Just how deaf has the Washington press corps become? Princeton’s world famous scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, gave a landmark speech Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual dinner. Warning that the 14-century-long struggle between Christianity and Islam is entering a new phase, in which radical Islamists have found a sense of identity and purpose, while we are losing our own to self-denigration and self-abasement, Lewis cited as one example the Pope apologizing last year for the crusades. Lewis urged us to have a little sense of proportion, and went on to say — and it was an illuminating line — “The crusade was a late, limited and unsuccessful imitation of the jihad.”
(Repeat: “unsuccessful” was what Lewis said).
But that’s not how Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King Jr. described it. On the Journal’s Washington Wire blog site, under the absurdly misleading headline “Bernard Lewis Applauds the Crusades,” King misquoted Lewis as having described the crusades as “a late, limited and successful imitation of the jihad.”
This has already begun spawning commentary in the blogosphere, slamming Lewis for something that is the opposite of what he actually said.
I was at the dinner, but did not get around to reading the Journal’s Washington Wire until this morning. It was so outrageously at odds with what I remembered, and with my own notes on Lewis’s speech, that I phoned Bernard Lewis today to check. He confirmed that he was in no way defending the crusades: “I said their behavior was atrocious,” and that he in no way described them as a success, but quite explicitly as “unsuccessful.” He added — and the rest of his almost one-hour speech provides rich and important context for this response — “What I did say was that apologizing for them was absurd.”
That is very different from the bizarre headline and quote on the March 8 Washington Wire.
What would not be absurd, what would in fact be entirely appropriate, would be an apology and correction from the Journal, a newspaper that prides itself on accurate reporting and states on its web site that the Washington Wire is “among the most venerated products of the Journal’s Washington bureau.” Surely the Journal’s readers deserve an accurate account of a major Washington speech by a man who is not only one of the great modern scholars of Islam, but also a staunch champion of human decency, dignity and freedom — in any part of the globe.
AEI has not yet posted a transcript (though when they do, it will probably appear here). For those who wish to check the delivery, as well as listen to Lewis’s richly grounded, clearly articulated and vitally important message, C-Span 2 is airing Bernard Lewis’s AEI speech at 2 PM today, and we can hope they might post a link to the video.