I stumbled across an interview that Bernard Lewis had in February 2007 with the Jerusalem Post.
Seating himself in the center of The Jerusalem Post's conference room, Prof. Bernard Lewis preferred to eschew any kind of opening remarks, and instead simply invited our questions. Arguably the preeminent Islamic historian and scholar of his age, Lewis, who turned 90 last May, handled the resulting avalanche with absolute equanimity.
I had no idea that he is 90. I knew he was getting up in his years, and I knew he has so much more knowledge about the ancient history of Islam than anyone else I've ever read. This article showed me how he has so much more knowledge than anyone else I have read on present day circumstances in the Islamic world. This is when I realize he is a genius. One of the key parts of this interview is when he answered the question
How do you see the Arab-on-Arab violence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories being resolved?
I have put boldface type on the parts of his answer that really wowed me.
The developments in the Middle East are both alarming and encouraging, depending on the angle of vision. The bad news on the general situation now is the increasing violence, the increasing support which the various extremist and terrorist movements seem to be getting. Most alarming of all is the steady increase in the area [in which] they have influence or dominate, which before long will probably include Europe.
A Syrian philosopher published an article not long ago in which he said the only question about the future of Europe is: "Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?" And I am inclined to agree with him about that. In that respect, it is discouraging. Particularly alarming is the apocalyptic mood, which we see in Iran now.
This is something which Jews in particular should be able to understand very well. The messiah is coming. There is a well-known scenario of the course of events, the battle of Gog and Magog and so on and so forth. There is a final struggle ending with the final victory. Muslims generally believe that one can somehow expedite the process.
I have no doubt at all, and my Iranian friends and informants are unanimous on this, that Ahmadinejad means what he says, and that this is not, as some people have suggested, a trick or device. He really means it, he really believes it and that makes him all the more dangerous.
MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the Cold War. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that they do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again.
In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights, the divine brothel in the skies. I find all that very alarming.
We turn now to the encouraging signs, the good news, such as it is. I would put it at two levels. One is that a number of Arab governments are coming to the conclusion that Israel is not their most serious problem and not their greatest danger.
This is very similar to what happened with [former Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat. If you go back to the Egyptian peace process, Sadat didn't decide to make peace because he was suddenly convinced of the merits of the Zionist case. Sadat decided to make peace because he realized that Egypt was becoming a Soviet colony.
The process was very visible. There were whole areas of Soviet bases and no Egyptian was admitted. Sadat, I think, realized that on the best estimate of Israel's power and the worst estimate of Israel's intentions, Israel was not a threat to Egypt in the way that the Soviet Union was.
So he took the very courageous step of ordering the Soviet specialists out of Egypt, facing the danger they might do what they did in Czechoslovakia or Hungary. They didn't, fortunately. Then he hoped that Washington would help him, instead of which Washington produced the Vance-Gromyko Agreement, a sort of diplomatic carve up, in effect giving Egypt back to the Soviets. That was [former president Jimmy] Carter's real contribution to the peace process. All the rest of it is imaginary; imaginary is the polite word.
That persuaded Sadat that he had to go to the Israelis.
I think that a number of the governments in the region have been through a similar process of reevaluation. During the recent war in Lebanon, it was quite clear that several Arab governments were quietly hoping that the Israelis would go in and finish the job. They were very disappointed that they didn't. That disappointment was certainly not a help, but that mood is still there. There is a willingness to reach some sort of a compromise to enable them to deal with what they see as the more pressing and more dangerous problem. That could be a short-term advantage. It might even lead to some sort of a peace process.
The other encouraging sign, very faint and very distant, is of a genuine change of mood among people in some Arab countries. Talking to people in Arab countries in the last few years, some of those people express attitudes which I have never met before. I do not know how deep this goes and how strong it is, but it is there and it never was before. That is a good sign.
There is a Syrian migr group called the Syrian Reform Party, headed by a man called Farid Ghadry. He publishes a journal and also has a Web site. He makes no secret of his admiration for Israel and his very positive attitude toward Israel. He lives in Washington, D.C.
The fact that a man who has ambitions, [who] hopes to lead a revolution, makes no attempt to pursue an anti-Israel, anti-Zionist line, but on the contrary he has a friendly one, that in itself is quite remarkable.
Another example on a very different level is the people in Jordan. In Jordan, Israel television is widely watched and they get the message of how a free society works. I have heard that the same thing happens elsewhere but for technical reasons it is more difficult.
As one fellow put it, it is amazing to watch these great and famous people banging the table and screaming at each other. They are used to people banging the table and screaming, but not at each other. They can get different points of view, but they have to tune in to different stations.
The sort of free debate on Israel television and, even more striking, the fact that Arabs can denounce the Israeli government on Israeli television, that has an impact. I have heard people mention this again and again. It doesn't go unnoticed.
I especially give him genius status for the remarks he made about Jimmy Carter's "contribution" to the peace process between Israel and Egypt.