Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bomb them or talk to them? Joshua Landis here replies to my brief criticisms of his piece in the New York Times. I will not elaborate too much as Landis misses the point, unsurprisingly, and it takes him to say in 100 words what can be easily said in 5 words, and that is not due to the Syrian educational system, I assume. It is also tedious to read the circle of neo-cons-who-write-in-the-Middle-East, because you have to read Landis' citing Young, and Young citing Smith, and Smith citing Fattah, and Fattah citing Young, and on and on. It can be quite irritating. If you noticed, in my previous post that he replies to, I did not engage Landis' piece in the New York Times at any expansive level. I just wanted to focus on what I think was blatantly glaring, and what I rightly assumed was going to be missed in reactions to the piece. Only Rime adequately refuted his arguments I thought. I wanted to point out that traces of colonial thinking persist in Western writings, including academic, on the Middle East. I did not even address his point whether US should talk (to or with or on or for, etc) the Syrian government or not, because I reject the premise. The premise is quite colonialist and politically missionary: what is the US to do? Bomb them or talk to them? That is the question, and it is a question that is now being raised in polite company, and in academic conferences and workshops. Bomb them or talk to them? I argue that we should even refuse to award the US the right to settle the destiny of the nation--any nation, whether by talks or by bombing. The destiny of Libya has now been settled, without war, by the US whereby the Libyan people will get to live and languish under a terrorist regime that had admitted downing a civilian airliner (which carried innocent students from Syracuse University among other innocent passengers). Such a regime, which (outside of the US and the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia) gave the most generous funding of terrorism in the last several decades. He wants, in the hope of sounding sensitive to the Syrian people, to argue that my brief reply was similar to Bush's argument, and that it is quite fine to argue that Syria is not ready for democracy. Who even mentioned democracy, and who ever said that democracy represents the solution to all ills and problems? Landis may have confused me with Cheney, although our names are spelled differently. Not me for sure, and you can even see the archives. Visiting professors, and I know that may be old fashioned, should not determine the future of nations, just as rising or falling empires should not. And then Landis talk about the Syrian "culture" not being democratic, and he assures us that he has taken "democracy 101." That should make us feel better about Landis' recipe for Syria's salvation, or is it the salvation of US Empire, as he argues, as advocates of colonial rule always do, from the standpoint of what is good for US Empire, and not from the standpoint of what it is good for the Syrian people. And let me say something about authoritarianism. I can always tell when people who talk and write about authoritarianism have read Theodore Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality. Landis has not, and he does not seem to have read the series of works by John L. Sullivan (not to be confused with John A. Sullivan, or John B. Sullivan, or John C. Sullivan, or John D. Sullivan, you get the point), especially Political Tolerance and American Democracy. Landis wonders, not in pain, I hope: "I wish Asad would describe one democratic institution in Syria." To that, I wonder: I wish Landis would describe one democratic institution in...US?? Would it be the school, the church, the corporation, the college, the club, the labor union, the military, fraternity? None of those institutions are really democratic. But it is always important to dwell on the oppression "over there" because it helps to obscure the oppression over here. This very true in the gender question. It was important for many in the US to shed (mostly) crocodile tears over the plight of women in Afghanistan in order that we forget about the reality of gender oppression right here in the US. That is why we always need an exotic place of oppression because it helps in perpetuating conformity and obedience here, and how important are those in a democracy? And then he shares with us stories and tales about testing in Syria, which I would not dispute. You see, I may not be disputing facts, but methodology and assumptions, that often can make the selected facts marginal. But Landis dwells on the details. It is the context. Context, dear friends and enemies. Yes, the testing is lousy in Syrian education, but Landis has not read, I can tell, Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test : The Secret History of the American Meritocracy either. (Let me know if you want me to make you a reading list for next summer). Landis teaches at a state university, as I do, and he must know how the class (and derivatively the grade) elitism of American education (and class domination) is perpetuated by the testing standards, that are as arbitrary as the selection of fortune cookies to customers at a Chinese restaurant. Two white male professors at Harvard University, decades ago, produced a formula for success that is inherently undemocratic and (and classist in outcome--against the intentions of the two dudes) and contradictory in its aim (SATs are supposed to measure how well students do in college, and overall males perform better on it than females, and yet overall females do better than males--solve that riddle, NOW). And I am somebody who went to American schools since infancy, and studied at American universities (whether in Beirut or in Washington, DC) and I can assure you that I had professors that are not different from the ones that you describe in Syria. Of course, there are additional problems in Syrian institutions stemming from the nature of the oppressive regime, and a ruthless mukhabarat, and ruling party, etc. And that same Barut that you mention is the product of Syrian education and he knows more--I know, I have read his books and articles--about Western thought and about Foucault and post-modernist thought than your president (Bush) who went to elite US universities. (And Saddam's functionary, Sa`dun Hammadi attended US schools in Beirut and in Wisconsin, and don't forget that Sayyid Qutb studied in the US, while the symbol of Arab "liberal" and enlightenment thinking, Taha Husayn, is a graduate of Al-Azhar). In fact, Bush is a testimony to the limitation of the American educational system. I would argue he would have gotten better knowledge of world affairs and geography in Tartus, than in New Haven. Lastly, I also noticed how Landis tells you (more than once) that Riyad At-Turk (Landis needs to check IJMES for accurate transliteration or perhaps further study of Arabic, as my name is not `Asad (which does not read Arabic even) but As`ad) and Yasin Al-Hajj Salih are "smart" and that they are the "smartest." Notice that the European is always qualified to decide who among the natives is "intelligent" and who is not. That must be a nice quality to have. The Syrian people should decide what to do with their own affairs, and I certainly don't respect arguments that wish to add to the longevity of an oppressive regime, in order to facilitate US imperial projects in the region, unless one is overwhelmed with the fear of fitnah that overwhelmed Ghazzali. But is it not fitnah that the US" democratic" project brought to Iraq?