Last Wednesday, Bernard Lewis was given the Irving Kristol Award by the American Enterprise Institute. On Thursday morning, the Committee on the Present Danger hosted him at the U.S. Capitol where he spoke to members and staff of the new Senate and House Anti-Terrorism Caucuses.
Professor Lewis is arguably -- no, indisputably -- the world's most distinguished scholar of Islam and the Middle East. (Despite that -- or rather because of it -- he has been excluded and disdained by MESA, the Middle East Studies Association, which dominates on college campuses throughout the United States.)
A few of the key points Professor Lewis made last week:
America and other free societies "confront a dedicated and dangerous adversary" engaged in what it sees as a historic conflict for the global supremacy of Islam.
We need to be concerned about the threats emanating from both Iran and Saudi Arabia; al-Qaeda is "Wahhabi in inspiration."
Iran's rulers cannot be deterred. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is serious about his religious convictions: Because of that, he sees the possibility of "mutual assured destruction" not as a deterrent "but as an inducement."
Speaking both as a historian and someone old enough to recall the late 1930s, Professors Lewis said too many politicians today display "the spirit of Munich -- a refusal to acknowledge the danger we face and a belief that through accommodation we can avoid conflict." He added: "I look around and I see more Chamberlains than Churchills."
Professor Lewis sees the use of military force against Iran as only a very last resort. Much better if we can manage to replace an "apocalyptical villain with merely a pragmatic villain."
Women in Muslim countries are given less education which really means less indoctrination; therefore they may have more capacity for independent thinking. For that reason, women "may be the last, best hope of the Islamic world."
Oil is a potent source of power for the regimes that rule Saudi Arabia and Iran. How do we deal with it? "By finding other sources of energy."
Professor Lewis observed that our enemies have a number of advantages: zeal, certitude and demography among them. On our side, we have freedom. Which will prove powerful? That, I would say, is the great question to be answered in the 21st century.