2018-06-20 / Obituaries

Middle East scholar and author Bernard Lewis dies at 101


BERNARD LEWIS…lived at Lions Gate in Voorhees. 
Photo by Agence Opale-Alamy. BERNARD LEWIS…lived at Lions Gate in Voorhees. Photo by Agence Opale-Alamy. Bernard Lewis, a leading scholar on the Middle East and Bush White House Middle East policy planner, died at the age of 101. He was a long-time resident of Lions Gate Senior Living Community in Voorhees. Dr. Lewis died on May 19, just days before his 102nd birthday.

Dr. Lewis was born May 31, 1916, at the height of World War I, in London, England. He was the son of a Jewish real estate agent and a housewife. By the time of his bar mitzvah, he had become fascinated with history and languages, and continued his Hebrew lessons long after his 13th birthday. At the time, he had already learned Latin, French, and Italian, and eventually became proficient in at least a dozen languages. He attended the University of London, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1936 and a doctorate in 1939 from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). During World War II, he was drafted into a tank unit. With his aptitude for languages, he quickly moved to intelligence units before being seconded to the Foreign Office. After the war, he was appointed to chair the new Middle East Department at SOAS. He later left SOAS to accept a position at Princeton in 1974. He was granted US citizenship in 1982.

Dr. Lewis was writing and giving interviews well into his mid-90s. For those who read his 30+ books and hundreds of magazine articles, the takeaway was Dr. Lewis’ premise of inevitable friction and competition between the Islamic and Western worlds—particularly as Islamist militants and other groups exerted more influence. He further argued that the Middle East’s troubles were mostly self-inflicted, and were not simply inherited ills from colonialism or outside meddling. He praised Islam as a great faith, but feared it was being hijacked by intolerance and anger.

Dr. Lewis once encapsulated his hard-edged policies toward the Middle East in a single phrase, “get tough or get out,” which some later dubbed the Lewis Doctrine. In his works— including back-to-back bestsellers after the 9/11 attacks, “What Went Wrong?” (2002) and “The Crisis of Islam” (2003)—Dr. Lewis sought to explain Muslim views, but also scolded Western leaders for failing to grasp the reach of groups such as al-Qaeda. Dr. Lewis’ friendship with the Cold War hawk and Israel supporting Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.) gave Dr. Lewis favored status among top White House and Pentagon planners before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He repeatedly denied that he backed the invasion of Iraq, saying he advocated for greater aid to Westernallied Kurds in northern Iraq as a counterweight to the Baghdad regime.

Dr. Lewis’ warnings continued to be dire, as he said that the Middle East may increasingly breed radicalism and anti- Western fervor. “Either we bring them freedom or they destroy us,” he wrote in a 2010 book, “Faith and Power.”

Dr. Lewis’ life was full. He roamed souks and back streets for British intelligence during World War II; had tea in Golda Meir’s kitchen in honor of his ardent support of Israel; dined with Pope John Paul II; and was hosted in the Peacock Throne court of Iran’s former shah. This year, the Israeli government named Dr. Lewis one of the 70 “greatest American contributors to the U.S.-Israel relationship” for the country’s 70th anniversary.

Dr. Lewis is survived by two children from his marriage, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandsons. 

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