February 06, 2006
'America's Greatest Middle East Sage'.
I just finished reading Bernard Lewis's much acclaimed History of The Middle East. The reason I read it is rather interesting; because Bernard Lewis is a name quoted so often in discussions pertaining to the Middle East especially by some big wigs in the field. In addition, this is also the prescribed text in many of the Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Yale. Given my interest in the region, and my curiosity about both the author and the book, after the winter break, despite the other work related readings I had to do, I mustered the courage to begin reading this text.
The first few chapters were quite interesting because they provided a compact history of the Middle East before Islam took it over. It was interesting to see how Christianity was weaned out of the region.
Half way through the book I realized that my interest was waning because of the detailed history of the emergence of the Shia and Sunni sects in Islam. But I held on until I came to the part where 'voila' oil comes into the picture and the Middle East becomes the center stage for a world political drama.
An informative text that would be of interest to anyone that wishes to better understand the current Middle East situation; to see it in its historical context.
Bernard Lewis in one of his interviews had the following to say about the current situation in Iraq, "Democracy is a strong medicine, which you have to give to the patient in small, gradually increasing doses. If you give too much too quickly, you kill the patient. ....I'm not sure a federal constitution will work in Iraq. It's too sophisticated at this stage. Relaxation of authority has to come gradually. You can't create a functioning democracy overnight."
Apparently, Mr. Lewis has high hopes for Iraq because its cultural and intellectual standards have "miraculously, if precariously, survived his ( Saddam's) ravages." Lewis also pointed out that the status of women is high in Iraq, and that is reassuring because as mothers they have tremendous impact on the next generation, and it makes "a great deal of difference to have an educated mother." But Lewis's main reason for optimism is that "Iraqis have gone through everything, and are much less likely to be taken in by the fanatical groups in the region". Will America's greatest guru's words come true?