Friday, November 21, 2014

Islam and the West by Bernard Lewis

This study of the relationship between the Islamic civilization and Western civilization is highlighted by a spirited defense of modern scholarship of Islam against a certain Islamic suspicion that any non Muslim could not possibly study and understand Islam properly.  What makes Bernard Lewis a unique scholar is the fact that he has mastered all of the Middle eastern languages.

Islam is unlike Christianity in that there is no separation from the state.  Islam has no church. It is an ever growing religious state, originally built on the talents of founder and subsequent conquests.  The pinnacle of that state seems to have been the Ottoman empire, a fervently religious regime which unified the people and ruled the longest.  The fact that the Ottomans were not Arab, and the Mongols, Tatars were devout converts allows one to see the universal nature of Islam.

As an exclusive faith, however, Islam always rivaled Christian settlement and the Church since Christianity is also an exclusive faith.  There never seems to be the possibility of coexistence unless through a truce.  This means that a state of war is technically in force with the non Muslim state.  The notion of a Muslim living under the rule of a non Muslim is an anathema.

In a confrontation with Columbia professor Edward Said, Lewis dismisses Said's charge that "Orientalism" has an inherent bias and thus one can not rely on any of the past scholarship from non Muslims, citing his sweeping declarations without any proof of support.  The term itself implies Western bias because there is an assumption of one factor of geographic direction and no assumption about the cultural civilization! While Lewis might agree that there has been bias, or even the term is outdated, nevertheless, he shows that Said does not seem to understand the scientific methods of research that enable the critical scholar to understand and comment.

The book is a tour d'force as an excellent introduction to a highly cultured profound civilization.  Mr. Lewis treats his subject with great sensitivity and respect.