Bernard Lewis was honored at AEI as the recipient of the Irving Krystol award for 2007.
On March 20th he gave a lecture upon accepting the award. The lecture was about history from the perspective of Osama Bin Laden, and how he sees historical events much differently than we in the West see them.
He divides the history into periods in relation to events of the Muslims. The first period is when Islam began to spread in the beginning.
The declaration of war begins at the very beginning of Islam. There are certain letters purported to have been written by the Prophet Muhammad to the Christian Byzantine emperor, the emperor of Persia, and various other rulers, saying, "I have now brought God's final message. Your time has passed. Your beliefs are superseded. Accept my mission and my faith or resign or submit--you are finished." The authenticity of these prophetic letters is doubted, but the message is clear and authentic in the sense that it does represent the long dominant view of the Islamic world.
The second period is the second attempt to conquer the world by Mongol tartars who had been converted to Islams and Turks.
That was not the end of the matter. In the meantime the Islamic world, having failed the first time, was bracing for the second attack, this time conducted not by Arabs and Moors but by Turks and Tartars. In the mid-thirteenth century the Mongol conquerors of Russia were converted to Islam. The Turks, who had already conquered Anatolia, advanced into Europe and in 1453 they captured the ancient Christian citadel of Constantinople. They conquered a large part of the Balkans, and for a while ruled half of Hungary. Twice they reached as far as Vienna, to which they laid siege in 1529 and again in 1683. Barbary corsairs from North Africa--well-known to historians of the United States--were raiding Western Europe. They went to Iceland--the uttermost limit--and to several places in Western Europe, including notably a raid on Baltimore (the original one, in Ireland) in 1631. In a contemporary document, we have a list of 107 captives who were taken from Baltimore to Algiers, including a man called Cheney.
Osama Bin Laden credits himself as the leader of the third attempt to conquer the world.
Osama bin Laden, in some very interesting proclamations and declarations, has this to say about the war in Afghanistan which, you will remember, led to the defeat and retreat of the Red Army and the collapse of the Soviet Union. We tend to see that as a Western victory, more specifically an American victory, in the Cold War against the Soviets. For Osama bin Laden, it was nothing of the kind. It is a Muslim victory in a jihad. If one looks at what happened in Afghanistan and what followed, this is, I think one must say, a not implausible interpretation.
As Osama bin Laden saw it, Islam had reached the ultimate humiliation in this long struggle after World War I, when the last of the great Muslim empires--the Ottoman Empire--was broken up and most of its territories divided between the victorious allies; when the caliphate was suppressed and abolished, and the last caliph driven into exile. This seemed to be the lowest point in Muslim history. From there they went upwards.
In his perception, the millennial struggle between the true believers and the unbelievers had gone through successive phases, in which the latter were led by the various imperial European powers that had succeeded the Romans in the leadership of the world of the infidels--the Christian Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the British and French and Russian empires. In this final phase, he says, the world of the infidels was divided and disputed between two rival superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. In his perception, the Muslims have met, defeated, and destroyed the more dangerous and the more deadly of the two infidel superpowers. Dealing with the soft, pampered and effeminate Americans would be an easy matter.
This belief was confirmed in the 1990s when we saw one attack after another on American bases and installations with virtually no effective response of any kind--only angry words and expensive missiles dispatched to remote and uninhabited places. The lessons of Vietnam and Beirut were confirmed by Mogadishu. "Hit them, and they'll run." This was the perceived sequence leading up to 9/11. That attack was clearly intended to be the completion of the first sequence and the beginning of the new one, taking the war into the heart of the enemy camp.
He concludes this lecture with question "Is third time charm for Islam? He also appraises like a couple of prize fighters the advantages of Islam vs West. The advantages for the terrorists are strengths in conviction, fervor, and demographics.
The advantages for the West are the appeal of modern knowledge and freedom in its Western interpretation of freedom. I have always appreciated history, and I like the way Bernard Lewis presented. Lessons can be learned from history to keep from making the same mistakes over and over again.