Sandbox: June 2004

Saddam to justice. To mark Saddam Hussein’s handover to Iraqi authorities, I post one of my reviews. In 1991, Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi published a subtle biography of Saddam. Iraq’s dictator, they argued, “did not set the rules of the game in this cruel system.” The survival of Iraq required a strongman; he won the game because he was the “most savage and able player, bringing its brutal methods to awesome perfection.” But Saddam was cautious, and showed a “readiness to lose face whenever his survival so required.” Unfortunately for him, he failed to understand the signals sent from Washington. The authors warned that any successor “will continue to confront dissent and disaster at every turn, and will be constantly preoccupied with his personal survival.”
Wed, Jun 30 2004 9:53 am
Rashid elides again. Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, went to UCLA to promote his latest tract, Resurrecting Empire. He has many friends who are Iraq experts, he told his audience. Without exception they all loathed the former regime. But they were all also deeply worried about the prolonged postwar problems that would follow an American invasion. Alas, Washington ignored them. What Khalidi omits is that not a single one of these Iraq experts opposed the war. Not a single one translated deep worry into the kind of antiwar position taken by Khalidi, who’s not an Iraq expert at all. Even now, there isn’t one academic Iraq expert who’ll tell you the war should never have been fought (and I follow them all). But don’t expect Khalidi to admit it.
Wed, Jun 30 2004 2:39 am
National Language Conference. The Defense Department has announced the initial findings of the National Language Conference held last week. The academics want new programs, so their lobbyists showed up in droves, even though the conference was co-sponsored by Defense. Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association: “The language future of the US just became a lot brighter as a result of the light shed at the National Language Conference.” Translation: I smell money. But the MLA president has written an op-ed against HR3077 reeking of anti-government paranoia. Some of the language mandarins are double-talking, and Congress should be wary of authorizing new programs that aren’t loaded with supervisory safeguards.
Wed, Jun 30 2004 2:37 am
Another democracy speech. President Bush delivered this one today on the shores of the Bosphorus. Some in the West, he said, were guilty of “excusing tyranny in the region, hoping to purchase stability at the price of liberty.” No more. With the “achievement of democracy in the broader Middle East…millions who now live in oppression and want will finally have a chance to provide for their families and lead hopeful lives. Nations in the region will have greater stability because governments will have greater legitimacy.” I doubt these speechs bring democracy closer. I know they help to delegitimize the existing order, and divide the US from Arab regimes. And here’s the paradox: weren’t those the goals of the 9/11 terrorists?
Tue, Jun 29 2004 9:46 am
Museum madness. As promised: Alex Joffe’s article from the current Middle East Quarterly. It’s a searing critique of the conduct of archaeologists and art historians during the Iraq war.
Tue, Jun 29 2004 8:35 am
Canary in Cole mine. Juan Cole bids farewell to Paul Bremer, whom he describes as a “congenital screw-up.” Last August, when things weren’t going all that badly in Iraq, Cole had a different take. He pronounced Bremer a “product of American Middle Eastern studies” and a “State Department Persianist”—top credentials in Cole’s book. But this was completely fanciful. Bremer wasn’t a product of American Middle Eastern studies. (He majored in history at Yale and earned an MBA at Harvard.) And he was never a Persianist. (His official bio lists his languages as French, Dutch, and Norwegian.) I think that’s when I stopped reading Cole’s weblog for factual information.
Tue, Jun 29 2004 4:38 am
Orientalism revisited. Ahmad al-Baghdadi, Kuwait University professor of political science, has written a remarkable piece in high praise of Western orientalist scholarship. (Reminder: Baghdadi, an outspoken critic of fundamentalism, was sentenced in 1999 to a month in prison on charges of insulting Islam. The emir pardoned him after two weeks.) Baghdadi writes that had it not been for Western orientalists, “we would never have known much of the heritage in which we take pride—and without making any effort to discover it. Nay, it has come to us readymade, on a silver platter, thanks to the efforts of those orientalists.” Baghdadi also laments orientalism’s “decline,” especially in America. He’s right, of course, and not only is the West poorer for it. So are the Arabs.
