Bernard Lewis: Lumped in with Cheney by critic

Historians in the News

[Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes this weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York.]

Years ago, during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81, a colleague of mine and I took the train from Manhattan down to Princeton, New Jersey's Institute for Advanced Study, where we had an appointment with Bernard Lewis, the renowned, conservative Middle East scholar.

I don't recall much about the meeting, but I do remember at one point we broached the much-discussed theory that part of the reason Iranian students had taken over our embassy might have been allegations the United States had helped train the deposed Shah's secret police, the Savak, in methods of torture.

Lewis snorted disdainfully and remarked, "Saying we taught them torture is like saying we taught them how to weave rugs!"

Today, Bernard Lewis remains an intellectual fave of the neo-con crowd, a pal of Dick Cheney and Richard Perle, among others, who warns of Islam's "cosmic struggle for world domination" and urged this administration on as it planned the march to Baghdad.

Now, as the White House, with Cheney leading the charge, redirects its aggressive sword-rattling in the general direction of Iran, I often think of Lewis's words back at Princeton. It's that same combination of condescension and stagnant thinking, currently cross-pollinated by willful ignorance, that so dictates our disastrous policy in the Middle East. Just thinking about it makes me want to go screaming into the twilight of American exceptionalism....

comments powered by Disqus