Bernard Lewis, an eminent historian of Islam who traced the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to a declining Islamic civilization, a controversial view that influenced world opinion and helped shape American foreign policy under President George W. Bush, died on Saturday in Voorhees Township, N.J. He was 101.
His longtime partner, Buntzie Churchill, confirmed the death, at a retirement facility.
Few outsiders and no academics had more influence with the Bush administration on Middle Eastern affairs than Mr. Lewis. The president carried a marked-up copy of one of his articles in his briefing papers and met with him before and after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Mr. Lewis gave briefings at the White House, the residence of Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
His essential argument about Islam was that Islamic civilization had been decaying for centuries, leaving extremists like Osama bin Laden in a position to exploit Muslims’ long-festering frustration by sponsoring terrorism on an international scale. After Arab terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in a coordinated operation sanctioned by bin Laden, Mr. Lewis was immediately sought out by American policymakers.
He provided critical intellectual linkage between the religious fundamentalism of bin Laden, which he said was a response to oppressive Arab regimes, and the secular despotism of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Democracy, he said, was the solution for both. “Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us,” Mr. Lewis wrote.
Though he later said he would have preferred that the United States had fomented rebellion in northern Iraq rather than invading the country, he was widely perceived to have beaten the drum for war. In an essay in The Wall Street Journal in 2002, he predicted that Iraqis would “rejoice” over an American invasion, a flawed forecast echoed by Mr. Cheney and others in the White House.
People spoke of a “Lewis doctrine” of imposing democracy on despotic regimes. His book “What Went Wrong? The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East” (2002) became a handbook for understanding what had happened on Sept. 11. (The book was at the printer when the attacks occurred.) Articles he wrote in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal were widely discussed.
On the war’s eve, Mr. Cheney mentioned Mr. Lewis on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” as someone who shared his belief that “a strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, to calming things down in that part of the world.”
In 2004, Mr. Lewis said in a PBS interview with Charlie Rose that pursuing Al Qaeda’s forces in Afghanistan was insufficient. “One had to get to the heart of the matter in the Middle East,” he said.
‘Clash of Civilizations’
Mr. Lewis long propounded his diagnosis of a sick Arab society. In a cover article in The Atlantic in 1990, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” he used the phrase “clash of civilizations” to describe what he saw as inevitable friction between the Islamic world and the West. (The political scientist Samuel P. Huntington borrowed the phrase in an influential article of his own in 1993, crediting Mr. Lewis.)
In his article, Mr. Lewis wrote: “Islam has brought comfort and peace of mind to countless millions of men and women. It has given dignity and meaning to drab and impoverished lives. It has taught people of different races to live in brotherhood and people of different creeds to live side by side in reasonable tolerance. It inspired a great civilization in which others besides Muslims lived creative and useful lives and which, by its achievement, enriched the whole world.
“But Islam,” he continued, “like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers a mood of hatred and violence. It is our misfortune that part, though by no means all or even most, of the Muslim world is now going through such a period, and that much, though again not all, of that hatred is directed against us.”
In his view Islamic fundamentalism was at war with both secularism and modernism, as embodied by the West. Fundamentalists, he wrote, had “given an aim and a form to the otherwise aimless and formless resentment and anger of the Muslim masses at the forces that have devalued their traditional values and loyalties and, in the final analysis, robbed them of their beliefs, their aspirations, their dignity, and to an increasing extent even their livelihood.”
Mr. Cheney once noted that in the 1970s, before the Iranian revolution, Mr. Lewis had “studied the writings of an obscure cleric named Khomeini and saw the seeds of a movement that would deliver theocratic despotism.” Supporters of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
Critics of Mr. Lewis said he treated Western imperialism, American interventions and Israeli displacement of Palestinians as consequences of the region’s political failures and social backwardness rather than as contributors to them. The political scientist Alan Wolfe called Mr. Lewis’s positions on Islam “belligerent.” The Islamic historian Richard Bulliet suggested that Mr. Lewis looked down on modern Arabs.
“He doesn’t respect them,” Mr. Bulliet said in an interview with Washington Monthly. “He considers them to be good and worthy only to the degree they follow a Western path.”
Mr. Lewis’s most prominent oppoinent, the Palestinian American scholar Edward W. Said, called Mr. Lewis a propagandist for Eurocentric views who distorted the truth and hid his politics under the veneer of scholarship. Writing in The Nation, Mr. Said said Mr. Lewis, along with Mr. Huntington, reasoned “as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each other mercilessly.”
Mr. Lewis had an answer for his critics: “If Westerners cannot legitimately study the history of Africa or the Middle East, then only fish can study marine biology.”
Mr. Lewis did not seem to mind antagonizing Arabs. Several times he defended the crusades as necessary to limit the power of Islamic civilization. He called Arab nations “a string of shabby tyrannies.” He said asking the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to give up terrorism was like asking Tiger Woods to give up golf. Discussing the power of Saudi fundamentalists, he drew a hypothetical comparison to the Ku Klux Klan’s controlling Texas oil revenues.