Tue, Jun 29 2004 3:02 am
Strange indeed. Francis Fukuyama’s upcoming article in The National Interest appears in an op-ed précis. He’s (rightly) struck by the strange enthusiasm of neoconservatives for democratizing the Middle East, “because these same neoconservatives had spent much of the past generation warning about the dangers of ambitious social engineering.” The idea that culture matters is “usually taken to be a conservative insight.” But it does matter, and “I have never believed that democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through simple political will.” Fukuyama’s conclusion: yes, promote democracy, but be more realistic and cautious about social engineering projects in places the US “doesn’t understand very well.” For a change, I agree with him.
Tue, Jun 29 2004 3:01 am
What, no blood libel? The Yemen Times runs an op-ed citing the influence of the Jews in America. “An invincible virus,” the Zionist lobby, has a “tight grip” on America’s “decision-making arteries. The lobby is always working in the dark shadows with no known leadership…. The key players in the Bush administration are mainly Jews who have shed their Jewish names to adopt new Christian names like George and Johnson.” Meanwhile, a Yemeni official has accused the country’s Jews (they number a few hundred) of backing an extremist Shiite uprising that’s kept government troops at bay. How? They sabotaged the water network supplying the security forces….
Mon, Jun 28 2004 7:51 am
Refocus Title VI. Last week, the University of Maryland hosted the National Language Conference, co-sponsored by the Defense Department and the Center for the Advanced Study of Language. The briefing document is sobering. The statistics on enrollments and proficiency show that the US is woefully unprepared to meet basic needs, especially in the Middle East. One measure proposed in the briefing is a “reemphasized mandate for Title VI of the Higher Education Act to focus on languages critical to the current security needs of the nation.” I’ve already written about how the profs undercut the language mission of Title VI. Congress knows what it must do.
Mon, Jun 28 2004 6:18 am
Harvard and empire. Read the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa oration of pro-empire historian Niall Ferguson, who’s joining the Harvard faculty in the fall. He quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 oration. “Ask not,” said Emerson, “what is doing in… Arabia,” but embrace “the ballad in the street.” (Emerson meant the American street, not the Arab one.) Ferguson’s retort: “Wrong. What is doing in Arabia is a thousand times more important than the latest ballad.” So he badgers this year’s grads: “What do you propose to do with your knowledge—and your power—in relation to Africa, to Asia, and to the rest of the world?” Good question, but Ferguson should pose it even more urgently at the faculty club. See right below.
Mon, Jun 28 2004 3:36 am
Harvard, the model. A news report on the reconstruction of Iraqi universities reveals this: “Ahmed al-Rahim, a teacher of Arabic language and literature at Harvard University, said he tried to organize members from several different academic departments at Harvard to help the Iraqis rebuild their educational system. However, al-Rahim found resistance, especially from individuals in the Middle Eastern studies department, because of their hatred for the Bush administration.” Need I comment?
Sat, Jun 26 2004 5:20 am
Fallback time. Here’s a smart piece in the Israeli press, co-authored by a former spokesman of the Defense Ministry, on why it makes sense for the US to give up the myth of an “Iraqi nation” and promote Iraq’s division into two or three separate states. Washington has “remained wedded to the conventional wisdom of maintaining a united Iraq, despite the fact that it is clearly the crux of the problem, not the solution…. The idea of an instantly created democratic Iraq is a desert mirage. However the gradual evolution of separate democratic states, each dominated by a single ethnic group is not.” I suggested something similar way back in September 2002, and others have done it since the war. It’s the fallback plan—and its time has come.
Fri, Jun 25 2004 5:57 am
Abdullah and Sy. Yesterday the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet revealed the source for Seymour Hersh’s story on Israel running ops out of Iraqi Kurdistan: Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s (Islamist) foreign minister. The Israeli press reports that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last year decided not to open a Kurdish channel, in deference to the Turks. So Gul was just firing a warning shot across Israel’s bow, and used Hersh as his cannon. The Islamists in Ankara want to set back Israeli-Turkish ties, and Israel wants desperately to keep them stable. So (alas) the Israel-in-Kurdistan story is probably a fable. Too bad. I liked the idea.
