Bernard Lewis versus Fouad Ajami, Or, Is the Arab World Becoming More Dangerous or Less?

The interview has yet to air, but on the National Review cruise last week I sat down with Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam. I read the following quotation, from an interview that Lewis gave last year to the Jerusalem Post:

I can imagine a situation in which the Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations of the same kind obtain control of much of the Arab world….And if that happens, they would gradually sink back into medieval squalor.

Even now, after the Arab Spring, I asked, did Lewis still believe the Muslim Brotherhood wished to restore some kind of unity to the Arab world, establishing, perhaps, a new caliphate? Lewis doubted that the Brotherhood would prove in any hurry to set up a caliph, but he retained no doubt whatever that the Muslim Brotherhood does indeed intend to establish some sort of radical, pan-Arab entity, uniting the Arab world in hostility to the West, especially Israel and the United States.

Fouad Ajami, by contrast, presents an entirely different, and–I may as well admit my sense of relief to be able to say so–a much more reassuring analysis. Fouad, too, represents a major scholar of Islam. From his column today in the Wall Street Journal:

On Sunday in Egypt’s leading official daily, Al-Ahram, I came upon a daring column by one of that paper’s writers, Hazem Abdul Rahman. The solution lies in the development of Egypt, not in Gaza, he observed. He minced no words: President Morsi wasn’t elected to serve the cause of Palestine—his mandate was the “pursuit of bread, freedom, and social justice.” The popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood has eroded, but it cannot find salvation in foreign policy….

Unknown.jpgThe Palestinians ignore a fundamental truth about the Arab Awakenings at their peril. These rebellions were distinctly national affairs, emphasizing the primacy of home and its needs. Indeed, the Palestinians themselves have bristled in indignation that the pan-Arab media have zealously covered Syria while all but ignoring Palestine, which was the obsession of the 1960s and 1970s.

History has moved on, and Arab populations have gone their separate ways.

Do I have any idea which scholar is correct? No I have not–for that matter, the contrast between the two almost induces me to feel something like sympathy for Sec. of State Hilary Clinton. As far as I can tell, she has no more way of adjudicating this dispute than have I. Yet there she is, forced to formulate policy as best she can.

Were I in her position, though, I would err on the side of prudence. Hope that Fouad is right–but formulate policy as if Lewis, alas, were right instead.