Writing ‘The Return of Islam’ in 1976 (in the midst of the Lebanese civil war) for Commentary (via Ian of Elder of Ziyon), the great historian Bernard Lewis predicted the rise of Islam as a powerful force in Middle Eastern politics. Regimes have been overthrown, new wars have broken out, an especially fascist version of the religion has emerged in Islamic State, but Islam remains as resistant to the exercise of non-Muslim sovereignty as it has always been.
still the most effective form of consensus in Muslim countries, the
basic group identity among the masses. This will be increasingly
effective as the regimes become more genuinely popular. One can already
see the contrast between the present regimes and those of the small,
alienated, Western-educated elite which governed until a few decades
ago. As regimes come closer to the populace, even if their verbiage is left-wing and ideological, they become more Islamic.
Under the Ba’thist regime in Syria, more mosques were built in the
three years after the Jaysh al-Sha’b incident than in the previous
Bernard Lewis, one of the greatest authorities on Middle East history and politics alive today
Islam is a very powerful but still an undirected force in politics.
As a possible factor in international politics, the present prognosis is
not very favorable. There have been many attempts at a pan-Islamic
policy, none of which has made much progress. One reason for their lack
of success is that those who have made the attempt have been so
unconvincing. This still leaves the possibility of a more convincing
leadership, and there is ample evidence in virtually all Muslim
countries of the deep yearning for such a leadership and a readiness to
respond to it.
The lack of an educated modern leadership has so far
restricted the scope of Islam and inhibited religious movements from
being serious contenders for power. But it is already very effective as a
limiting factor and may yet become a powerful domestic political force
if the right kind of leadership emerges.
In the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Six-Day War
in 1967, an ominous phrase was sometimes heard, “First the Saturday
people, then the Sunday people.” The Saturday people have proved
unexpectedly recalcitrant, and recent events in Lebanon indicate that
the priorities may have been reversed. Fundamentally, the same issue
arises in both Palestine and Lebanon, though the circumstances that
complicate the two situations are very different. The basic question
is this: Is a resurgent Islam prepared to tolerate a non-Islamic
enclave, whether Jewish in Israel or Christian in Lebanon, in the heart
of the Islamic world?
The current fascination among Muslims with the
history of the Crusades, the vast literature on the subject, both
academic and popular, and the repeated inferences drawn from the final
extinction of the Crusading principalities throw some light on attitudes
in this matter. Islam from its inception is a religion of power, and in
the Muslim world view it is right and proper that power should be
wielded by Muslims and Muslims alone.
Others may receive the tolerance,
even the benevolence, of the Muslim state, provided that they clearly
recognize Muslim supremacy. That Muslims should rule over non-Muslims is
right and normal. That non-Muslims should rule over Muslims is an
offense against the laws of God and nature, and this is true whether in
Kashmir, Palestine, Lebanon, or Cyprus. Here again, it must be
recalled that Islam is not conceived as a religion in the limited
Western sense but as a community, a loyalty, and a way of life—and
that the Islamic community is still recovering from the traumatic era
when Muslim governments and empires were overthrown and Muslim peoples
forcibly subjected to alien, infidel rule. Both the Saturday people and the Sunday people are now suffering the consequences.