Fri, Jun 25 2004 5:06 am
Sheikh Charles. Yesterday the Sultan of Brunei was in London, to bestow the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah International Prize on the Prince of Wales. The prize jury wanted to honor his promotion of understanding between the Islamic and Western worlds. Press reports note that he’s the first Westerner to get the prize since its inauguration in 1992, but they don’t name the past recipients. Turns out most of them have been the old guard of the Muslim Brotherhood. The leader of the Syrian Brotherhood, the late Sheikh Abu Ghudda, got the prize. So did suicide-bombing apologist Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Prince Charles has entered the Islamist pantheon.
Fri, Jun 25 2004 2:57 am
Elie Kedourie. For his fans, I’ve posted the entry on him that I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing.
Thu, Jun 24 2004 7:45 pm
Islamic spelling. One Iftikhar Ahmad, from something called the London School of Islamics, has an article hailing Islam as the be-all and end-all of civilization. Muslims gave the West its scientific knowledge and contributed to its Renaissance. Western and Islamic values are “almost identical,” and in the near future half of the “native population” in America may “revert” to Islam (?). But my favorite sentence (for its spelling) is this one: “Bernard Shah once said that the future religion of the West would be Islam and only Islam.”
Thu, Jun 24 2004 5:55 am
EWS. I’ve started reading Rashid Khalidi’s Resurrecting Empire, his indictment of US policy in the Middle East. The dedication reads: “To EWS.” Abbreviated dedications are usually private affairs between the author and the dedicatee. (T.E. Lawrence dedicated Seven Pillars of Wisdom “To S.A.,” whose identity remains a mystery to this day.) But Khalidi, at the very end of his acknowledgements, on the last line of the last page of the book, reveals that it’s dedicated to the memory of Edward (W.) Said. So why didn’t he say so right up front? Possibility: he (or his publisher) figured that an up-front dedication to Said would put readers off, especially since Khalidi is already identified as the Edward Said Professor. The result: a stealth dedication.
Wed, Jun 23 2004 5:21 am
If only. Seymour Hersh’s latest, on Israeli training of Kurds in northern Iraq, has this interesting assessment by a top German security official: “Iran does not want an Israeli land-based aircraft carrier on its border.” Well, let’s not forget that Iran has put thousands of long-range (70-kilometer) rockets in the hands of Hizbullah on Israel’s northern border. And Iran is busy financing terror groups in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper. (The Karine-A arms ship was just the beginning.) Iran has been running ops against Israel relentlessly, and the world has gotten used to it. So I hope there’s some truth to the Hersh article—but as usual, you never know.
Wed, Jun 23 2004 5:05 am
Antonius Lectures. I am at a conference. In lieu of an original posting, here is a past review I’ve just now added to my web archive. It treats a published collection of the Antonius Lectures, which are held each June at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. In the latter part of the review, I say something about George Antonius, Oxford, and the late Albert Hourani, who instituted the lecture series.
Tue, Jun 22 2004 12:40 pm
Lessons of history. Martin Peretz: “Alas, we Americans do not naturally look to history for cautionary lessons about the future. Had we done that, our post-Saddam expectations would have been different. But we didn’t, and so we couldn’t anticipate that the various peoples of Iraq…would not take our good intentions for granted.” In fact, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy did publish a pre-war book on cautionary lessons. “If the US chooses to impose its own mission civilisatrice on Iraq,” wrote my colleague Ofra Bengio, “it will likely arouse even greater antagonism than the British did…. Even if they arrive wearing the mantles of liberators, US forces may well be seen as nothing but conquerors…. Washington should be modest in its goals and realistic in its expectations.”
Mon, Jun 21 2004 6:19 am
In the Cole mine. Juan Cole, in an interview, claims that the neocons (he names the usual suspects) “have imbibed this kind of Israeli racism towards Arabs, that Arabs only respect force, that you can get them to inform on each other because of all the internal clan feuds… Israeli racism towards the Arabs is not a good guide to dealing with a society like Iraq.” Using brute force… playing off clan feuds… informants… gee, isn’t that how Saddam dealt with Iraqi society? (And with much success, alas.) Well, maybe he too learned it from the Israelis.
