During the last twenty years or so, I have become more and more concerned with the rise and spread of various extremist versions of militant Islam. My first publication on the subject was an article on “The Return of Islam,” published in Commentary magazine in January 1976. This was years before the Iranian revolution. I have since given many lectures and published many articles as well as several books on various aspects of this topic.
the extraordinary range of his scholarship, his capacity to command the totality of Islamic and Middle Eastern history from Muhammad down to the present day. This is not merely a matter of erudition; rather, it reflects an almost unparalleled ability to fit things together into a detailed and comprehensive synthesis. In this regard, it is hard to imagine that Lewis will have any true successors.
It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations—the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.
SIGN UP FOR OUR E-MAIL LIST Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
To admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its wards. This is reflected in the present inability, political, journalistic, and scholarly alike, to recognize the importance of the factor of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world and in the consequent recourse [by Western observers] to the language of left-wing and right-wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western terminology, the use of which in explaining Muslim political phenomena is about as accurate and as enlightening as an account of a cricket match by a baseball correspondent.
a report that at the height of the [Lebanese] conflict muezzins called from the minarets of Beirut summoning the faithful to battle for the “leftist” cause; or, more recently, a report that followers of the “leftist” leader Kemal Jumblatt had avenged his death by murdering between 100 and 200 Christian villagers.
If, then, we are to understand anything at all about what is happening in the Muslim world at the present time and what has happened in the past, there are two essential points which need to be grasped. One is the universality of religion as a factor in the lives of the Muslim peoples, and the other is its centrality.
Religion—rather than country, language, descent, or nationality—has been the primary basis and focus of identity and loyalty, that which distinguishes those who belong to the group and marks them off from others outside the group. The imported Western idea of ethnic and territorial nationhood has had an extraordinary impact; but it remains, like secularism, alien in origin and imperfectly assimilated.
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.
In some countries, such as Turkey, Iran, and Egypt, geography and history have combined to give the inhabitants a special sense of separate identity and destiny, and have advanced them on the path toward secular nationhood. But even in these, Islam remains a significant, elsewhere a major, force. In general, the extent of secularization is less than would at first appear.
I was interviewed, quoted, filmed and I even made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. I remember remarking at the time that if bin Laden claimed a percentage of my royalties for promoting the book, I would have to admit there was some justice in his claim.
The clash between these two religiously defined civilizations results not only from their differences but also from their resemblances—and in these there may even be some hope for better future understanding [emphasis added].
All over the Middle East, not only in the old nations like Iran and Egypt, but even in some of the newest and most artificial, the state—the ganglion of interrelated, interacting interests and loyalties at the center of coercive power—is once again becoming the primary focus of political loyalty and identity.
The regimes that depend on obedience are European-style dictatorships that use techniques of control and enforcement derived from the fascist and Communist models. . . . These regimes have little or no claim to the loyalty of their people and depend for survival on diversion and repression. . . . In those Arab countries where the government depends on force rather than loyalty, there is clear evidence of deep and widespread discontent, directed primarily against the regime and then inevitably against those who are seen to support it. . . . . These models are becoming less effective; there are groups, increasing in number and importance, that seek a new form of government based not primarily on loyalty, and still less on repression, but on consent and participation. These groups are still small and, of necessity, quiet, but the fact that they have appeared at all is a remarkable development.
There is a common Israeli phrase when offering birthday greetings to the elderly, to say ad meah v’esrim, “to a hundred and twenty.” Sometimes nowadays they modify it by changing one Hebrew consonant and saying ad meah k’esrim, “to a hundred like twenty,” which I think on the whole is a more attractive proposition. I am approaching that rapidly. I have been in my long life, and remain, very fortunate.