profile at The Weekly Standard also provides good background, The Last Orientalist:

IT IS OFTEN SAID THAT the United States isn’t easy on its scholars and public intellectuals–that they are not accorded the prestige and respect that they are given in the Old World. This complaint, usually made by left-wingers struggling against the tide in the United States, isn’t totally without merit. A good literary scholar or classicist in the United States perhaps doesn’t quite have the same social cachet as would a similarly accomplished scholar at Oxford or the Sorbonne. But when scholars do make it in the United States–and there certainly seem to be vastly more European scholars hoping to make it in America than Americans trying to snag a sinecure in Europe–there is simply no comparison in the eminence, influence, and renown that they can achieve. Since arriving in the United States in 1974, the British historian of the Middle East Bernard Lewis has become one of America’s–and thus the world’s–most famous academics.

For those of us seriously interested in the Middle East–and since 9/11 that has become a rather large crowd–Lewis, who will celebrate his 90th birthday on May 31, has attained a stature in the field and with the general reading public unrivaled by any historian, living or dead, of the Middle East and Islam. His range of writings–from the pre-Islamic period, through Islam’s classical and medieval ages and its premodern “gunpowder” empires, to today’s Muslim nation-states–is simply unparalleled by any other scholar, even from the golden age of Islamic studies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the field’s terrifyingly erudite, multilingual European founding fathers–the much despised “orientalists”–bestrode the earth. Lewis is the last and greatest of the orientalists–an awkward, geographically imprecise name for those who gave birth to the disciplined study of Islamic civilization. To borrow from Shiite Muslim legal scholarship, Bernard Lewis is the marja-e taqlid, “the source of emulation,” the scholar to whom on the great questions one must make reference. He has joined that elite group of academics–the economists Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith come to mind–who have decisively shaped public discourse, if not always government policy, on their subjects.

My own reading of Lewis’ work was rather limited, so I can’t express a personal view on where he fit in in the sweep of history. But there are two articles of his that made a difference to me, and still are required reading.

First is his 1990 article in The Atlantic, The Roots of Muslim Rage:

Islam is one of the world’s great religions. Let me be explicit about what I, as a historian of Islam who is not a Muslim, mean by that. Islam has brought comfort and peace of mind to countless millions of men and women. It has given dignity and meaning to drab and impoverished lives. It has taught people of different races to live in brotherhood and people of different creeds to live side by side in reasonable tolerance. It inspired a great civilization in which others besides Muslims lived creative and useful lives and which, by its achievement, enriched the whole world. But Islam, like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers a mood of hatred and violence. It is our misfortune that part, though by no means all or even most, of the Muslim world is now going through such a period, and that much, though again not all, of that hatred is directed against us….

In the classical Islamic view, to which many Muslims are beginning to return, the world and all mankind are divided into two: the House of Islam, where the Muslim law and faith prevail, and the rest, known as the House of Unbelief or the House of War, which it is the duty of Muslims ultimately to bring to Islam. But the greater part of the world is still outside Islam, and even inside the Islamic lands, according to the view of the Muslim radicals, the faith of Islam has been undermined and the law of Islam has been abrogated. The obligation of holy war therefore begins at home and continues abroad, against the same infidel enemy….

The movement nowadays called fundamentalism is not the only Islamic tradition. There are others, more tolerant, more open, that helped to inspire the great achievements of Islamic civilization in the past, and we may hope that these other traditions will in time prevail. But before this issue is decided there will be a hard struggle, in which we of the West can do little or nothing. Even the attempt might do harm, for these are issues that Muslims must decide among themselves. And in the meantime we must take great care on all sides to avoid the danger of a new era of religious wars, arising from the exacerbation of differences and the revival of ancient prejudices.

It’s no surprise that this historical and theocratic view of Islam made Lewis hated by western leftists and particularly Israel haters. Ben Norton, a member of the Max Blumenthal crowd, thus tweeted:

Orientalist Bernard Lewis shilled for US empire, helped sell murderous wars, advised neocons on how to better conquer the Middle East, and denied the Armenian Genocide.

Now, after contributing to wars that killed millions, the “eminent historian” is dead

More important to me than 1990 Atlantic article was Lewis’ 1976 article in Commentary, which John Podoretz correctly called a “landmark essay.”

I wrote about that article, The Return of Islam, in my January 2, 2016 post, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people”:

I’m surprised I had not heard the phrase in the title of this post before today.

