The legacy of Orientalism in the work of Bernard Lewis
In a ‘London Review of Books’ article about Bernard Lewis’ 1986 book ‘Semites and Anti- Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice’ Richard Wolheim makes the suggestive remark that the subtitle is ‘not strictly accurate, for the book manifestly and by design gives prejudice priority over conflict’. Wolheim here touches on a principal feature of Bernard Lewis’ work on Islam and Muslim societies: in Lewis’ writings, prejudice has an unmistakable regulative presence. In the late 1970s, particularly after the publication of Edward Said’s devastating criticism of Orientalism (‘Orientalism’ was published forty years ago this year), pride joined prejudice as a driver of what became Lewis’ relentless rage against those who refused to see the history of humanity as a series of inevitable clashes of civilisations. As Lewis steadily lost his academic eminence, pride morphed into resentment, driving him to take residence among neoconservative warmongers.
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