Cheney on Bernard Lewis

A month after he did so, I learn that Vice President Cheney gave a long toast to the neoconservative scholar Bernard Lewis at a lunch in Philadelphia. As usual, Cheney’s speech is significant for what it doesn’t tell us: anything specific about the ideas that Lewis brought to the White House. Though Cheney notes that he first met Lewis 15 years ago, and that Lewis has been coming to the White House to talk to the President in the last four-and-a-half years. I.e., after September 11.

Lewis’s message to the White House is summarized in The Assassins’ Gate, by George Packer:

For decades, even centuries, [Arab] civilization has steadily fallen behind as the West and the rest of the world progressed into modernity. This decay is a source of humiliation and rage to millions of Arabs and non-Arab Muslims. In recent years, the sickness has produced a threat that ranges far beyond the region. American power has helped to keep the Arab world in decline by supporting sclerotic tyrannies; only an American break with its own history in the region can reverse it. The Arabs cannot pull themselves out of their historic rut. They need to be jolted out by some foreign-born shock. The overthrow of the Iraqi regime would provide one.

I believe Edward Said named this, orientalism.

Note that in Michael Massing’s superb dissection of the power of AIPAC in the latest New York Review of Books, he states that Lewis’s son Michael is an editor of the pro-Israel lobbyist’s “Activities Update”—”a compilation of dozens of press clips, speech transcripts, and minutes of meetings… periodically e-mailed to a select list of AIPAC supporters. This research provides the raw material for AIPAC’s efforts to intimidate and silence opponents. “

Note, too, that the VP’s comments in Philly included this nice turn:

Some years ago, Professor Lewis was asked why he was always writing about sensitive topics. This was his reply: “The sensitive place in the body, physical or social, is where something is wrong.” “Sensitivity,” he said, “is a signal the body sends us, that something needs attention, which is what I try to give.”