Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Academics for Bush (and his wars): Fouad Ajami Analyzes the Arab Natives for You. He has one of his usual pieces in the Wall Street Journal (thanks John and Walter). It is really your typical Fouad Ajami (and recently his obedient imitator `Abdur-Rahman Ar-Rashid's) style: "that, look at me, how civilized I am, and how uncivilized Arabs are. Why can't Arabs be civilized like me. Do you not respect me and reward me for being such a civilized guy? It is really sad how uncivilized Arabs are, etc." First he starts by telling you that "The remarkable thing about the terror in Iraq is the silence with which it is greeted in other Arab lands." That is not really true. I have, I think, more extensive access to Arab media, and follow Arab opinions in print, and through TV broadcasts through my SuperDish and the other offerings on Globecast satellite TV, and consider myself a very close watcher of Arab public opinion, not through their jokes only and not through what a few handful Syrian writers in An-Nahar newspaper. And Ajami claim is groundless. The most famous Arab newspapers, Al-Hayat, Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, Al-Ahram, An-Nahar, and many others, carry regular if not daily denunciations of Zarqawi. Even Sunni Muslim fundamentalist speakers preface their remarks on Iraq by declaring their opposition to Zarqawi and his heinous deeds. But I think that it is true that there may be some who may be deep down sympathetic to Zarqawi, not out of admiration for his agenda or his style of murders, but mostly because they feel, rightly or wrongly, and largely due US propaganda exaggeration of Zarqawi role and influence in Iraq, that he is contributing to the demise of the US project in Iraq, just as there were people (like Walid Jumblat by his own admission) who did not admire or like Bin Laden but may have gloated over American suffering on Sep. 11, as insensitive as this may be. Of course, even if one is opposed to US project in Iraq, Zarqawi should never be treated as an ally, and his murder should be condemned no matter who he targets. But to make this criminal a product of the Arab world or its people is as ridiculous as claiming that an American criminal is the product of American culture or people. Let us apply the same standards of analaysis on the advanced (colonizing) world, and the colonized people. Similarly, there is something to be said, on the other side, for American silence toward the killing of Iraqi civilians: and whether they are shot by US troops or by Zarqawi killers, the responsibility for the security situation in Iraq, from the standpoint of international law, should be squarely blamed on US government's doorsteps as it stands in charge of Iraq, and is the legal occupying power, no matter what dubious UN resolutions ploys are utilized to disguise what can't be disguised: a classic and naked foreign occupation that uses the arguments and methods of past colonial powers in the region. But it is quite untrue to say that Arabs (Sunni Arabs) are not denouncing the crimes of Zarqawi. Take all the Arab TV channels, you hear speakers from different ideological backgrounds speaking against Zarqawi. That is a fact. How dishonest it is for Ajami, or others, who feel the need for purposes of self-promotion, to misreport the reality of Arab public opinion to Western readers. The time when classical Orientalists used to get away with their generalizations and statements about Arabs and Muslims is long gone. We need to shake the arrogant self-confidence, as Maxime Rodinson called it in la fascination de l'islam when he talked about classical Orientalists, of the instant favorite government experts of the Middle East. I will even say this: I have not read one piece, NOT ONE PIECE, by any Arab praising Zarqawi or his deeds. Only his Jordanian biographer, Fu'ad Husayn, seems to express some admiration for him, just as Saudi Ambassador in the US (the new one, Prince Turki al-Faysal) still seems to express admiration for the personality of Bin Laden "when he knew him." I have not heard one person on any Arab channel praising Zarqawi or his deeds. To be sure, on the kooky Bin Ladenite websites, and they are not visited by a large number of visitors (and half of the visitors are most probably from US government agencies and the staff of MEMRI anyway), you will find people offering praise for Zarqawi, but you can also find kooky American website praising all sort of crazy behavior. Ajami tells (or informs) the reader that Zarqawi refers to Shi`ites as Rafidah (which is true, as he does refer to Shi`ites and other Muslims who do not support him in the most crude and vulgar manner) but he defines Rafidah as (Rejectors of Islam). That is not quite accurate: the term was coined to refer to Shi`ite rejection of the divine legitimacy of the rule of the 1st three rightly-guided caliphs. Yes, Zarqawi rails against Shi`ites, but Ajami does not tell the readers that Zarqawi also rails, in the most vicious and crude manner again, against OTHER SUNNI MUSLIMS and Arabs BECAUSE they did not rally to his call, and because they did not join his Jihad. That only proves my point. Zarqawi would not rail against the Sunni clerics and the Sunni people if they were really sympathetic to his cause as Ajami would like you to believe. But it does not look like Ajami has been reading Zarqawi's statements, or maybe only reading what is put out by the unreliable MEMRI. If you rely on MEMRI for your knowledge of Arab discourse, you are really not informed. Arab public opinion, based on MEMRI's releases, is reduced or caricatured to either Bin Laden fans or Bush fans, while Arab public opinion is mosty a fan of neither people. In fact, as somebody who has regularly