WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON £20 (438pp) £18 (free p&p per order) from 0870 079 8897

From Babel to Dragomans by Bernard Lewis

Lost in Arabic translation

Dragoman, a wonderfully resonant word, meaning an interpreter or guide in Eastern countries, derives from the Arabic verb tarjama, to translate. It is one among thousands of lexical items in English that derive from Arabic. Others include admiral, alfalfa, algebra, banana, carafe, giraffe, mohair, sofa, sugar and zero. Bernard Lewis's lecture on dragomans, reprinted in this volume of collected essays, was delivered in 1998. In it he drew attention to the crucial role which Greeks, Armenians, Jews and other Levantines used to have in interpreting the Ottoman world to the Western diplomats they served and, more broadly, to the world at large.

Diplomats and interpreters have had a more important role in the history of Orientalism than some scholars have allowed. From his youth, Lewis has been interested in the instruments and language of diplomacy. He shares the traditional Orientalist's interest in philology and in the effect language has in shaping the ways people think and act.

Lewis, born in 1916 and former professor at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies and later at Princeton, is now retired but still an awesomely productive scholar. The earliest essay in this volume dates from 1953, on the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. The most recent pieces were published in 2002 and deal with urgent and controversial issues.

The most famous, or notorious article, in this volume, "The Roots of Muslim Rage", first appeared in Atlantic Monthly in 1990. It had a role in inspiring Samuel Huntington's book on a hypothetical fight to the finish between Islam and modern Western civilisation, The Clash of Civilizations (a phrase Huntington found in Lewis's essay). It is important to note that though Lewis coined the phrase, he did not invent the "clash of civilisations". Such a potential clash was already being preached and discussed in mosques around the world, but he hoped that conflict on a grand scale might be averted: "we must take great care on all sides to avoid the danger of a new era of religious wars, arising from the exacerbation of differences and revival of ancient prejudices".

Lewis has a penchant for bearing bad news and selecting sensitive topics, such as racism and slavery in Muslim history. As he reamrks, "the sensitive place in the body, physical or social, is where something is wrong. Sensitivity is a signal the body sends us, that something is wrong, that something needs attention, which... I try to give".

Lewis is, in many respects, an intellectual product of the Cold War. Not only did he attack the errors and fallacies of Marxist Orientalists and study the way Russia seemed to be consolidating its influence in Nasser's Egypt and elsewhere; the Cold War dichotomisation also seems to have influenced the way he viewed the struggle of the Ottomans and Habsburgs for supremacy in the Balkans. It may have been a factor behind his abiding interest in such subversive movements as the medieval Assassin sect. (Another word derived from the Arabic, hashishiyun - "hashish-takers".) Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, he has turned his critical attention to anti-Western agitation and acts of terrorism. Certain unflattering observations in "The Roots of Muslim Rage" aroused the wrath of Edward Said.

Lewis, unlike his critics (and they, like his fans, are numerous), is always clear and eloquent. He gets his facts right, whereas his opponents often seem to have difficulty with facts. He is a distinguished sc,holar and it is important to note that much of this work deals with the history of such dynasties as the Fatimids, Ottomans, Mughals and Safavids in a lucid and informative way, with no discernible agenda. But in a book as wide-ranging as this, the lack of an index is deplorable.

Robert Irwin's 'Companion' to the Arabian Nights has been reissued by I B Tauris

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence