Lewis’ simplistic view, obfuscated by academic suaveness, was that every Arab state was a Lebanon waiting to happen. Samuel Huntington, who plagiarized from Lewis three years later, wrote that if “central power” weakened, the Arab states would collapse. For too long, I feel that Lewis’ deceptively genteel grammar has hidden the face of his Orientalism. For example, am I the only one to extrapolate from his writings the contention that “terrorism” is in our Muslim DNA because of the 13th century Hashishin (or Assassins)? Lewis’ view – again never directly stated in such clear terms – is that Christendom and Islam are destined to be in a perpetual wrestling match for world power, the two opposite corners – east and west – stamping, clashing and flattening the grass like rival bull elephants.
The grand myth of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’, the clarion call of neo-cons
and fundamentalists everywhere, has fallen.
It fell during the Arab uprisings earlier this year when tyrants such as Ben Ali
and Mubarak were toppled, and the bloodthirsty rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
The neo-con mantra that the Arab strongmen had to stay in power because Arabs
weren’t mature enough to think about things such as freedom of speech, civic
liberty and democracy has been blown away.
The real reason why the strongmen had to keep their jobs – oil interests and
Israel – has been rudely exposed like bare buttocks at a black tie function. The
overthrow of despotic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was clearly never in
the imperial script.
Even Israel’s intelligence service MOSSAD, everybody’s go-to agency in North
Africa and the Middle East, could not predict that the Arab world was going to
Bernard Lewis, the octogenarian academic and author – who coined the unfortunate
cliché “The Clash of Civilizations” in a 1990 essay entitled “The Roots of
Muslim Rage” – must also be scratching his head in amazement.
Lewis’ simplistic view, obfuscated by academic suaveness, was that every Arab
state was a Lebanon waiting to happen. Samuel Huntington, who plagiarized from
Lewis three years later, wrote that if “central power” weakened, the Arab states
For too long, I feel that Lewis’ deceptively genteel grammar has hidden the face
of his Orientalism. For example, am I the only one to extrapolate from his
writings the contention that “terrorism” is in our Muslim DNA because of the
13th century Hashishin (or Assassins)?
Lewis’ view – again never directly stated in such clear terms – is that
Christendom and Islam are destined to be in a perpetual wrestling match for
world power, the two opposite corners – east and west – stamping, clashing and
flattening the grass like rival bull elephants.
But with Ibn Taimiyyah’s famous 12th century Mardin Declaration (or fatwa) being
re-interpreted by modern scholars, it has become clear that Islam can’t be seen
in terms of two different existents: Dar ul Islam (the abode of Islam) and Dar
ul-Harb (the Abode of War).
Not even Ibn Taimiyyah, the watering hole of Salafi-Wahhabism and Islamic
extremism, separated the world into territories of belief and hostility. Indeed,
it was Ibn Taimiyyah who ruled that Muslims could live peacefully as minorities
during the time of the Mongol invasions.
This is a critical point – one that often sticks in the throat of the Muslim
extremist, Christian fundamentalist, Revisionist Zionist or political neo-con –
a person who prefers his world to be in reflected as black-and-white, rather
than sweeping Technicolor.
Indeed, it was Cairo’s Tahrir Square that eloquently put the lie to Lewis’ idea
of civilization discord, a space where I’m sure he believed east would refuse to
meet west. This was when Al-Jazeera showed Coptic Christians protecting Muslims
at their Friday prayer, and on the following Sunday, Muslims doing the same for
With no central power – the manufactured bogey of the neo-con political
conservatives – it was evident for all to see that Egypt was moving to the
centre, and not dissolving into sectarian chaos like Lebanon in the 1980’s.
I was told by Anas al-Tikriti of Britain’s Cordoba Foundation (who visited Cairo
in February) that during the uprising churches had been guarded by Muslims, and
mosques by Christians. There was not one incident, he said.
These simple gestures in places such as Tahrir Square go way beyond their
spontaneity or symbolism; they signify active tolerance and human togetherness.
They provide a living example, a common Abrahamic principle as it were, of noble
public conduct where east and west do not clash, but join hands – a juncture
where Isaac embraces Ishmael.
Further evidence, if one is not yet convinced, can be found in the United States
– ironically the wellspring of the “clash” theory – where Pastor Terry Jones,
the celebrated Qur’anic pyromaniac, finally succeeded in torching a Qur’an
earlier this month.
The be-whiskered Jones stole the international limelight last year when he
threatened to have a mass bonfire of the Holy Book outside his parish. Whilst
Muslim indignation boiled, it was the Christian community that openly condemned
him, and strongly advised him, to desist from his southern-fried madness.
For Jones, at least, fate worked in reverse. Instead of people lighting bonfires
around the country, several churches sponsored a “read a Qur’an day” and
interest in the Holy Book itself spiralled, translations selling out at many US
The Kairos Palestine document, penned by the Palestinian Christian community in
late 2009, is yet another example of the “clash” myth being destroyed. With
Hamas a central player, the dynamics of the Palestinian struggle have been
frequently pigeonholed as “Islamic terror”. The falsehood of it aspiring for
world domination, via the subjugation of Israel, has been an easy lie.
The Palestinian Kairos document, a Christian “word of faith, hope and love”,
puts the Middle Eastern conflict into the universal light where it rightfully
belongs. Originally written in Arabic, the lingua franca of the east, it is
currently being introduced to the western church where the mother tongue is
Perhaps the problem with Bernard Lewis and his ilk is that whilst not
intentionally ignoble, they have become entrapped by sub-conscious prejudice
within their own culturally determined and colonial frames of reference.
Their single biggest failing has been their inability to understand that “isms”
of any nature arise out of historical and political circumstances, inside and
outside of their respective belief systems. I think the point is that good men
of faith, east and west, have always seen “the other” unconditionally, and not
Shafiq Morton is a presenter at Voice of the Cape radio station. He was South
African Vodacom Community Journalist of the Year in 2008 and was recently voted
amongst the world’s 500 most influential Muslims by the Jordanian Royal Islamic
Strategies Study Centre headed by Prof John Esposito of Georgetown University.
Source: Palestine Chronicle