Friday, September 30, 2005

Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal's oral memoir on Al-Jazeera TV continues. But at the pace he is going, and most people hear him in anticipation of his experiences with Nasser, he may not be able to get to the Nasser era before the year 2059 (when Haykal would be entering his 140th year). Today, he just finished his impressions and experiences in the era of Tutankhamen. Apparently, Tut was a very jovial fellow, and Haykal knew him very very well. I fault Haykal for many things wrong in Arab political discourse and culture. He is the best selling "non-fiction" writer in Arabic. But Haykal never excelled as a journalist, but as a chief propagandist for Nasser. He was, a sophisticated propagandist--if you are into propaganda that is, but only until 1967. He often reinforces misconceptions and misinformation among Arab public opinion. Today for example. He said that Israel "knew everything about Egypt" by 1948. How could anybody, but somebody who is ignorant abut the reality of what Israel knew and did not know, say something like that. I have always been bothered by the Arab public and elite notion--no doubt peddled by Israeli official propaganda--that Israel knows everything about the Arab world. I have always hated how Arabs dissect every op-ed piece by "an Israeli analyst" or by an Israeli Orientalist. One of the things I did when I came to this country, is to read much of Israeli scholarship on the Arab world. And you realize that the quality is not different from the quality of Arab scholarship. I believe in the equality of people--unlike Lebanonese nationalists who think that the Lebanonese people are superior because they make good Tabbulah and dye their hair blonde, and there are good, mediocre, and lousy scholars everywhere. I remember I was relieved when I read as much of Israeli scholarship as I could. I was happy to rid myself of the false and dangerous notion of superior Israeli knowledge of the Middle East. I collected almost the entire body of Israeli writings on the Arab East one summer in graduate school, and enjoyed marking the mistakes, errors, and inaccuracies in them. I was able to rid myself once and for all of the inferiority complex that Haykal and others want Arabs to internalize. I remember counting mistakes in Moshe Maoz' book on Asad. Haykal also mistakenly identified Chaim Weizmann as "founder of the Zionist movement."