“As a specialist on Islam, I find myself disturbed by the nonsense being talked, by both Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said. “On the one hand, you have people who would have you believe that Islam is a bloodthirsty religion bent on world destruction. On the other hand, you have people telling us that Islam is a religion of love and peace — rather like the Quakers, but less aggressive.”
“The truth,” he concluded, “is in its usual place.”
A Scholar of Languages
Bernard Lewis was born in London on May 31, 1916, as World War I raged. His father, Harry, was a real estate broker; his mother, Jenny, was a homemaker. At 12, as he prepared for his bar mitzvah, he realized that Hebrew was actually a language with grammar, not an “encipherment of prayers and rituals,” he wrote in “From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East” (2004).
By the time he entered the School of Oriental Studies at the University of London (now the School of Oriental and African Studies), he had read widely and deeply in Hebrew and begun a lifelong study of languages, including Aramaic, classical and modern Arabic, Latin, Greek, Persian and Turkish.
History was another passion, and it, too, harked back to his bar mitzvah. One gift he received that day was an outline of Jewish history, about which he knew little. It led him to read about Cordoba, Spain, under the Moors; Baghdad under the Caliphs; and Istanbul under Ottoman rule. At the university, he became a star student of Hamilton Gibb, a great scholar of Islam, and graduated with honors in history in 1936 with special reference to the Middle East.
One day, as he recalled, Mr. Gibb asked him: “You have now been studying the Middle East for four years. Don’t you think it’s time you saw the place?”
Mr. Lewis embarked on a traveling fellowship to Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, and attended classes at Cairo University. His encounters with the people of those lands underpinned his later observations about them.
“There is something in the religious culture of Islam,” he wrote in one instance, “which inspired, in even the humblest peasant or peddler, a dignity and a courtesy toward others never exceeded and rarely equaled in other civilizations.”
In 1938 he was named an assistant lecturer at the University of London, where he earned his Ph.D. the next year. In 1940 he was drafted into the British armed forces and assigned to the Army tank corps. He was soon transferred to intelligence.
After the war, Mr. Lewis wanted to study in Arab countries, but as a Jew in the late 1940s and early ’50s, he would have been denied a visa after Israel’s independence. Refusing to lie about being a Jew, as others did, he switched his focus to Turkey and Iran during the Ottoman period.
He happened to be in Istanbul in 1950 when the Turkish government opened the Imperial Ottoman Archives; he was the first Western scholar granted access to them. He also witnessed Turkey’s first free election, leading to his acclaimed 1961 book, “The Emergence of Modern Turkey.”
Some academics believe that Mr. Lewis mistakenly applied the lessons of secular, democratic modern Turkey to Arab countries with a far different history. Armenians contended that his attachment to Turkey had led him to deny that the Turkish slaughter of Armenians in 1915, which he acknowledged and condemned, was genocide. He defined genocide as government-sponsored premeditated mass murder.
In the 1990s, a French court fined him one franc for neglecting to cite objective evidence that might have refuted his opinion on the Armenian killings in an article for the newspaper Le Monde.
Mr. Lewis married Ruth Helene Oppenhejm, from Denmark, in 1947, and they divorced in 1974.
Besides Ms. Churchill, he is survived by a son, Michael; a daughter, Melanie Dunn; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandsons.
In 1974, he accepted joint appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and Princeton University, partly to gain more time for research. He also taught at Cornell from 1984 to 1990, among other teaching jobs. He became an American citizen in 1982.
His influence grew in the 1970s, as he advised Senator Henry M. Jackson, Democrat of Washington, and other foreign policy hard-liners who were later identified as neoconservative. Mr. Lewis accepted the neoconservative label for himself. In the mid-1970s, Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel required her cabinet to read his article arguing that Palestinians had no claim to a state.
Mr. Lewis, who wrote or edited more than two dozen books and hundreds of articles, was regarded as perhaps the leading expert on interactions between the Christian and Islamic worlds. He said that Jews had been treated better in Islamic countries than in Christian ones for much of history. He said he often chose to see events from the Muslim side.
“At Vienna, I’m at the Turkish lines, not with the defenders,” he said, referring to the 1683 European victory over the Ottoman attempt to conquer the Hapsburg Empire.
In “From Babel to Dragomans,” Mr. Lewis discussed how an earlier work of his had been translated and published in Hebrew by the Israeli Ministry of Defense and in Arabic by the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group.
“The translator of the Arabic version, in his introductory remarks, observed that the author of this book was one of two things: a candid friend or an honorable enemy, and in either case, one who does not distort or evade the truth,” Mr. Lewis wrote.
Overlooked No More: Leticia Ramos Shahani, a Philippine Women’s Rights Pioneer
Shahani, who died in 2017, worked to advance women’s causes in her native Philippines and around the world.
Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people.
By Jennifer Jett
Leticia Ramos Shahani is a name every feminist should know.
Shahani, a Philippine diplomat and lawmaker, was a pioneer in the international women’s movement. At a time when few women had a place in statecraft, she became one of the highest-ranking women at the United Nations. In her native Philippines, she made labor and rape laws fairer to women and integrated gender into all kinds of policymaking.
