The Vice President's Remarks at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Luncheon Honoring Professor Bernard Lewis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. And, thank you, Henry. I appreciate the introduction and the kind words. Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate the warm welcome. It's always a pleasure to be in Philadelphia -- one of our truly great and historic sites.
Of course, coming in today I was reflecting that six years ago this is where I began my current tour as Vice President, when we came here for the Republican Convention of 2000. I chalk that up as another historic, significant event for Philadelphia, but one certainly we've never forgotten.
I want to thank the World Affairs Council, Glenmede, and the Pew Charitable Trusts for hosting the conference, and for giving me the opportunity to pay tribute today to a friend of all of us, Bernard Lewis. I'm told that Buntzie Ellis Churchill, the President of the World Affairs Council, is retiring next month after four decades of great work. So I want to thank Buntzie, and congratulate her for these many years of service to the Council. (Applause.)
I've been looking forward to coming up here today. As it happens, I'm getting ready to leave the country. That'll be good news in some quarters. (Laughter.)
Tomorrow I set out for a conference of new democracies in Vilnius, Lithuania, and then go on to meetings in Kazakhstan and Croatia before I come home next week. All in all, we're looking at a journey of more than 13,000 miles -- the kind of thing Henry Kissinger does in a weekend. (Laughter.)
I'm delighted, as always, to see Henry. He's a frequent visitor to the White House. He was among those who joined us a couple of weeks ago in hosting a lunch for President Hu Jintao of China. And as Henry mentioned, he and I go back a long ways to the Ford Administration, when he was Secretary of State and I was White House Chief of Staff -- the old days, when I had real power. (Laughter.) But Henry and I remain close friends. I greatly admired always how he came to the country as a boy, went on to be an eminent scholar, Secretary of State under two Presidents, and one of the most respected diplomats ever produced by the United States. He's a fine American, and it's a privilege to be in his company today.
Henry and I share an appreciation for history, and I know he would agree, as I do, with a very astute observer who once said that history "is the collective memory, the guiding experience of human society, and we still badly need that guidance." Those are the words of Dr. Bernard Lewis, a man who first studied the Middle East some 70 years ago, in the time of the British Palestinian Mandate when King Ibn Saud reigned in Saudi Arabia, and Ataturk himself still ruled in Turkey. You simply cannot find a greater authority on Middle Eastern history -- from classical Islamic civilization, to the Ottoman Empire, to the modern period -- than this man and his works. One admirer has said this of Bernard Lewis: "If you ask him for his thoughts in his areas of expertise, he will always be encyclopedic, original and as near to irrefutable as a man can get in a field that is so combustible."
I had the pleasure of first meeting Bernard more than 15 years ago, during my time as Secretary of Defense. It was not long after the dictator of Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and we brought in a large number of outside experts to speak about the history and the way forward in the Middle East. As you might imagine, I got a wide range of advice -- some of it very good and some of it terrible. No one offered sounder analysis or better insight than Bernard Lewis. He was an absolute standout, and I decided that day that this was a man I wanted to keep in touch with, and whose work I should follow carefully in the years ahead.
Since then we have met often, particularly during the last four-and-a-half years, and Bernard has always had some very good meetings with President Bush. He is always objective, thoroughly candid, and completely independent. These, combined in the depth of his knowledge and the great discipline of his mind, make Bernard the very ideal of the wise man.
If you spend any amount of time with Dr. Lewis, or his writings, you marvel at the man's ability to present sophisticated material with economy, with clarity, and with accuracy. He counts the following as among the highest compliments that he's ever received. It came from a pamphleteer in the Middle East, who said this of Dr. Lewis: "I don't know who this man is. He is either a candid friend or an honest enemy, but in either case, one who refuses to deal in falsehoods."
Bernard's interest in history was awakened at a very young age. As a boy in the United Kingdom, he studied English history, which, at that level, he said, is mainly about various wars with the French. He got his first teaching appointment in 1938, at the University of London. They gave him the position of assistant lecturer -- which Bernard remembers as the lowest form of human life in British universities. (Laughter.)
He interrupted his academic career to serve in the British armed forces during the Second World War. He went into the Royal Armored Corps, and later transferred to an intelligence unit. Bernard once speculated that his transfer from armor to intelligence probably had to do with his aptitude for languages or his ineptitude with tanks. (Applause.)
One of his responsibilities was as a teacher of fellow intelligence personnel. He did not mind the job, but he found the material pretty boring -- so to liven it up would throw in side comments about the army that made students laugh. In retrospect Bernard thought those editorial remarks should have gotten him into some trouble. But that did not happen, perhaps because of a note that a superior had put into his personnel file. The officer wrote that Bernard Lewis' "sense of humor should not be taken as sedition." (Laughter.)
After honorable service in uniform, Bernard returned to academia, where he rose in distinction and built a career and a body of published work that are nothing short of monumental. Since 1974 he has been at Princeton, and is today the Cleveland Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus.
Having concentrated for decades on mastering the languages and the archives of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis will modestly tell you that he is an historian who doesn't make predictions about the future. Yet he has been to the region countless times, and he has a thorough understanding of life as it is lived today in that part of the world. And so he has often displayed not just foresight, but an ability to see around corners. More than three decades ago, at the height of a secular era, he wrote a prescient article titled "The Return of Islam." In the 1970s he studied the writings of an obscure cleric named Khomeini, and saw the seeds of a movement that would deliver theocratic despotism. In 1990, he wrote "The Roots of Muslim Rage," which anticipated the terrorism of that decade. And in this new century, his wisdom is sought daily by policymakers, diplomats, fellow academics, and the news media.
Bernard Lewis knows the greatness of Islamic civilization -- its tradition of learning and its towering cultural achievements. He refuses to condescend to the people that produced those achievements, and who have lately suffered such great torment at the hands of dictators. Bernard Lewis understands, as well as any man alive, the nature of the present struggle between freedom and fear, justice and cruelty. He understands, also, that freedom is not an affliction -- it is a right that belongs to men and women half a world away every bit as much as it belongs to us. And as the ancient struggle for liberty and equality is played out in our own time, we'll continue to rely on Bernard Lewis's rigorous thinking, his sound judgment, his realism, and his optimism as well.
Bernard Lewis is a man of strong moral character and a gentle manner. People delight in his company. We are drawn to his great humanity, his terrific sense of humor, and his kind spirit. Such a man is always a good example -- and is exactly the kind of person who should be a teacher. For nearly seven decades, Bernard Lewis has been a mentor and an encourager to young scholars. I know he takes very special pride in his many students, and they, in turn, are extremely devoted to him.
Some years ago, Professor Lewis was asked why he was always writing about sensitive topics. This was his reply: "The sensitive place in the body, physical or social, is where something is wrong." "Sensitivity," he said, "is a signal the body sends us, that something needs attention, which is what I try to give."
He has certainly done so, to the great and continuing benefit of us all. When his first book was published, in 1940, the edition ran to 500 copies -- and it took 10 years to sell them. Today Professor Lewis' books are read by hundreds of thousands here and abroad, translated into many languages, and received with gratitude and awe.
It is a wonderful thing that such a talented, discerning, and decent human being should have been given great length of years. We are so very grateful to Bernard -- his busy, productive, his consequential life, and for the enduring works that he has given us all. Very soon he will reach the age of 90. And so the most fitting tribute I can offer, Bernard, is to say happy birthday -- and may you live to 120.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Richard B. Cheney, The Vice President's Remarks at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Luncheon Honoring Professor Bernard Lewis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/282297