Though I’m certainly familiar with the concept, it’s one we’ve explored here many times when discussing (i) that the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the inability of Muslims to accept any non-Muslim entity in the Middle East, but particularly not a Jewish national entity; (b) the plight of Christians in the Middle East who are on the receiving end of what would happen to the Jews in Israel if Israel ever lost a war; and (c) the Islamist-Leftist anti-Israel coalition, in which useful Western leftists are oblivous (at best, giving them the benefit of the doubt) to the threat they would be under if forced to live under the rule of their coalition partners as they demand of Israeli Jews.

I got to the phrase in a round-about way. First, I saw Martin Kramer’s Tweet linking to his Facebook post:

Exactly 40 years ago, Commentary published Bernard Lewis’s landmark article, “The Return of Islam.” Remember, in January 1976, the Shah was still firmly on his throne, the Muslim Brothers were nowhere to be seen, and there was no Hamas, Hezbollah, or Al Qaeda. So how did Lewis discern the “return”? He saw that regimes, including secular ones, were beginning to invoke Islam. This, he surmised, must be a reaction to a more profound trend. Perhaps the most prescient article ever written about the Middle East.

Then I read through (skimmed parts) of Lewis’ Commentary article, The Return of Islam (Jan. 1, 1976), which is quite long.

The central thesis of the article is that the West completely misunderstands the nature of the conflict, seeking to put it in the types of “left” and “right” disputes that dominate Western politics….

“…. one finds special correspondents of the New York Times and of other lesser newspapers describing the current conflicts in Lebanon in terms of right-wing and left-wing factions. As medieval Christian man could only conceive of religion in terms of a trinity, so his modern descendant can only conceive of politics in terms of a theology or, as we now say, ideology, of left-wing and right-wing forces and factions.

This recurring unwillingness to recognize the nature of Islam or even the fact of Islam as an independent, different, and autonomous religious phenomenon persists and recurs from medieval to modern times….Modern Western man, being unable for the most part to assign a dominant and central place to religion in his own affairs, found himself unable to conceive that any other peoples in any other place could have done so, and was therefore impelled to devise other explanations of what seemed to him only superficially religious phenomena….

To the modern Western mind, it is not conceivable that men would fight and die in such numbers over mere differences of religion; there have to be some other “genuine” reasons underneath the religious veil….This is reflected in the present inability, political, journalistic, and scholarly alike, to recognize the importance of the factor of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world and in the consequent recourse to the language of left-wing and right-wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western terminology…. “

But the portion of the Commentary article that motivated my post was this (emphasis added):

In the period immediately preceding the outbreak of 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. Fundamentally, the same issue arises in both Palestine and Lebanon, though the circumstances that complicate the two situations are very different. The basic question is this: Is a resurgent Islam prepared to tolerate a non-Islamic enclave, whether Jewish in Israel or Christian in Lebanon, in the heart of the Islamic world? The current fascination among Muslims with the history of the Crusades, the vast literature on the subject, both academic and popular, and the repeated inferences drawn from the final extinction of the Crusading principalities throw some light on attitudes in this matter. Islam from its inception is a religion of power, and in the Muslim world view it is right and proper that power should be wielded by Muslims and Muslims alone. Others may receive the tolerance, even the benevolence, of the Muslim state, provided that they clearly recognize Muslim supremacy. That Muslims should rule over non-Muslims is right and normal.9 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. Here again, it must be recalled that Islam is not conceived as a religion in the limited Western sense but as a community, a loyalty, and a way of life—and that the Islamic community is still recovering from the traumatic era when Muslim governments and empires were overthrown and Muslim peoples forcibly subjected to alien, infidel rule. Both the Saturday people and the Sunday people are now suffering the consequences.

This analysis is as true today as it was in 1976, and in 1948 when, as historian Benny Morris has documented, the war against the creation of Israel was viewed as war of Jihad against the infidels occupying Muslim lands (emphasis added):

“What I discovered in the documentation relating to the war, at least from the Arab side, was that the war had a religious character, that the central element in the war was an imperative to launch jihad. There were other imperatives of course, political and others—but the most important from the enemy’s perspective was the element of the infidels who had the nerve to take control over sacred Muslim lands and the need to uproot them from there. The decisive majority in the Arab world saw the war first and foremost as a holy war, but until today historians have not examined the documentation that proves this. In my view, they have also ignored Arab rhetoric of the day, which universally included religious hatred against the Jews, because they thought the Arabs adopted this as normal speech that did not emanate from deep mental resources. They thought this was something superficial, that everyone talked like this. But I am positive the Arab spokesmen in 1948 did go beyond this and clearly and explicitly talked about jihad.”

