Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Early Fouad Ajami: the myth of the former Leftist or Arab nationalist

I woke up today and decided to read the earliest writings of Fouad Ajami.  I never believed the notion that he was some Arab leftist or Arab nationalist in his youth (they remind me of stories that Obama was a rabid Palestinian advocate in his early political career).  There is no trace whatsoever of that.  Read his "Israel and Sub-Saharan Africa: A Study of Interaction" (African Studies Review, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Dec. 1970).  Ajami was still a graduate student in Seattle when he published that study (or freshly finished with the PhD).  He did not once speak about Israel the way Arabs then--especially then--spoke about it.  Also read "On Nasser and His Legacy" in Journal of Peace Research, vol. 11, no. 1 (1974) when he observes that "An interesting feature of Arab radicalism is its shallowness and confinement to slogans" (p. 49).  Or read his piece about the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 in Middle East Ghosts, Foreign Policy, No. 14 (Spring 1974).  In all those early writings there are traces of the later Ajami, especially in his tone about Israel.  But what confused people is that he was friends (or friendly) with Edward Said.  On that bear in mind two things: 1) Edward Said was politically different in the 1970s than he was in his later years and advocated a political settlement with Israel early on (and Anwar Sadat recommended him--as some of you may remember--to head a Palestinian government-in-exile) so the friendship between the two in the 1970s does not imply that Ajami was a radical then.   By the 1990s, Said moved against the two-state (non) solution.  2) Said had friends who were politically different from him (he was friends with Samir Khalaf, for example).  But of course the later Edward Said who became* quite vehemently opposed to Oslo and its consequences spoke fiercely against Ajami and the role of some Arab-Americans in the service of Zionism.

*I should have written "wa" because he was opposed to Oslo from the very beginning.  I meant from saying "becoming" that he was increasingly opposed to Oslo and its consequences.