Bernard Lewis, Influential Scholar of Islam, Is Dead at 101

‘Clash of Civilizations’

Mr. Lewis long propounded his diagnosis of a sick Arab society. In a cover article in The Atlantic in 1990, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” he used the phrase “clash of civilizations” to describe what he saw as inevitable friction between the Islamic world and the West. (The political scientist Samuel P. Huntington borrowed the phrase in an influential article of his own in 1993, crediting Mr. Lewis.)

The book cover of “What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response,” by Bernard Lewis.

In his article, Mr. Lewis wrote: “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,” he continued, “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 his view Islamic fundamentalism was at war with both secularism and modernism, as embodied by the West. Fundamentalists, he wrote, had “given an aim and a form to the otherwise aimless and formless resentment and anger of the Muslim masses at the forces that have devalued their traditional values and loyalties and, in the final analysis, robbed them of their beliefs, their aspirations, their dignity, and to an increasing extent even their livelihood.”

Mr. Cheney once noted that in the 1970s, before the Iranian revolution, Mr. Lewis had “studied the writings of an obscure cleric named Khomeini and saw the seeds of a movement that would deliver theocratic despotism.” Supporters of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

Critics of Mr. Lewis said he treated Western imperialism, American interventions and Israeli displacement of Palestinians as consequences of the region’s political failures and social backwardness rather than as contributors to them. The political scientist Alan Wolfe called Mr. Lewis’s positions on Islam “belligerent.” The Islamic historian Richard Bulliet suggested that Mr. Lewis looked down on modern Arabs.

“He doesn’t respect them,” Mr. Bulliet said in an interview with Washington Monthly. “He considers them to be good and worthy only to the degree they follow a Western path.”

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