Lewis’ work is a key to understanding the obsessive Iranian hatred of Israel, as well as that from other Islamists supported by Iran, like Hezbollah and Hamas. It’s not about a few miles of territory here or there.  But it’s not just a war against the Jews, it’s a war against Christians as well that is playing out in the Middle East in an ethnic cleansing of ancient Christian communities.

The western leftists who are equally obsessed against Israel supposedly on “occupation” or “human rights” grounds are part of the Jihad against the Jews and Christian whether they understand their role or not.

I ended my 2016 post as follows:

… I’m glad I found the phrase. It explains a lot.

About how the fates of Jews and Christians are intertwined, and not just in the Middle East.


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Bucky Barkingham | May 20, 2018 at 10:22 am

I have read several of Mr. Lewis’ books and found them to be quite informative.

JohnSmith100 | May 20, 2018 at 11:44 am

“recognize Muslim supremacy. That Muslims should rule over non-Muslims is right and normal.9 That non-Muslims should rule over Muslims is an offense against the laws of God and nature”

It is interesting that the rise of Islam led to stagnation. How can a culture or religion evolve when everyone who might lead change is murdered?

Muslims are not better than everyone else, in fact, they are inferior. If they insist on trying to conquer and convert by force, then there really is no choice except to help them along on their path to martyrdom.

Immigration policy should be that no Muslims are allowed, in large part because these people are brainwashed into believing that their allegiance is solely to Islam, and that is why they cannot assimilate.

Last, what is America going to do to make sure that French (300 Warheads) and UK (215 Warheads)nukes do not end up in the hands of Muslims?

Geoffrey Britain | May 20, 2018 at 1:17 pm

It is my understanding that Lewis is the man who convinced George W Bush that “Islam is a Religion of Peace”.

That assertion is buttressed by passages quoted here in this article. Lewis is correct in his assertion that Islam has had its quiescent, tolerant periods but his omission in acknowledging that the fundamentalists hold the theological high ground indicates a biased apologia. Islamic enmity to the infidel is inherent to Islam because passages in the Qur’an repeatedly declare virulent, permanent hostility to the infidel.

Cementing that POV is Muhammad’s repeated insistance that he is NOT the Qur’an’s author. That Allah is the author, which makes reform impossible since fallible mankind cannot correct infallible Allah. This is why Islamic fundamentalists have always held the upper hand and why periods of Islamic moderation are always transitory.

    randian in reply to Geoffrey Britain. | May 21, 2018 at 5:04 am

    Apologist is right. How else could Bernard Lewis say things like “helped to inspire the great achievements of Islamic civilization”. I’d love to know what those achievements were.

    He also said “It has taught people of different races to live in brotherhood and people of different creeds to live side by side in reasonable tolerance”. Tolerance? Since when? I do not call a state in which you can be executed, crucified, maimed, or exiled at any time for the smallest real or imagined slight against Muhammad or Islam to be one of “reasonable tolerance” for differing creeds.

Really sad, but 101 ain’t bad.

His contribution to the knowledge and progress of mankind, compared to his nemesis Edward Said, is beyond comparison.

Many intelligent ones reject him, but experience shows they’re not so smart after all, about Lewis and life.

My wife once sat next to him at lunch many years ago. He kept
her entertained with a steady stream of hilarious jokes drawn
from his vast knowledge of Middle Eastern literature. He was
a genial and gracious man, as well as a prodigious scholar..

JohnSmith100 | May 20, 2018 at 3:39 pm

“war of Jihad against the infidels occupying Muslim lands”

Since Mohamed took those lands by force, then others may do the same. How dumb is it to worship a warlord who murdered, looted, raped women, and even girls as young as nine?

Richard Dawkins Upsets Liberals and Muslims by Confronting Them with Reality

Below is a small part of the article, it is worthwhile reading the whole thing. For the most part, really dumb people are Muslim.

“Not So Smart…

Of course, the Nobel Prize is not the only measure of intellectual achievement or level of civilization. All around the world psychologists have people take IQ tests to measure their cognitive abilities. The smartest predominantly Muslim country is Kazakhstan with a national average IQ of 94, followed by Malaysia at 92. These scores correlate strongly with a nation’s GDP. Basically, no country below 95 is doing well, unless it has enormous amounts of oil or if it’s a tax haven. And for anyone who thinks high IQs are the result of money rather than vice versa, the stats for super-rich Muslim oil countries tell a different story – Brunei 91, Qatar 78 and United Arab Emirates 84.”

    casualobserver in reply to JohnSmith100. | May 20, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    What is the source of your “Facts”, Donald Templer? Wow.

        casualobserver in reply to Geoffrey Britain. | May 20, 2018 at 7:05 pm

        My point has nothing to do with RANKING intelligence. It was the source of his data. It apparently comes from Donald Templer, hardly a recognized authority. He did one study. He is fringe.

