Sandbox: May 2004

Road to hell. An American myth is the existence of one Archimedean point, from which the US might transform the Middle East. In the 1990s, it was the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When that failed, it became regime change in Iraq. Now Gen. (ret.) Anthony Zinni swings back: “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing… that the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad, when just the opposite is true, the road to Baghdad led through Jerusalem. You solve the Middle East peace process, you’d be surprised what kinds of other things will work out.” If only. Carter brought peace to Egypt and Israel, and got Khomeini. Clinton shepherded Israelis and Palestinians, and Al-Qaeda emerged. There’s no Archimedean point, just Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Mon, May 31 2004 6:00 am
Looting retrospective. Victor Davis Hanson writes: “Shooting looters to restore order and save the Iraqi infrastructure would have saved lives and enraged the world for [only] a day.” He’s right, but when it mattered he took a nonchalant view. “Much of the looting was no more indiscriminate than what we saw in Los Angeles after the Rodney King Verdict,” he wrote in the midst of it. I urged pulling the trigger when it might have turned the tide, the day the looting began in Basra: “Basrans would have been grateful had the British fired warning shots over the heads of looters—and then made an example of a few of them by shooting a tad low. It’s a bad start, and reflects too dogmatic an adherence to the ‘Iraqi freedom’ mantra.” The US and Iraq are still paying the price for that ill-timed restraint.
Sun, May 30 2004 6:56 pm
Democracy as AstroTurf. George F. Will writes about the looming retreat from the “Jeffersonian poetry” that’s been dominating US foreign policy. En route, he quotes Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee: “We need to restrain what are growing US messianic instincts—a sort of global social engineering where the United States feels it is both entitled and obligated to promote democracy—by force if necessary… Liberty cannot be laid down like so much AstroTurf.” Hear, hear. I’ve been on the outs with many of my friends since late 2002, for this pointed speech I gave on the perils of democracy promotion. And I dissented again last fall, when Bush delivered his democracy-or-bust address. Now the skeptics’ time has come.
Sun, May 30 2004 5:01 am
Hommage à Rodinson. Of the obits for French scholar Maxime Rodinson, I recommend two: Michael Young’s in the Beirut Daily Star, and Jean Daniel’s in the Nouvel Observateur. Young correctly notes that Rodinson, in his long evolution, didn’t end up as a neocon, but Daniel points out, just as correctly, that Rodinson came to affirm the primacy of religious sentiment over nationalism, and the salience of civilizational conflict. An interviewer once asked him the proverbial “Why do they hate us?” question. Rodinson immediately cited the legacy of ancient religious rivalry, and when asked in a follow-up whether it might be due to colonialism, he answered: “It began well before that.”
Fri, May 28 2004 4:42 pm
Spring MEQ. It’s late, but it’s out: the spring issue of the Middle East Quarterly. The table of contents is up on the web, as well as one of the articles, by Patrick Clawson, on the transition in Iraq.
Fri, May 28 2004 4:40 am
Admittedly paranoid. A couple of weeks ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an op-ed by the president of the Modern Language Association (MLA), Robert Scholes, against HR3077. He suggests the law might lead to the government’s “bugging a classroom or a faculty office,” or “hacking into a faculty member’s computer.” After all, he tells us, “we live in a world in which paranoia begins to seem almost like a healthy response to certain possibilities.” Wrong: that’s the world he lives in. If you’re paranoid about government, you really shouldn’t be taking federal subsidies. Improve your mental health by getting off the dole, and let people with a sense of proportion forge a more productive partnership under Title VI. (For the record: Edward Said served as elected president of the MLA in 1999.)
Thu, May 27 2004 4:16 pm
Sighting in Philly. Traveling friends sent me this photo of my book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies, displayed with commentary in a bookshop window in Philadelphia. Take a peek. (Thanks, Amy and David.)
Thu, May 27 2004 1:14 pm
Turkey-Israel. The Israeli press today reports on the flap in Israeli-Turkish relations; Turkey may even recall its envoy for consultations. One of the tougher calls in editing the Middle East Quarterly was our decision last fall to publish a piece pointing to weaknesses in the Turkish-Israeli entente. Many friends who helped to build this relationship think that divergences shouldn’t be aired. But we did publish the article, and it’s the only available guide to the forces that are sending the pendulum back. (At the main link.)
