Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Myth of the Arab Lobby: a Reply to Ibish. I never thought that I would enter into an argument with Hussein Ibish, of all people. Many of you, really many, sent me his article in the Daily Star. But the editorial page of the Daily Star is edited by right-wing Lebanonese columnist, Michael Young, who reserves at least half of the columns of his page for Israeli or Zionist columns, and the other half for Arab neo-consrvatives like him—I apologize, he does not count himself as Arab especially as he dropped the Arabic part of his name. is more impressed with purely Western names. So I was not surprised in the least that Young gave the platform to Ibish to attack my friend Joseph (Massad [read Joseph's excellent collection of essays on Palestine just published by Routledge under the title of The Persistance of the Palestinian Question--my favorites are chs. 2 and 4]) and me in this piece. I met Ibish once, and I was a student of his father, Yusuf Ibish, years ago. Yusuf is a formidable scholar of Islam: he knew so much about Islamic history and philosophy, and was a great raconteur, although he never cared to produce all that he knew. Hanna Batatu first told me to take a course with Ibish at the American University of Beirut: Batatu and Ibish were both students at the Harvard’s Department of Government in the 1950s. They were different ideologically, but Batatu found Ibish most interesting—and he was right. I took a seminar with him on Saudi Arabia in the 1983, and clashed with him regularly, but very civilly over interpretations of Islam, and of the role of Saudi Arabia. Ibish is very conservative and was an advocate of the Saudi government in my class, which enraged me. Now back to Hussein Ibish, who does not have any of his father’s knowledge or his erudition. In recent years, Hussein Ibish worked for ADC and spoke in US media, hoping to speak on behalf of Arab-Americans. I never thought highly of him—although he started in one political camp, and ended in another, you draw your own conclusions at his transformation. ( It could be like Waild Jumblat’s transformation, when he claimed one day that it was the Iraq war (he later denied that) that changed him, and another day he claimed that he came across a sentence in a book by his father, and that the sentence changed him). Does it not amuse you how those types never really credibly explain their transformation. I heard Ibish speak after Sep. 11 on some TV shows; I was mightily unimpressed. He is articulate without being eloquent, and has an annoying habit of speaking in successive clichés. Also, he never studied the Middle East, and is a specialist of no aspect of Middle East studies, and it showed—big time. And he always manages to sound apologetic on more than one count. But I was really mad at him and witnessed the beginning of his political transformation when I watched him on C-Span at some event after the war ON Afghanistan, when one member of the audience asked him about that war, and he simply dismissed that, and said—while the killing of Afghan people continues unabated—the “war is behind us” and urged the audience to “move on.” Move on? Easy for you to say, not for those innocent Afghans who lost innocent members of their families. I then met him at an event at the University of Michigan 3 years ago organized by a progressive student group on campus. The speakers were invited for a luncheon, and I sat across from him. As soon as I sat down, he made a sexist comment about an American female editor. I immediately called him on it, and he got slightly defensive, and unconvingly claimed that the sexist remark he made was not his. What a defense. We, or I, then started talking about Arab American organizations, of which I am not enamored—to say the least. He immediately started referring to my anarchism, as if it is a secret, or as if I am embarrassed by the anarchist association although E.H. Carr’s biography of Bakunin had an early influence on my intellectual formation, and I make reference to anarchism at the drop of a tarbush (fez). I then simply asked him, what I had asked James Zoghby back in 1993, that when speaking in the media he should speak in his own name and not in the name of Arabs in the US. I simply pointed out that he does not speak for me, or for many Arabs in the US that I know. I had told Zogby that he is free to make a fool of himself, but that he can’t do that in the name of other Arabs. Zoghby took my criticism well, and suggested that we meet—I refused. Ibish, on the other hand, started to yell obscenities, in the presence of other speakers from that conference, who looked at him in astonishment. I was rather surprised. I have always believed than when you lose your temper, you lose whatever argument, even when you are right, and that is why I always believed that Zionist