Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Bernard Lewis predicted the return of Islam

 Writing 'The Return of Islam' in 1976 (in the midst of the Lebanese civil war) for Commentary (via Ian of Elder of Ziyon), the great historian Bernard Lewis predicted the rise of Islam as a powerful force in Middle Eastern politics. Regimes have been overthrown, new wars have broken out, an especially fascist version of the religion has emerged in Islamic State,  but Islam remains as resistant to the exercise of non-Muslim sovereignty as it has always been.
 Islam is still the most effective form of consensus in Muslim countries, the basic group identity among the masses. This will be increasingly effective as the regimes become more genuinely popular. One can already see the contrast between the present regimes and those of the small, alienated, Western-educated elite which governed until a few decades ago. As regimes come closer to the populace, even if their verbiage is left-wing and ideological, they become more Islamic. Under the Ba’thist regime in Syria, more mosques were built in the three years after the Jaysh al-Sha’b incident than in the previous thirty.
 Bernard Lewis, one of the greatest authorities on Middle East history and politics alive today
Islam is a very powerful but still an undirected force in politics. As a possible factor in international politics, the present prognosis is not very favorable. There have been many attempts at a pan-Islamic policy, none of which has made much progress. One reason for their lack of success is that those who have made the attempt have been so unconvincing. This still leaves the possibility of a more convincing leadership, and there is ample evidence in virtually all Muslim countries of the deep yearning for such a leadership and a readiness to respond to it.
The lack of an educated modern leadership has so far restricted the scope of Islam and inhibited religious movements from being serious contenders for power. But it is already very effective as a limiting factor and may yet become a powerful domestic political force if the right kind of leadership emerges.
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. 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.

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2 comments:

Sammish said...

Bernard Lewis was ambivalent about Islam, according to my readings of few of his works. He was neither an Islamophile nor an Islamophobic. In sum, he was a truly an objective scholar. He certainly reserved a powerful analysis and critical assessment of Islam with its diverse cultural entities (Arab, Persian, and Indian subcontinent) as to its inability to adapt its institutions to modernity and rapid social change sweeping the world in 18th an 19th century. He stood firmly by the notion that the current problems with Islamic societies are self-inflicted instead of emanating or induced by the Western world. The latter is a predominant idea held by the anti-orientalist academic schools of thought and also a ready-made ideology of the large mass of Arab public packaged conveniently by the ruling classes of these societies. If the rise of resurgent Islam is understood as a consequence of previous Western imperial or colonial policies and domination, perhaps his prediction of a “return of Islam” is well taken.

Bernard Lewis, however, was an optimist. He truly believed that Islam can be reformed (not to say in the same way Christianity went through the reformation). He advocated a slower social change processes like education, economic development and scientific inquiry to bring about the implementation of some semblance of modern social institutions. Bernard Lewis respected Islam because he was a scholar of Islam and Middle Eastern societies. If he predicted the “return of Islam”, I do not believe he meant it as an end in itself, but as a momentary reaction to the profound changes the Western world had indirectly or directly diffuse on traditional societies all over the world with its currents of free trade, technology and educational ideas. A virulent reaction (I may say) on predominantly stagnant traditional Middle Eastern societies. Therefore, Bernard Lewis saw this as a transitory phase that would eventually come to pass, and will ultimately bring about a somewhat “reformed” Islam.

Of course, Mr. Lewis did not foresee how virulent and destructive the Islamic social movements in modern times can be and how these movements (some of them were secular) have come to reject everything of what the Western world stands for. He also did not foresee how the elites and ruling classes of these societies would undermine the crucial process of social change by clinging to their tribal affiliations (despite modern educational attainment and political socialization on democratic principles) and fratricidal wars. Looking at the current global situation, the changes Mr. Lewis predicted seem bleak, but one can never predict the future. Only time will tell.

The dilemma is that if one is to stand with the bleak scenario, then one is apocalyptic in terms of finding a solution in dealing or challenging the resurging Islam (because Islam is a religion of power,war and subjugation) and if one does not stand with this bleak scenario, then one is an optimist about a positive change of Islam's beliefs and pratices. Wherever I look, I do not see hope. But at the same time I cannot say I am apocalyptic.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Sammish, some of the same was also said by Wilfrid Cantwell Smith in his, Islam in Modern History. Smith says that the typical response to their social problems is to blame somebody else, what he called apologetics. If they don't blame Israel, they blame the West. But never themselves. By the way, you should bear in mind that Smith was pro-Arab in regard to Israel, and in fact hostile to Israel.

https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Islam_in_modern_history.html?id=_X1CAAAAYAAJ

Just how these Muslim attitudes can be changed, I don't know.