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Alas, poor Bernard Lewis, a fellow of infinite jest

13 1 0
28.05.2018

"Here's a skull now; this skull has lain in the earth three-and-twenty years," the gravedigger tells Hamlet. It turns out the skull is Yorick's, the king's jester.

It is here that Hamlet says his famous lines: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy."

I was instantly reminded of Yorick's skull and Hamlet when I heard Bernard Lewis had died. Then the lines of an Omar Khayyam poem and his unceasing awareness of the mortality of human presence ran through my mind:

"For I remember stopping by the way

To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:

And with its all-obliterated Tongue

It murmur'd -"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"

It is unseemly to recall the horrors of a horrible man upon his passing. But Bernard Lewis was not a regular rogue. He was instrumental in causing enormous suffering and much bloodshed in this world. He was a notorious Islamophobe who spent a long life studying Islam in order to demonise Muslims and mobilise the mighty military of what he called "the West" against them.

Just imagine: What sort of a person would spend a lifetime studying people he loathes? It is quite a bizarre proposition. But there you have it: the late Bernard Lewis did precisely that.

He was the chief ideologue of post-9/11 politics of hate towards Islam and Muslims.

"Dr. Lewis's friendship - and ideological kinship - with the Cold War hawk and Israel supporting Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (D-Wash.)," we are told, "opened prominent doors in the capital, eventually giving Dr. Lewis favoured status among top White House and Pentagon planners before the 2003 invasion of Iraq."

That is the most recent legacy of Bernard Lewis. The invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq.

But Lewis' affiliation with powers of death and destruction went much deeper than that. Afghanistan and Iraq are in ruins today, millions of Arabs and Muslims have been murdered, scarred for life, subjected to the indignity of military occupation and refugee camps, in no small measure because of the systemic maligning of Muslims Lewis advanced in his books and articles, and with them informed generations of imperial officers.

For them, Lewis was the source for what Islam is and who the Muslims are. When US President Donald Trump said "Islam hates us," it was Bernard Lewis speaking. When Trump's first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said "Islam is… like cancer," it was Bernard Lewis speaking.

I was still a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania when I first encountered Lewis in person at a Princeton University conference. There was always a distance, a manufactured aloofness between him and the rest of the scholarly community.

He was more at home with heads of state, spy chiefs, military officers, intelligence communities, settler colonialists in Palestine, imperial viceroys in conquered Muslim lands.

He had power and basked in it. We detested power.

He is now showered with praise by the most powerful Zionist Islamophobes in the US and Israel. We are on the opposite side of the fence - with Palestinians, facing Israeli sharpshooters whom he favoured, enabled, encouraged, weaponized with a potent ideology of Muslim and Arab hatred.

With the death of Bernard Lewis, the long saga of exchanges between him and Edward Said finally comes to an end. I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and present at their now legendary........

© Al Jazeera