In This Review
From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East

From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis

Oxford University Press, 2004, 438 pp.

This collection of 54 articles and reviews appearing over half a century (from 1953 to 2003), plus three pieces never before published, covers a wide range of subjects, arranged under the rubrics "Past History," "Current History," and "About History." This might suggest a grab-bag of random writings fit only for academics. Not so. Almost all are relevant to contemporary concerns. And since Lewis has emerged as a leading molder of U.S. public opinion on Middle Eastern matters (and is generally believed to have influenced Bush administration policies since September 11), there is added interest in tracking this scholar.

It is revealing that Lewis chose not to arrange these writings in chronological order, as if to suggest that his interpretations, if not timeless, at least have a long shelf life. In fact, his writings do reveal a remarkable consistency of thought over the decades. His arguments, ever forceful and subtle (a rare accomplishment in itself), are not easily summarized and are too many to list. Suffice it to note that included here is his famous "The Roots of Muslim Rage," which, when it first appeared in 1990, introduced the watchword "clash of civilizations" later brandished by Samuel Huntington. His several articles in support of the U.S. war of choice against Iraq (and the whole notion of an "axis of evil") reveal a Lewis who is more forceful than subtle.