media tactics always included attempts to push Arabs to lose their temper. So Ibish lost it. I simply observed that he was supposed to be media expert, and suggested—given his style—that he seeks employment for Daniel Pipes, and that he would be much better working for the other side. He got angrier, and yelled more obscenities at me. And it ended there. I then read this silly piece. I must confess that it was not easy for me to write a reply; he does not evoke much emotions in me, even when I detest his political line. I notice that he now works for American Task Force on Palestine, which is an unofficial (or official?) lobbying arm of the Dahlan-Abu Mazen Mafia. Notice that Ibish began by using the word “leftist” as epithet to describe Joseph and I not knowing that Joseph and I are proud leftists, and in our circle we consider the word “liberal” as an insult like no other. The world “leftist” only insults right-wingers, Ibish and Young should understand. What is boring, and very weak, in Ibish’s writing—I did not say argumentation because he really seems incapable of sustaining an argument or following through logical causation as you can tell—is his reliance on successive adjectives and clichés: so he simply describes Joseph’s argument (and presumably mine) as: “Such arguments are deterministic, a-historical, and profoundly disempowering.” Look at that. He thinks that if he throws those words like that, he must thus sound impressive or profound. But some people—no matter how hard they try—can’t sound impressive or profound. (He reminds me of Time magazine: no matter how hard it tries, it is shallow and superficial. Time magazine can turn Hegel into a shallow cover story, with a title like: “Hegel: Why he likes Potato chips.”) Ibish began his piece by claiming that we described the Israeli lobby as “basically irrelevant” when neither Jopeph nor I ever used the term “irrelevant” to describe the Israeli lobby. In fact, I feel that Ibish proves my point: that those who wish to promote a conservative argument about US foreign policy, and those who wish to absolve US foreign policy of crimes go out of their way to attribute all US foreign policy, even US foreign policy toward Trinidad and Tobago, to “the lobby.” Joseph and I were trying to make a larger analytical point about the complicated process of US foreign policy making that certainly includes the Israeli lobby but also includes a variety of other determinants: institutional, corporate, congressional, and on occasions, public. But after reading the entire piece twice, I realized that Ibish is not really writing about the lobby or about Josph’s or my reply to Mersheimer and Walt. I re-read his piece as a fund-raising letter addressed to the various Gulf interests that now fund Arab- and Muslim-American organizations. Really. I mean, when he reaches his key point that if you downplay the role of the lobby (which neither Joseph or I did), you may undermine the raison d’etre of the various little dakakin (shops) that lobby on behalf of Arab oil dynasties. These dakakin want to perpetuate the myth of an “Arab lobby” that is only 2 years away from defeating and undermining AIPAC. Ibish’s reaches the silliest part in his conclusion: “Far from blaming "the United States," we need to roll up our sleeves, assert the full spectrum of our rights as citizens within our political system, and take responsibility for helping to shape our government's policies.” First can you Mr. Ibish employ more clichés to go, please? I mean when you say, “roll up our sleeves”, I was expecting you to refer to “pulling yourselves by the boot straps,” or perhaps to cite the famous wise American proverb: “you got to do what you got to do.” Why not cite them too. That would add eloquence to the piece, Mr. Ibish. Serious. Furthermore, if Arab-American lobbying is aimed at “shap[ing] our government’s policies”, then we have to declare that effort an abysmal failure because those groups have been in existence for decades and have nothing to show for their work except embarrassing photo opportunities and further evidence of meek subservience to polygamous princes and kings. In a recent ADC convention, the funder Al-Walid bin Talal was given an award, and the Hariri family was awarded an American flag. This is what passes as “Arab lobbying” in the mind of Ibish and his ilk. But the arguments that Joseph and I made were about a larger analysis of the making of US foreign policy, and I am not surprised that it eluded the mind of Ibish, because we also forgot to invoke clichés that would simplify ideas and make them more understandable. I should add with a cliche here, something about mixing pears and peaches, or is it beans and rice?
PS At the end, Ibish raises the question: "Is Arab-American irrelevance our goal?" Oh, no. Your irrelevence is the goal, Mr. Ibish, not Arab-American's.