read his speeches and listened to his audioyellings, I can identify a trend in his discourse: Zarqawi started by expressing almost exclusive hostility against Shi`ites, but his anger has been increasingly rising against all Arabs and all Muslims (and Muslim clerics too because they have distanced themselves from him and his crimes) because they have failed to join his campaign of Jihad. Yes, perhaps there should be more attention paid in the Arab world to the carnage in Iraq, but there should be more attention paid here in the US to the carnage in Iraq. People, and the media, are ignoring the Iraq story, and that does not mean that they are sympathetic to Zarqawi. That is the flaw in his logic of Ajami's argument here. But how bad is the state of Middle East studies, and how much do Orientalist dogmas and cliches still persist in the US, when a "respected" expert on the Middle East (somebody who turned down an offer of a chair at Harvard University's Department of Government) can get away with such statements: "A terrible condition afflicts the Arabs... an addiction to failure." I dare say that no expert of Russia or China or Mexico would dare make a similar statement about the people of those countries, and still get away with it. It is amazing how tolerant the American academe is of statements of prejudice and hostility when made AGAINST the Arabs/Muslims. Here is a generalization about 300 million people made by somebody who lives in New York, and whose declarations, nay assertions about Arab culture--about the Arab "mind" really--are widely circulated and applauded. And what do you make of such statements as "But in truth there is precious little shame in Arab life about the role of the Arabs in the great struggle for and within Iraq." I mean how do you respond to that? How can you argue with that? Imagine if I write a book in Arabic on Americans in which I say something similar, about all Americans. Would that not be the epitome of irresponsibility and reinforcement of cultural and ethnic hatred and animosities, and of cross-cultural misunderstandings? He then tells you that the Damascus-based Union of Arab Writers has refused to grant memberships to Iraqi authors. That is a lie, and Ajami may not even know it. Ajami is so irresponsible with his generalizations and statements, and he knows that there are no limits as to what he gets away with it, that he simply feels no inhibitions in spreading rumors, or repeating something that somebody may have told him at an embassy function, or a dinner party, or even making things up. Fakhri Karim is an Iraqi writer and last I heard he was a member of that Union. But that Union does NOT represent all Arab writers. This has been a controversial Union which has served as a tool really of the Syrian Ba`thist regime. It has been infiltrated by spies of the regime. It has been discredited, and recently the leader of the Union was ousted as a protest against his long history of shameless subservience to a regime that did everything to stifle creativity and artistic and literary expression, in Syria and beyond. He then, so innocently asks about the state of silence in the Arab world vis-a-vis Iraqi suffering. Oh, no: there is no silence, they do talk loudly and daily about Iraqi suffering in Arab publications, but they disagree with Ajami's diagnosis and solutions, and that is why he dismisses their voices, and claims falsely that there is a state of silence. I can easily ask this sudden and convenient champion of Iraq and its people where he was when the Iraqi civilian population--I am not talking about Saddam and his cruel family--was suffering under the most cruel sanctions that were imposed by the will of the US government (under Bush, Clinton, and George W.). He was silent. But silence, to Ajami, is when you do not say "the right word." No speeches will count unless you utter the well-known Bush's propaganda lines and RNC's talking points, packaged by Ajami as Middle East expertise and academic wisdom. No, Iraqis did not suffer alone, there was so much attention paid in the Arab world to the suffering of the Iraqi people under sanctions, unlike the situation in the US, where pundits and government officials (Democrats and Republicans alike) either supported the sanctions or called for tightening them. The rest of the American population (with the exception of pockets of progressive dissent) simply did not pay attention to the suffering of Iraqis. But this is Ajami: it is easy, way too easy, to pick on Arabs in the US, just as it is easy to criticize Israel in the Arab world. So Ajami has as much credibility as a Syrian Ba`thist writer who is willing to criticize Israel but unwilling to criticize her/his own government. Similarly, Ajami refrains from criticizing the US and Israel, because that would change the reception of his words on the Middle East. If he were to do that, he would immediately sound less wise and less profound. That is also true about those Arab neo-conservatives who speak on the Middle East in the US (those who are listed in Benador and Associates site). Notice that when they become convenient analysts of the Middle East, they stop talking about the Palestinians, and in the case of some of the, they stop supporting the Palestinians. That would not be accepted, and the speaking fees would end. I will say this: Professor Muhsin Mahdi (formerly Professor at Harvard University's Center for Middle East Studies and the person who succeeded H.A.R. Gibb as director of the Center) once talked to me about Ajami when he was being considered for a position in the Department of Government there. He was interviewed by the Crimson (as an anonymous source) and he said that he knows of Ajami but only as media phenomenon, and that he does not match his criticisms