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Why are Arab intellectuals attacking Bernard Lewis?

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Published: Updated:

Political thinker Fouad Ajami was subjected to smear and demonization campaigns throughout his life and for years after his death. Actually, insults by a bunch of intellectuals even increased when news of his death came out. These intellectuals were quick to wish him ill thoughts and wished him immortality in hell.

It’s almost the same scene now with the death of historian and thinker Bernard Lewis, whose death became an occasion for insults, ill wishes and celebrations. One even commented saying Lewis was the other face of ISIS.

This primitive behavior is close to that of a mob that makes judgements before they read what they are judging or of intolerant preachers who issue fatwas (religious edicts) without thinking. However, famous intellectuals, who are the guardians of intellectual freedom, are the ones leading these inciting campaigns and making these accusations of treason, on both intellectual and religious levels. Therefore, it’s not strange if we later complain of the decline of awareness and of the domination of a “herd culture” that spreads lies and incites simple people.

In the case of political thinker Fouad Ajami, I’ve watched many of his interviews and read several of his articles and books which are distinguished for their historical richness and style. His thoughts are distinguished for their frankness and rationality and they addressed the diseases of Arab culture and politics without any deceit or flattery. Is everything that he said right? No, of course not. This is the nature of the intellectual controversy and dialogue regarding major issues. You propose your opinions and perceptions and history will judge how right they are. This atmosphere of intellectual freedom and objective discussions transformed into an attack on Ajami as he was insulted and accused of treason, collaboration and apostasy.

Fortunately, the majority of prominent rational journalists and thinkers are brave figures who are not intimidated by blackmail campaigns and who do not rush to burn the books they’ve written and repent.

Bernard Lewis studied in the most prestigious universities and published important works on Islamic heritage. It’s easy to watch his lectures and interviews as they are on YouTube. He is distinguished for his deep knowledge in history and rational, convincing and logical analysis. Some have disagreed with his thoughts and corrected some of his conclusions but he is still a great historian. The loud smear campaigns presented him as a Zionist, fascist and colonizer.

History without flattery or distortions

In addition to Ajami and Lewis, there is also late intellectual Georges Tarabichi who wrote several important books and analyses about Islamic heritage. His haters, whose troubled psychological state was insulted by his books, saw him as an infiltrating and malicious Christian who wants to destroy the pillars of religion. This inciting rhetoric and accusations of treason have thus targeted him too.

Foreign intellectuals have now realized what the secret is; the more you exaggerate pride in the past and appeal to the sentiment of injustice and oppression by “arrogant” world powers, the more loved and appreciated you will be.

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

What’s noticeable here is that these spiteful campaigns and insults only target a specific category of intellectuals and researchers – those who provide a rational analysis of history and reality without any flattery or distortions. Meanwhile, Arab and foreign researchers are commended and praised for their ability to invent a modified and distorted history and to blame others and say they’re the reason behind our problems and not us.

Foreign intellectuals have now realized what the secret is; the more you exaggerate pride in the past and appeal to the sentiment of injustice and oppression by “arrogant” world powers, the more loved and appreciated you will be. This happy and comfortable formula, however, simply transforms into an open trial if it reveals the origin of problems and reasons behind the decline.

Accusations of treason also have another aim, which is to prevent these rational figures from influencing people. Tarnishing their image by accusing them of treason and collaboration will create a wall between them and readers, a wall that’s difficult to break through. Intellectuals from among the Sahwists who exploit people’s lack of exposure resort to making accusations against journalists and writers whom they hate and whom they fear because of their powerful ideas.

These campaigns deprive societies from the freedom of intellectual debates and acceptance of new ideas without prejudgments. They reinforce insults and the culture of conspiracy as they present rational intellectuals who have the answers to our problems as traitors and agents. These campaigns also increase the popularity of instigators at the expense of awareness and knowledge. We do not know anything about our fate in the other world but when it comes to this world, the name of Bernard Lewis will be immortalized as one of the most important historians in modern times.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.