Bernard Lewis: What will come instead?

The West’s leading scholar of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, sees cause for optimism in the limited-government traditions of Arab and Muslim culture. But he says the U.S. should not push for quick, Western-style elections.

Two months shy of his 95th birthday, Mr. Lewis has been writing history books since before World War II. By 1950, he was already a leading scholar of the Arab world, and after 9/11, the vice president and the Pentagon’s top brass summoned him to Washington for his wisdom.

“I think that the tyrannies are doomed,” Mr. Lewis says as we sit by the windows in his library, teeming with thousands of books in the dozen or so languages he’s mastered. “The real question is what will come instead.”

For Americans who have watched protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Bahrain and now Syria stand up against their regimes, it has been difficult not to be intoxicated by this revolutionary moment. Mr. Lewis is “delighted” by the popular movements and believes that the U.S. should do all it can to bolster them. But he cautions strongly against insisting on Western-style elections in Muslim lands.

“We have a much better chance of establishing—I hesitate to use the word democracy—but some sort of open, tolerant society, if it’s done within their systems, according to their traditions. Why should we expect them to adopt a Western system? And why should we expect it to work?” he asks.

Read full interview: The Wall Street Journal

About altoraifi
Al Toraifi is the current Editor-in-Chief of Al Majalla, the leading Arab magazine. A specialist on Saudi foreign policy, he is recognized as a commentator and participant in televised programs for CNN, NBC, BBC and Al-Arabia TV. Awarded the post-graduate International Conflict Prize 2008 from Kingston University for outstanding work, Mr Al-Toraifi is currently a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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