of the Arab world with any criticism of the US and Israel. So he has the same glaring credibility problem that a Syrian Ba`thist or a Libyan Qadhdhafi fan or a Jordanian mukhabarat writer has, but in an opposite way. Both don't have credibility. And then he uses such language: "a spirit of belligerence have settled upon the Arab world". A professor who writes such a language about 300 million people is a professor whose students leaves his class with more stereotypes and more misconceptions about Arabs than when they entered the class. He makes fun of the dismissal of the Iraqi constitution as "American-Iranian"--although I have not read that in Arabic--as "incoherent" criticism. No it is not. It is quite coherent, and makes a lot of sense. It refers to the process that produced the not-agreed-upon-yet draft version of the Iraqi constitution. And the process was largely determined by Iranian and American influences and intervention, and it shows. I am not sure why Ajami has difficulty in understanding that, but then again: why should I make people's comprehension problems my problem? But my favorite part of the Ajami piece (favorite piece to mock that is) was his reference to Egypt. Ajami is mad at the Egyptians (but that is redundant, as his anger at the Egyptians can be derivative of the his expressed anger at all Arabs), although he often praises the handful of Egyptians who support normalization with Israeli (like the shallow playwright `Ali Salim). I almost laughed at that part. Here I have spent the last two years of this blog keeping track of American changing sequence of accusations against those who are allegedly responsible for the Iraqi insurgency, and I have noticed that at different times, Libya, Iran, Hizbullah, Syria, Zarqawi, `Izzat Ad-Duri, the Iraqi Ba`th organization in Syria, Revolutionary Guards, the Mukhabarat, the Military Office of the Ba`th (the recent version of the theory is in the last issue of Time magazine), Saddam's briefcase, `Udayy, etc were all blamed as the real power behind the Iraqi insurgency. But here, Ajami wants to blame Egypt. It is Egypt that is now responsible for the Iraqi insurgency. But you must understand this. Ajami is on the defensive. He really is. This is a man who lent his expertise and wisdom on Middle East affairs to the US government when it was preparing for the war against Iraq; this is the man whose writings and "predictions" were cited by none other than the Vice-president of the US; this is the man who predicted not only that Iraqis would greet US occupiers, but that the Arabs would greet the "liberation of Iraq"--that was cited in Cheney's speech in August 2002 joyfully and excitedly. Ajami has to explain to his fans in government why things just did not proceed according to his reading of Arab public opinion. If you ask me, Ajami's take on the Iraq war and its impact on Arab politics should have discredited him mightily (compare that--not only to my own prediction found weeks after the war started in my interview with the Boston Globe, still on this site--to the analysis of other Middle East experts at the time). Ajami revealed himself to be quite deficient in reading Arab public opinion, and that explains why he is lashing out against it. I like it that Ajami found the statement by the Hijazi King of Jordan on the "Shi`ite crescent" to be bigoted. Not that I don't find it bigoted, it is. But I never see Ajami ever being sensitive to any manifestations of bigotry against Arabs and Muslim, save this reference to the Shi`ite crescent. Since when is Ajami sensitive to bigotry against Islam and Muslim, I rhetorically ask. That was never his forte or his concern. Never. I will concede something he said about the Jordanian intellectual class: that many of them have woefully expressed support and even admiration for Saddam. But contrary to Ajami's clear sympathy for the regime in Jordan, the Jordanian regime that he praises is responsible for that. He forgot to remember that Saddam's most solid of alliances with King Husayn created the personality cult for Saddam in Jordan. He forgot to remember that when King Husayn was the best ally of Saddam, this current King, then prince, was best friend with `Udayy Saddam Husayn. When the fathers talked "business" and wars, `Udayy and Prince `Abdullah would talk "play" and fun. That is never mentioned in the Western press I notice about the silly King of Jordan. Ajami forgot to remember that the first shot of the Iraqi invasion of Iran was fired (from a tank) by the Jordanian King (Husayn) himself. Yes, there is religious extremism in parts of the Arab world, but Ajami provides no historical or socio-economic analysis of its underlying causes. And why are Christian and Jewish fundamentalisms never defined as "bigotry?" Nobody would ever describe Jewish and Christian fundamentalisms as "bigoted" movements as he casually does with Islamic fundamentalism. And remember that I read this piece of Fouad Ajami more as a psychological ploy, and as an attempt to explain one's own blunders of prediction. Listen to Ajami here: "We may not fully appreciate the historical change we unleashed on the Arab world, but we have given liberty to the stepchildren of the Arab world." What a tactic for the self-preservation of one's reputation despite series of blunders and mistakes. So here he tells you, that yes he has made all those predictions about Iraq, and wants you to also know that he will not take them back. But he wants to assure you that his predictions will materialize, but not now. In 50 years or so. So just give Ajami 100 years before you judge his mispredictions of the Iraq war, ok? Is that too much to ask? This is akin to me predicting rain, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but sometime in the