Thu, May 27 2004 5:47 am
The unknown Lewis. The Scotsman runs a profile of Bernard Lewis. “Now 87, Lewis may just be the most important and influential historian in the US and, consequently, in the world.” (Actually, Lewis just turned 88.) British treatments of Lewis, a Londoner for his first sixty years, are a rarity. We are told that “he remains comparatively unknown in his native land outside the realm of Middle Eastern specialists and devotees of academic feuds,” and that “to British ears, his voice is a reminder of a distant imperial age.” But the same tones, to Americans, “signify an old-style English charm and elegance.” The Anglo-American aspect deserves deeper analysis, but this isn’t bad for a start.
Thu, May 27 2004 4:07 am
Shaming Arabs. Seymour Hersh on Abu Ghraib: “The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives.” Here’s a possible source: “A principal technique of child-rearing in the middle-class Arab family is shaming…. The child’s physical functions, particularly his sexual functions, become the instruments of control. The child becomes ashamed of his body and its functions…. In the more traditional families, emphasis on ritualistic purity only strengthens the awareness of physical impurity and heightens the feeling of embarrassment associated with the body…. The child’s experience of sex is chaotic, painful, and humiliating.” Raphael Patai? (See right below.) No, it’s Palestinian thinker Hisham Sharabi, here.
Wed, May 26 2004 3:14 pm
The Arab Mind. Is the late Raphael Patai’s archaic tome The Arab Mind really the inspiration for an alleged master plan to sexually humiliate detainees at Abu Ghraib prison? So claims Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker. I’m skeptical: The Arab Mind has been an easy and favorite target ever since Edward Said marked it in Orientalism. Alas, many who refuse any generalization about “the Arab mind” don’t hesitate to generalize about “the Arab street.” Example: “The ‘Arab street’, proclaimed dormant by Beltway pundits ignorant of the Arab world, is angrier than ever about what is being done to the Palestinians” (Rashid Khalidi). “Arab mind” and “Arab street” rest on the identical premise, even if the first is deemed racist and the second trips off tongues in academe and the media.
Wed, May 26 2004 8:13 am
Rodinson vs. Said. The late Maxime Rodinson (see right below), although a defender of the Palestinian cause, strongly disapproved of Edward Said’s attack on Orientalist scholarship. He called Said’s Orientalism “a polemic written in a style that was a bit Stalinist,” and described Said as “inadequately versed in the practical work of the Orientalists.” Said’s reply: “The remarks of Maxime Rodinson concerning my work are completely scandalous. But that hardly surprises me from an ex-Stalinist, incapable as he is of understanding the nature of criticism and more generally the critical method.” Said had praised Rodinson elsewhere, and the rejection must have stung.
Tue, May 25 2004 12:19 pm
Rodinson no more. Maxime Rodinson, the French scholar of Islam, passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. I briefly profiled him in my introduction to The Jewish Discovery of Islam (scroll down about two-thirds; there is also a photograph of him). I never met Rodinson, and I disliked his politics. But I did invite him to the 1996 Tel Aviv conference marking the 80th birthday of Bernard Lewis, for whom he had an immense respect. He sent me a very kind note explaining that he was too ill to travel, expressing his admiration for Lewis, and adding that he was sorry as he hadn’t seen Tel Aviv since the 1940s. He will be cremated in Paris tomorrow.
Tue, May 25 2004 12:15 pm
Bollinger admits. Columbia’s president Lee Bollinger, in a newspaper interview, has admitted what I’ve claimed all along. First: “Everybody in the academy knows Middle Eastern studies have had trouble over the years developing great scholars and teachers.” Second: Rashid Khalidi, Columbia’s latest hire in the field, “has a particular point of view, pro-Palestinian nationalism.” Third, regarding Middle Eastern studies at Columbia, “within the mix of people who are teaching about this area, we are not as comprehensive as we should be.” So he’s said it: Middle Eastern studies are generally weak, his university’s star in the field has a bias, and the overall teaching at Columbia is unbalanced. What’s the solution? More to come.