There were “a lot of firsts in her long life,” said Aurora Javate-De Dios, executive director of the Women and Gender Institute at Miriam College in Quezon City, where Shahani was a dean in her later years.
Beyond that, she played a role in four international conferences over 20 years that put women’s rights on the global agenda.
Later, as a Philippine senator, she was instrumental in expanding the legal definition of rape, including the recognition of marital rape. She also fought for equal pay and a mandate that all Philippine government agencies allocate at least 5 percent of their budgets to gender and development issues.
“Her pioneering work has indeed created a lot of ripples here in the Philippines,” said Emmeline L. Verzosa, executive director of the Philippine Commission on Women, an organization that Shahani founded.
Shahani died on March 20, 2017, of colon cancer. She was 87.
In her early years at the male-dominated United Nations, Shahani said there was little interest in women’s rights.
“People thought it was a joke — they were laughing at it,” she said in an interview with Isis International, a women’s advocacy organization. “There was hardly any awareness.”
She continued her work, and the United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year, with the next decade to be dedicated to women as well. That summer, Mexico City hosted the first World Conference on Women (it was led by a man).
“For the first time, governments met to discuss women’s issues at the highest levels,” Shahani told Isis International. “Women got together — north and south, rich and poor.”
Shahani was a vice chairwoman of the second conference, in Copenhagen in 1980, and secretary general of the third, in Nairobi in 1985. The Nairobi conference laid out a plan of action until 2000 on a broader range of issues than ever before, including a new focus on gender-based violence.
Shahani was tough on the people she worked with, but she was also caring, said Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo, a career diplomat from the Philippines who organized the Nairobi conference with Shahani. “She just wanted efficiency like all intelligent women,” she said.
In 1995, when the fourth conference was held in Beijing, Shahani led the Philippine delegation.
Leticia Ramos Shahani was born on Sept. 30, 1929, in Lingayen, Pangasinan Province, the second of three children in a politically prominent family. Her father, Narciso Ramos, was a lawmaker and diplomat who served as foreign secretary in the 1960s under Ferdinand Marcos, Shahani’s second cousin. Her mother, Angela Valdez, was a high school teacher.
Shahani’s education and career took her to the United States, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Wellesley College in 1951 and a master of arts in comparative literature from Columbia University in 1953. She earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of Paris in 1962, and joined the United Nations in New York two years later.
She had met her husband, the Indian writer and professor Ranjee Shahani, when she was 22 but didn’t marry him until 10 years later, after she had finished her studies and started working.
After her husband died suddenly in 1968, Shahani left her job at the United Nations and moved back to the Philippines with her three young children: Ranjit, Chanda and Lila. But the family’s time together was limited by Shahani’s work.
“It was hard, but it was also very inspiring to see her succeed in a man’s world,” Lila Ramos Shahani said of her mother.
From 1969 to 1975, Shahani was the Philippines’ representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where she became chairwoman.
During those years, she was also the founder and later the chairwoman of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, a government agency now called the Philippine Commission on Women.
In 1975, she went to Romania as the Philippines’ first ambassador to any Communist country, and the first female ambassador Romania had ever received. She was concurrently accredited as ambassador to Hungary and East Germany, and later served as ambassador to Australia.
She returned to the United Nations from 1981 to 1986 as assistant secretary general for social development and humanitarian affairs, making her one of the organization’s highest-ranking women.
But she “was becoming very concerned about matters back home,” she told The Times in 1989.
While visiting the Philippines in December 1985, Shahani was asked which presidential candidate she supported, the long-ruling Marcos or Corazon C. Aquino.
“I am for change — that’s why I am for Cory,” Shahani replied. She was the first high-ranking Philippine official to come out in Aquino’s favor, despite her family ties to Marcos and the prominent role that her brother, Fidel V. Ramos, played in the military and police command.
“That was a class act — coming from a close Marcos relative — an unheard-of stance during those tumultuous days,” Ramos wrote in a tribute to his sister last year.
A few months later, Aquino became Asia’s first female president after top military officers, including Ramos, broke with Marcos and said she was the election’s rightful winner. (Ramos later became president himself.)
Shahani’s declaration of support for Aquino raised her profile at home after years overseas. After a year as Aquino’s under secretary of foreign affairs, Shahani ran for senator and won, serving 12 years in office and becoming the country’s first female Senate president pro tempore.
She lost a campaign for governor of Pangasinan in 1998. But she soon found another calling in her home province: farming.
She believed that developing dairy products from carabaos, a type of water buffalo, could help local farmers improve their livelihoods.
Shahani managed the processing facility and was “constantly weeding and hoeing,” her daughter said. On Sundays, she ran her own stall at the farmers’ market.
“To go back to where you began is really a wonderful lifetime experience,” the elder Shahanitold CNNin 2016.
“I learned from Mom that you have to be able to provide solutions to the problems you identify,” she said. “It’s not enough to just call out the problems and act as if that’s the end of your responsibility.”