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Controversial Middle East scholar, Bernard Lewis, dies aged 101

Middle East historian Bernard Lewis [file photo]
Middle East historian Bernard Lewis [file photo]

Middle East historian Bernard Lewis, who attracted considerable controversy for coining “clash of civilisations” and favouring Western wars in the Middle East, died on Saturday at an assisted-living facility in New Jersey.

The London-born British American scholar was aged 101.

Lewis was a prolific writer, penning more than 30 books and hundreds of articles in a career that spanned decades. After taking up an academic position at Princeton University in 1974, he forged a friendship with Cold War hawk and ardent Israel supporter Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, a Democratic senator representing Washington state, that paved the way for his influence in Washington.

Lewis was a favoured scholar among members of the George W. Bush administration in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Lewis, who is Jewish by birth, was widely criticised his academic peers since joining Princeton. His detractors view him as the embodiment of the West’s efforts to rule and police the Middle East.

He had a particularly fierce rivalry with Palestinian scholar Edward Said, who once wrote that his “purely political exploits require more time to mention than they are worth”.

He also attracted criticism for signing, along with 68 other historians, a 1985 New York Times and Washington Post advertisement advising Congress not to adopt a resolution on the Armenian Genocide. He was later found to reportedly be ghost writing for the Turkish ambassador in Washington on matters related to the genocide.

Another controversial scholar, Samuel Huntington, cited Lewis’ “clash of civilisations” in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article that critics say treated Islamic culture as monolithic and laid the groundwork for US wars in the Middle East.

Three years earlier, he penned an essay for The Atlantic tilted “The Roots of Muslim Rage”.

Report by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

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