        Others have completed more recognized studies (such as Richard Lynn whose date was used to compose the list you linked). And their data is more accurate and shows higher IQs, with context about variances. It’s a fact that majority Muslim countries are behind in all cultural ways and in modern cognitive development. But not as bad as Templer found.

          Geoffrey Britain in reply to casualobserver. | May 20, 2018 at 7:56 pm

          Your ‘point’ is specious because Lynn’s data supports Dawkins argument. What does it matter if, as a group Muslims are not quite as dumb as Templar reports? And, your dismissal of Templar is “an argument from authority” which has since the Romans been accepted as logically flawed. At one time, Copernicus and Gallileo were “fringe”. The more challenging to politically correct dogma, the more certain the category of fringe will be applied by ‘authority’.

          JohnSmith100 in reply to casualobserver. | May 20, 2018 at 11:01 pm

          Actually, Templar came to the same conclusion as others. Middle Eastern peoples significantly lag behind other groups in many areas. They lag in social development, in intellectual development and so much more. You are simply arguing against Templar because you believe in political correctness. Since the sixties political correctness demanded that underachievement be treated as an environmental problem, when in reality most of it is a genetic problem. We cannot do people who are intellectually challenged justice by ignoring their core real problem.

          JusticeDelivered in reply to casualobserver. | May 23, 2018 at 12:21 pm

          “Muslims are not quite as dumb as Templar reports?”

          I suspect that ongoing in breading has dumbed down Muslims.

      JohnSmith100 in reply to casualobserver. | May 20, 2018 at 8:06 pm

      Apparently, you missed that I was referring to writings of Richard Dawkins.

      No matter how one looks at this, Muslims are inferior, if their egos have trouble dealing with that, who cares?

Mister Natural | May 20, 2018 at 5:30 pm

read his books. he was onto the shtick of the religion of peace

My intro to Prof. Lewis’s work was What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. It was chilling and instructive to read that it is considered wrong in Islam to prohibit that which is accepted in the Koran.

I remain grateful to Prof. Lewis for his erudition and style.

    Geoffrey Britain in reply to alicia. | May 20, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    It’s not “accepted”, it’s mandatory. Muhammad repeatedly stated that he was NOT the Qur’an’s author. That Allah directly dictated through the archangel Gabriel the Qur’an to Muhammad who miraculously enabled the illiterate Muhammad to transcribe it for the world.

    Since it is Allah’s direct testimony with Gabriel making sure that Muhammad got it exactly correct down to the last comma, not one word can be changed or revised. As fallible mankind cannot correct infallible Allah.

    Thus a Muslim has no choice, they must follow Allah’s commands, which are theological imperatives or they risk Allah’s wrath, who is NOT a forgiving fellow…

JohnSmith100 | May 20, 2018 at 8:25 pm

I have ordered six of Prof. Lewis’s books and will digest them. Everyone should look at what Churchill had to say about Muslims. I also think that the issue of close inbreeding is a very important aspect of why Muslims failed to evolve for over a thousand years.

“There is some justice in one charge that is frequently leveled against the United States, and more generally against the West: Middle Easterners frequently complain that the West judges them by different and lower standards than it does Europeans and Americans, both in what is expected of them and what they may expect, in terms of their economic well-being and their political freedom. They assert that Western spokesmen repeatedly overlook or even defend actions and support rulers that they would not tolerate in their own countries.
…there is nevertheless a widespread [Western] perception that there are significant differences between the advanced Western world and the rest, notably the peoples of Islam, and that these latter are in some ways different, with the tacit assumption that they are inferior. The most flagrant violations of civil rights, political freedom, and even human decency are disregarded or glossed over, and crimes against humanity, which in a European or American country would evoke a storm of outrage, are seen as normal and even acceptable.

…The underlying assumption in all this is that these people are incapable of running a democratic society and have neither concern nor capacity for human decency.”

The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis, p104

    randian in reply to Fen. | May 21, 2018 at 4:54 am

    “The underlying assumption in all this is that these people are incapable of running a democratic society and have neither concern nor capacity for human decency”

    Bernard seems to be implying this assumption is incorrect. I wonder on what factual basis he makes that claim.