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Middle East history from ‘Middle East’s perspective

Posted June. 20, 2015 08:00,   


These days, Koreans see and hear the word "Middle East" more often than ever before due to Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. For this reason, the book “Notes on a Century” subtitled “Reflections of a Middle East Historian" by Bernard Lewis’ draws more attention.

The book carries significant weight. Bernard Lewis’ is an historian who could not be excluded in the study of Middle East history. “Notes on a Century” also refers to the life of the author, who is 99 years old this year. The book is a compilation of his 100-year life and achievements by Lewis, which also sheds lights on the Middle East history over the years. Lewis had lasting interest in the Middle East including his childhood years when he was eeply attracted by Hebrew language, and thus ended up becoming a historian on the Middle East. He confesses to his experience from the time when serving as solider in the Middle East during the Second World War and other stories. The book also includes his memoirs from his meetings with key figures in the Middle East, including Turkish President Halil Turgut Özal, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Jordanian King Hussein.

The stories sound like genuinely personal accounts, but the entire book is a record on 100-year history of the Middle East. It also provides readers with a chance to check Lewis’s view of the Middle East history. He claims that the world should see the Middle East history from the Middle East’s perspective, not from the West’s.

For example, the author seeks to find answer to the question of why Islamic forces seek to confront the U.S. from the Middle East countries’ perspective to Western countries. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2001 heralded the Middle East’s antipathy towards the U.S., but no clear-cut answer was provided to the question of "why Islam is in conflict with the U.S.?" As the U.S. never sought to occupy any part of the Middle East, and rather supported Middle East countries’ independence, it was difficult to understand the very fact that the Middle East was hostile toward the U.S. Lewis pays attention to the fact that to most Muslims, the basis of identity and royalty is not the state or people but the religion. From the Middle East’s perspective, Western countries that are considered nations of Christianity are collectively a group, and the U.S. is the representative of the countries that have afflicted them. This is the origin of Muslims’ anti-American sentiment.

As the author states that “Historians should find the truth of the past based on a sense of ethical and vocational responsibility, present and explain exactly what they have discovered and figured out. I have truly exerted efforts to fulfill this responsibility,” the book was compiled as the outcome of Lewis’ painstaking efforts.