Thursday, October 29, 2009

Et Tu Brian Whitaker?

I have praised the reporting of Brian Whitaker: his expose on MEMRI and his critique of UNDP are classic journalism on the Middle East. But is this like the case of W.M. Watt? Watt spent his career being sensitive to Muslims and then very late in his life, published Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernity in which he lashed out against Muslims, I felt. I, however, did not like one bit Brian's book on gays in the Arab world: it was anecdotal and impressionable and veered toward sweeping generalizations. Look at this piece here: what do you say about a piece that begins with the views of Octavia Nasr. Octavia Nasr, for potato's sake who began her journalism career with the Lebanese Forces media department in Lebanon. He then says this about Iraq as if to blame the people themselves for what the Bush administration, Iran and Arab regimes have engineered in terms of the lousy system in place: "Iraq is emerging as a fairly typical Arab state with most of their usual negative characteristics – a government with authoritarian aspirations, institutionalised corruption and nepotism, pervasive social discrimination and a rentier economy that produces little besides oil – plus, for good measure, resurgent tribalism and sectarianism." He then reaches this conclusion: "Arab regimes, by and large, are products of the societies they govern and it is often the society, as much as the government itself, that stands in the way of progress." What an insult to the people of the region. If it was for the people of the region, without outside (largely American, but some Soviet at one point), none of those regimes would have survived. And if the people are the cause for the oppression, why did the regimes have to resort to mass violence to stay in power and to avoid overthrow? There is a matter of logic here, o Brian. And then Brian resorts to the oldest trick of Western journalists like Jeffrey Goldberg: to cite a token native who voices a racist or judgmental view against all natives. "Khaled Diab, an Egyptian who contributes regularly to Cif, summed it up pithily when he told me: "Egypt has a million Mubaraks." What is the evidence for that? Can you explain at least? And then the most pathetic section of the piece: "The Arab family as traditionally conceived – patriarchal and authoritarian, suppressing individuality and imposing conformity, protecting its members so long as they comply with its wishes – is a microcosm of the Arab state." Yes, Brian. Go ahead and believe that if it makes you feel better. Go ahead and believe that Arab parents electrocute the genitals of their children and pull their fingernails, when they misbehave. Go ahead and believe that the father of the family leaves dead bodies of his children hanging from electricity poles. Go ahead and believe that Arab parents starve to death their children. And you believe that the Western family is not "patriarchal and authoritarian"? Brian Whitaker: are you aware how you seem to be channeling Raphael Patai? Also, he seems too inclined to make sweeping unsubstantiated generalizations about the people of the region: "Contrary to popular opinion, most human rights abuses in the Arab countries are perpetrated by society rather than regimes." I mean, did you actually think for a second before writing that sentence? Once second?? You believe that the Arab people themselves have killed as the regimes have killed, and have administered torture as the regimes have? Where do you get those gems from? Not even Octavia Nasr. But Whitaker has hope: in blogger. As a blogger, I have no hope in bloggers. (thanks Chris)