Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Chronicle of Arab/Muslim Depravity over three centuries: or Michael Oren's Account of the history of US role in the Middle East (and its love affair with Zion). I was at least expecting an interesting story in Michael Oren's Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present: his book on the 1967 war was totally biased (billed as definitive and based on Arab and Israeli sources when it was exclusively based on Israeli sources although there was a token Jordanian source here and there and the plethora of Syrian and particularly Egyptian accounts of the war were totally ignored, not only for language problems). But this one is much worse: the story is not even interestingly told. And in the 600 pages of text, the story changes in its documentation. He clearly did his homework up until WWI but then he tapered off and the account of US foreign policy to the region from Eisenhower on did not add to what was told (in a far better way) in William Quandt's Peace Process. At least I was expecting an interesting story but did not get that on my long flight from DC last night. There are so many problems with the book that I don't know where to begin--no, I know. The first major problem is that the account suffers from the author's own biases: he relishes any statement or quotation that is offensive against Arabs and Muslims, and he also relishes to tell you about the worst deeds of criminals and thugs in the Middle East over three centuries. Cases of rape and theft are even reported: never by Israelis although the author's account suffers from deep Israeli-centric, and Judeo-centric bias: Muslims and Arabs in the US barely get a mention, and Oren has not bothered to study them in any way. There was a token reference, if that. Even discredited account of people who traveled to the Middle East in the 19th century, are cited approvingly if they tell tall tales with offensive references to fanaticism and depravity of Arabs/Muslims. You read about "Barbary" pirates and you think that Islam held an exclusive monopoly over piracy in those times. And his attempt to trace Zionism to early American Christian sentiments is outright laughable. He basically conflates restorationism and Zionism that you get the idea that those early Christians were forerunners of Labor and Likud. The anti-Semitism of those Christians was of no importance to him provided he fabricates a narrative of American Christian embrace of Zionism. You read this book and you are compelled to believe if you did not know otherwise that Herzl's role in the founding of political Zionism was marginal compared to the efforts of those American Christians. And he is most amused and thrilled if somebody compares Arabs to animals: and he is sure to cite the whole quotation. (see for example page 170). His bias against Arabs and Muslims is typical of the present-day bias prevailing in the US: but he was able to project it on his account of history. For example, I liked his reference to the "cruelty of Middle Eastern slavery" (p. 181); of course, he is comparing "Middle East slavery" to the gentle, kind, and humane American slavery. Or does the author think that Middle East slavery was worse because it was not--unlike US slavery--race-based, and thus whites were among the slaves? I think this is akin to common references to violence in the Middle East: in present-day references in the West, it is ascertained that Middle East violence (with the exception of Israeli violence which is cute and adorable) is worse than all other forms of violence: and this explains why it is called Islamic or Arab or Middle East terrorism because it is a worse form than other forms of terrorism although terrorist methods are the same worldwide with the exception of Israeli which since its founding adhered to pacifist standards. And it is not that he did not quote one single Westerner or American or genuinely loved the Middle East: they just don't exist in his mind. According to him, American travels may have had a favorable impression of the region, but they quickly are disabused of their impressions once they spend a time there. Personally, I know Americans who love the region and its people more than Arabs I know. Kid you not: diplomats, journalists, scholars, etc. (It was hilarious to have Theodore Roosevelt complain about Arabs talking a lot (p. 310)--biographies of the man indicate that he was notorious for talking non-stop). He speaks of "Muslim pogroms" (p. 327) in Lebanon (presumably) when there was a civil war between two sides. Also, you read this book and realize that, by present-day US standards, anti-Semitism is permitted if committed by fanatic Zionists. Oren describes Weizmann as "hooked-nose" (p. 348), for example. His criteria are never on matter of principles: but on the extent to which a person serves or does not serve Zionism. He complained about William Yale when he opposed Zionism (p. 364), and then changed his opinion of him once Yale seemed to have switched. He did not consult one Arabic source to see how people of the region perceived or spoke of US role in the region, and his references to the region are always lacking in knowledge and accuracy. He made Ibrahim Yaziji (who studied long before AUB was founded) and Butrust Al-Bustani AND Ibrahim Yaziji (p. 368) graduates of AUB when none were. He made two passing references to two Arab Americans: Jubran Khalil Jubran (Kahlil Gibran) and Amin Rihani. He describes Rihani as Jubran's "close friend" (p. 370) when in reality Jubran hated Rihani and once tried to beat him up (see the account of Jubran's hatred for Rihani in the definitive account in Mikha'il Ju`aymah's Sab`un). And in this account Arabs are always motivated by greed and prejudice while Zionists are always motivated by "moral force" (p. 372). But he hates no one more than he hates Charles Craine for the conclusions and recommendations of the King-Craine commission. He wanted to remind the reader almost on every page that Craine was an anti-Semite yet he glosses over the anti-Semitism of Lord Balfour, Woodrow Wilson, and most notably Harry Truman. For Oren anti-Semitism is forgivable if the person has helped Zionism. This also explains why he refers to Sadat as "president" and to Al-Asad as "dictator" (p. 535). Both are dictators but only the former was a committed Nazi anti-Semite. He refers to movies about the Middle East through the decades and instead of finding prejudice and stereotypes he finds amusing accounts of the Middle East that reflect American curiosity and interest in the Middle East and its peoples. And when leftists were involved in acts of violence in the 1970s (as if Israel ever stopped using massive and indiscriminate violence since its creation and before its creation), he lumps them as cases of "Islamic radicalism". Even acts of violence by communists (like the assassination of US ambassador in Lebanon in 1976) is blamed on "Islamic radicalism". He wants to claim that the violence of "Barbary" pirates and Bin Laden is all the same: part of a long history of Islamic/Arab fanaticism. He in fact says so: the hijacking of a cruise ship by a group loyal to the thuggish Abu Abbas in the 1980s was an emulation of Moroccan piracy of the 19th century (p. 556). And when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it merely bombarded "PLO positions and headquarters" (p. 553). Tell that to my neighbors: the apartment building next to where we lived (I had told the story here before as part of my reminiscences of the civil war): the entire apartment building in a middle class section of West Beirut where there were no PLO positions whatsoever was hit with an Israeli concussion bomb and it was flattened within seconds to the ground, crushing the civilians underneath. I mean, even Thomas Friedman admits that Israeli bombardment of the city was indiscriminate. In his account of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is the usual: he tells vivid details of Arab killings, and Israel was also defending itself. He--typical in such accounts--caricatures Edward Said's Orientalism--but you don't have to wonder why. And in general: American involvement in the Middle East was always motivated by the desire to protect minorities, love of humanity, and desire for peace, according to Oren.