Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eugene Rogan: and writing the history of the Arabs (II)

I received a few responses to my critical review of Rogan's book, but I will keep responses that I have received from some of his students to myself. But a well-known professor of Middle East studies in the UK wrote me this (she/her does not want to be identified but I cite with her/his permission): "i thought you'd be really pissed off by the the last bit of the book where he says that there is still hope, and then he points to the Emirates, for potato's sake! He says that the Dubai miracle and "democracy" is a symbol of the great future to come! And not a word about the labourers." I will take this as a chance to add a few notes. I totally agree with my colleague here. I could have said more, on this and other. Nobody who understands Arabic would describe Arab Gulf media as "free". And certainly no one would talk about Saudi Arabia as "broadening participation" (p. 496). He also channels Thomas Friedman in talking about the Arab Human Development report and says that it is "written by Arabs, for Arabs". Oh, no it is not. Let me explain it. It is signed by Arab names but written under the direction of the White Man at UN and in DC, and is funded by Saudi money and is written for the White Man. In fact, the proliferation of those reports exploded during the Bush doctrine years. Coincidence? no way. His brief section on the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 is rather appalling. He seems to accept "without asking how or why" as the classical Islamic theologians used to say, the Israeli claims. That the capture of the Israeli occupation soldiers is a justification for war. Rogan needs to know that Israel kidnaps Lebanese civilians regularly, and I would be surprised if the believes that this would qualify as justification for war on Israel (I do of course, always, as long as Palestine and the rest are occupied and as long as Zionism is imposed on our lands by force). Worse, he cites a figure of 500 Hizbullah "militiamen killed" (p. 494), which the highest figure I have ever seen and Hizbullah official figures are less than a 100 (although Mossad leaked a lie that a Hizbullah leader admitted a higher figure and that was circulated in US media OF COURSE). That inflated figure by Rogan lowers the percentage of civilian casualties killed by Israel: but I am not sure that Rogan wanted to say that Israel "only killed" 700 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians during the war. To be fair, he did not say that. I can go on and on but I need to eat and sleep and live. Other things could have been said. In talking about the history of the Arabs, I also recommended Peter Mansfield's book (the first edition is better than the later ones, in my estimation). But I also failed to mention Jacques Berque's The Arabs: Their History and Future. This book is not known but it is one of my favorites. WHat is great about it is the originality of coverage and approach. His notion of the "eternal bedouin" in the first chapter bothers me though. But it is an excellent read by a master who really knew the Arabs and knew their language (the man translated the Qur'an into French, for potato's sake). Comrade Talal asked me why I did not mention Marshall Hodgson's great project, the Venture of Islam. I told him that Hodgson's is more theoretical and is neither for the lay person (with all due respect to the lay person) nor for the undergraduate. But that book has important sections and ideas: the notion of the "Islamicate" for me precedes many of the problems that we later faced in Islamic studies. And he refused to treat Islamic history or civilization as a closed system apart from other civilizations. OK, I am done.

PS For those who prefer to read Arabic to English, I want to state that Philip Hitti's history of the Arabs is available in superb translation by a team of professors from AUB at the time.