Mon, May 24 2004 7:33 am
Beinin’s new buddies. Stanford’s Joel Beinin never passes up a demonstration against Israel’s alleged misdeeds. At the main link, you’ll find a photo of him speaking at a rally held about ten days ago, as published in the Stanford Daily. I haven’t seen a report of what Beinin said, but I do notice that he’s speaking next to a large Palestinian flag. Well, not exactly: this is an Islamized version of the Palestinian flag, with the inscription: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet.” It’s not exactly the Hamas flag, but it’s a variation used by Hamas sympathizers. Beinin seems to have found some new bedfellows. (Hope that isn’t a Quran in his hands…)
Sun, May 23 2004 1:21 pm
Sandbox is back. My travels are over, and I’m back at the keyboard. This was a personal trip, so I’ve nothing to report, except these two things. First, I did get to see four of the Moroccan masterpieces by Matisse at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg—thankfully, they weren’t on loan. Second, if you’re in Copenhagen, stop by the Royal Library and see its “Treasures,” which include fascinating manuscripts and early books from and about the Middle East. Second-best: explore the exhibit’s comprehensive website. Through the end of this year.
Sun, May 23 2004 1:19 pm
Gone fishing. Visitors to Sandbox may have noted that postings got a bit thin over the past month. That’s what happens when you edit a quarterly journal: at some point, it takes over. And now that another issue of the Middle East Quarterly has been put to bed, I’m outta here on a trip to Scandinavia and Russia. I’ll be looking for Matisse’s Moroccan masterpieces, swept by revolution into the Hermitage. Expect new postings from May 23. Until then, explore the site and rely on the news feeds.
Wed, May 05 2004 7:29 pm
Truth about HR3077. Jonathan Calt Harris skewers academics for misrepresenting HR3077, over at National Review Online. Academic disinformation about the bill has been challenged time and again at Sandstorm and Sandbox, but the truth always bears repeating.
Wed, May 05 2004 5:53 pm
Edward Said wannabe. Asaf Romirowsky, writing in the New York Sun, takes aim at Joseph Massad, the Edward Said Imitator at Columbia. Massad’s project (and best shot at tenure) is to pose as the true heir of the departed icon. The following may be the most self-serving opening of an obituary ever written (by Massad on Said): “‘Joseph, are you still sleeping, it’s 8am already?’ These are the first words I would hear upon picking up the phone three, four times a week. Edward’s powerful teasing voice on the other side goading me to emulate his work regimen: ‘I have been up since 5:30.'” Got that? Said’s first act, most working days, was to phone Joseph Massad. Will this stuff get him tenure at Columbia? We’ll see.
Wed, May 05 2004 5:49 pm
Khalidi drives nails. Columbia’s Rashid Khalidi is quoted on the impact of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal: “I’m afraid that this is, in a sense, the last nail in the coffin in the raft of arguments for the Iraq war.” Sandbox quoted Khalidi back on March 26: “I really think that the killing of [Sheikh Yasin] may well be the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.” (That was to Newsweek.) These don’t sound like the guarded judgments of a distinguished historian who’s taking the long view. They sound like the rushed judgments of a partisan hack who’s feeding journalists with sound-bites. Don’t be surprised if some of the coffin lids nailed shut by Khalidi pop open. The ideas inside ain’t dead yet.
Wed, May 05 2004 6:01 am
Kramer, follower. Eyal Press in The Nation profiles Daniel Pipes. It’s a smear, and I hope Pipes doesn’t let it pass. Along the way, Press says that my book Ivory Towers on Sand blamed Edward Said’s Orientalism for “leading an entire generation of scholars to look for Western causes of the Middle East’s problems rather than confront unsettling internal developments.” True. But then Press writes that I was “actually following Pipes himself,” who in a 1983 book had defended the traditional Orientalist approach. Not true. If I followed anyone, it was my own teacher, Bernard Lewis. In the Middle East, people don’t tolerate sloppiness in genealogy. Neither do I.
Tue, May 04 2004 6:44 am