Suzanne Fields

Those photographs of Muslim prisoners in an Iraqi prison fuel the rage of Muslims everywhere because they go to the psychology of identity, reinforcing humiliation. Such humiliation is to the Muslim what losing face is to the Chinese, public exposure of the worst kind.

The humiliation felt at Abu Ghraib Prison is rooted in a feeling of Islamic weakness in a region caught in the ebb and flow of aggressive hostility to the West for more than a century.

The roots of Muslim rage, says scholar Bernard Lewis, emanate from a series of humiliating defeats that dramatize how far Muslims have fallen as "heirs of an old, proud, and long dominant civilization." Not only have they failed to revive a rich culture of creativity, Muslims have been diminished by societies they consider to be made up of their inferiors.

In "From Babel to Dragomans," a collection of essays written over four decades, Bernard Lewis interprets the "clash of civilizations" that has brought Muslim society in direct antagonism with the Judeo-Christian West, a clash that grew from disappointment, frustration and debilitating humiliation.

At first, the Muslin response to Western civilization was admiration and a desire to imitate Western success, an earnest attempt to gain equal status. But when Muslim countries were unable to keep up with the West, Muslims transformed failure into bitterness and hatred.

It didn't start with American support of Israel, but the seeds were sown when five Arab states attacked Israel in 1948 and suffered a humiliating loss to the new state made up of little more than a half million Jews. Arabia tried again in the Six-Day War of 1967, and again in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, all with the same effect. The fact that Israeli women fought valiantly against Arabs in 1948, and contributed to their defeat, intensified the blow to Muslim manhood.

When Muslim men went away to fight to defend the Ottoman Empire during the second decade of the 20th century, Muslim women went to work outside the home out of necessity. But when Arab countries failed to sustain economic, technological and political achievement, the women were first to suffer the reaction. The pride of Muslim manhood demanded it.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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