next 10 years. And when it rains, I want you to know that I had predicted it. This is the Ajami's power of anlaysis and preduction about Middle East events. I also find it curious that Ajami wants you to be proud that the US war added "self-worth to the seminarians of Najaf." This ostensible secularist wants Americans to be proud that he we have increased the self-confidence and self-esteem of Muqtada As-Sadr, or even of an Ayatollah who never left his house in 6 years (until his hospitalization in London)--somebody who has not even permitted the playing of chess, and whose views on women are clearly sexist and misogynist? And was it not really a desperate and highly ineffective ploy to blame US blunders and debacles on the Arabists of the State Department? I mean really. That accusation may have made sense some 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, but now, in the Clinton and Bush administration? He says (in shifting blame): "Washington has its cadre of Arabists reared on Arab nationalist historiography. This camp had a seat at the table, but the very scale of what was at play in Iraq, and the redemptionism at the heart of George Bush's ideology, dwarfed them." Arabists? Where were they? There are no Arabists at the table anymore? The Arabists, assuming there are any who dare to use that label about their careers anymore, may be stamping passports at Jiddah at best, but sitting at the table? Unless he was talking about their family dinner tables? Arabists? Elliot Abrams? David Sutterfield? Zalmay Khalilzad? The national security staff the Defense Department or the Vice-president's? Who are these Arabists? I guarantee you that if you name one, that person will be fired on the spot. The US government today is as hospitable to Arabists as the US government was hospitable to communists in the 1950s. Two years ago, in a talk I gave at a conference at Georgetown University, I spoke about the war against the Arabists in the US government, and that only fanatic Zionists (under Clinton and Bush) are permitted to handle the making the US foreign policy in the Middle East. These people are hired on the basis of one qualification only: fanatic loyalty to Zionist militancy (notice that I did not say militant Zionism). After my talk, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East approached me and said nice things about my talk, but then added, almost pleadingly: "...But don't use the word Arabists anymore. It really has bad connotations in the US government and in this city." In fact, I had assumed that Robert Kaplan's book on the Arabists was written as their obituary, no? But let me add, lest I am misunderstood, that I do agree with Ajami on the horrible state of Sunni-Shi`ite relations in the region (and this piece of his is a contribution to that bad state of affairs), but I blame it almost equally on Zarqawi AND the US war and occupation. Does anybody deny that the US has pursued a lethal policy of sectarian manipulation in Iraq? I mean you just need to read Thomas Friedman's last piece..of know what I am talking about. But Ajami then adds with the most insincere and fake modesty that he could muster: "We have not always been brilliant in the war we have waged, for these are lands we did not fully know." Did not fully know? But are you not the Middle East know-it-all? You, not the Arabists, had a seat, nay a front seat, at the table. You were the one who was informing top government officials, and now you say "we did not know". You can't have it both way. You can't pose as the foremost Middle East expert, and have the unprecedented access that you have, and then claim that you did not know. As we say in Arabic, it is bad if you did not know, and worse if you knew. Which way is it? It can't be both. And Ajami invoked Lebanon. I thought that people are already embarrassed to use Lebanon, which is on the verge of civil strife, and with a war against "ghosts" going on according to the Minister of Interior, and which is undergoing one of the worst epoch of sectarian hatreds and tensions in recent memory, as an example of the Bush doctrine. Lebanon? Even the Lebanese openly talk about the end of March 14th "movement." But Ajami is served by American public ignorance of the Middle East, not by their kowledge. Most of the people who (in the US media and government) hailed the Hummus Revolution have not written or said a word about Lebanon in months, given the recent course of events. Has Ajami not heard? And have you noticed the Ajami and Bernard Lewis are permitted to use as footnote sources that we don't even allow our undergraduate students to use, like here: "A Kuwaiti businessman" who told him this thing or that, etc. Lewis once cited a letter to the editor written seemingly by a Muslim. And I could not believe that Ajami (like Bush today) invoked the case of Tal Afar in Iraq as an example of success: "This time, at Tal Afar, Iraq security forces were there to stay, and a Sunni Arab defense minister with the most impeccable tribal credentials, Saadoun Dulaimi, issued a challenge to Iraq's enemy, a message that his soldiers would fight for their country." Just as Bush today was informing the American public about success against the war on terrorism by US troops. He said that after Tal Afar was "liberated", Iraqi troops took over and that they will not permit terrorists to return. But hours after Ajami's piece was published, and minutes before Bush gave his speech, a suicide bomber struck in Tal Afar. IN TAL AFAR after its "liberation" by US troops, and its alleged takeover by Iraqi troops. Try another example. And it was not unbecoming of Ajami at all to end his article with the same demagogic propaganda line that Bush used, to great effect I may add, during his presidential campaign.