As much as I respect Professor Lewis’s historical works, their quality has been on the decline as he has become increasingly engaged in the political process (his analysis of modern terrorist networks and movements is also rather medieval). This video clip illustrates the manner in which his relations with the political right have degraded the quality of his analysis and presentation.
As with scholars from all facets of area studies, Lewis attempts to make his region out to be the most politically relevant one (the “survival of our civilization” is at stake, after all), regardless as to the actual proportion of the threat emanating from the region in the global context (in terms of the numbers of armed conflicts, death tolls, and so on). This gives him the ear of many wealthy and influential people, and finances his smashing ties and comfortable lifestyle. Such is the case with other public intellectuals. The struggle for relevance is a special tactic in the area studies end of the struggle for recognition.
A conspiratorial take: Most Americans seem to perceive “Islamic terrorism” as being the greatest threat to national security at this point in history — regardless of other issues and actors entirely unrelated to Islamic this or that. Rather than being seen as a consequence or reaction to wider world trends, terrorism is seen — or at least treated — as a force in and of itself, rather than a tactic. “Islamic terrorism” is different from other forms of sectarian terrorism because violence and universalism are seen as “natural” components of Islam. This makes it an “existential threat,” bent on “world domination.” It presents an alternative world view to Western universalism and therefore must be directly challenged as a force in and of itself (like communism or fascism). It is unrelated to other trends on the plant and acts independently of such changes. The West, therefore, does not need to engage in any self-criticism which might erode the absolute universalism or its moral and political-economic system, indeed it is the Muslims alone who need to engage in such “soul searching,” even at a time when Western dominance in the moral, economic, and political fronts is increasingly questioned and challenged around the globe (one is told that this is because the West has not been firm enough in its traditional values). This allows for public intellectuals and policy makers to avoid the larger structural problems facing the international community and makes for superior campaign chatter (on both the right and left; to hear them tell it, the right will be the best at preventing another 9/11; the left understands the Islamic threat more clearly). It is an easy distraction from more complex and pressing matters globally.
I would like to see some reader reactions to the clip itself.