The Man Who Knew
“Osama bin Laden made me famous,” claims Bernard Lewis, the Princeton historian whose book What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East became an instant bestseller after 9/11. That book was followed two years later by the equally successful The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. Together those works explained to a shocked America (and world— they were translated into 29 languages) why al-Qaeda was such a loathsome yet formidable force, and placed it in its proper historical and political context. Now Lewis, who has just turned 96, has presented us with the gift of a well-written and very direct autobiography, Notes on a Century.
As Lewis himself makes clear, he was a very serious and substantial force affecting the way the West viewed the Middle East many decades before al-Qaeda was spawned. Thirty-six years ago, Norman Podhoretz suggested that he write what would become his seminal article, “The Return of Islam,” which gave the following warning to readers of this magazine in January 1976: “Islam from its inception is a religion of power, and in the Muslim worldview it is right and proper that power should be wielded by Muslims and Muslims alone. That Muslims should rule over non-Muslims is right and normal. That non-Muslims should rule over Muslims is an offense against the laws of God and nature.” Lewis further explained that “the Islamic community is still recovering from the traumatic era when Muslim governments and empires were overthrown and Muslim peoples forcibly subjected to alien, infidel rule.”
About the Author
Andrew Roberts is the author, most recently, of The Storm of War, a one-volume history of World War II. He last wrote for us about Dwight David Eisenhower (January).