Sun, Jun 20 2004 4:55 am
Israel’s predictable victory. Charles Krauthammer declares that Israel has defeated the intifada, and this is why: “Israelis were never demoralized. They kept living their lives, the young people in particular returning to cafes and discos and buses just hours after a horrific bombing. Israelis turned out to be a lot tougher and braver than the Palestinians had imagined.” Or than Krauthammer imagined. He wrote an article in June 2000 called “The Collapse of Zionism” (Weekly Standard) announcing that Israelis “are tired of the price of Jewish power,…. of the hard life of sustaining the Zionist vision.” That got my blood up. My published riposte: “Israelis will continue to fight for their lives, their homes, their families and countrymen, their new prosperity, and their freedoms.” There was never a doubt.
Sat, Jun 19 2004 7:36 pm
Pompous Oxford Don Watch. The Nation also sets up Avi Shlaim (right below) with a leading question about the Campus Watch website run by Daniel Pipes. Shlaim obliges: it is “sinister and deplorable.” “What defines a university,” he intones, “is complete freedom of expression, and the people behind Campus Watch are responsible for a direct assault on this basic and fundamental academic right.” I answer: complete press freedom is a basic and fundamental right. Is criticism of the New York Times (say, for its WMD coverage) a sinister, deplorable, and direct assault on press freedom? Campus Watch has operated entirely within the range of fair criticism. Reading Commissar Shlaim, it occurs to me that maybe the UK needs one too.
Sat, Jun 19 2004 4:11 am
Who’s the dupe? Avi Shlaim, a Middle East historian who plies his trade (after a fashion) at Oxford, is interviewed in The Nation. The neocons, he claims, “wanted to eliminate the Iranian threat to Israel.” So Iran used Ahmad Chalabi to pass them bogus info on Iraqi WMD, and “manipulated the neocons into attacking Iraq” instead of Iran! Not only do the Iranians get a Shiite Iraq, but the Americans are too quagmired to take down Iran and its nuclear program. “If true,” hums Shlaim, “this is one of the greatest intelligence coups of modern times.” And if not true? Then it’s one of the nuttiest notions of modern times—and Avi Shlaim bought into it.
Sat, Jun 19 2004 4:10 am
Watch wallets. The Council on Foreign Relations report on terrorist financing concludes: “At the dawn of the Cold War, the U.S. government and U.S. nongovernmental organizations committed substantial public and philanthropic resources to endow Soviet studies programs across the United States. The purpose of these efforts was to increase the level of understanding in this country of the profound strategic threat posed to the United States by Soviet Communism. A similar undertaking is now needed to understand adequately the threat posed to the United States by radical Islamic militancy, along with its causes.” To Washington and the foundations, I say: watch your wallets. The Mideast studies crowd will pocket your money. But their priorities lie elsewhere.
Fri, Jun 18 2004 12:26 pm
No good deed. Fouad Ajami, Tom Friedman, Kenneth Pollack, and Leon Wieseltier are filled with remorse over Iraq at The New Republic. Well, that’s what you get for allowing yourself to be optimistic about Arab politics: crushing disappointment. The war was a splendid success as a punitive expedition. It’s a pity it was turned into a crusade of political correctness, meant to prove the universal appeal of democracy and America’s equal love for all peoples. How this virus crossed species—from liberals to neocons—needs more study. But the meaning of the aftermath is already clear: fear and awe of America—our best defense—have dissipated, and contempt has returned.
Fri, Jun 18 2004 9:15 am
Good money after bad? The New York Times points to the deficit of Arabic-speakers in government, and notes how Title VI produced thousands of Russian speakers during the Cold War. So (adds the article), why not fund a Title VI-type program for Middle East languages? Congressional Democrats, led by Rush Holt (NJ) have proposed one: the National Security Language Act. I’ll say more on this shortly. For now, I note this: Title VI didn’t just support Russian. It’s been funding the study of Arabic for just as long. If there’s a shortfall now, it’s because Title VI failed in the Middle East area. So what’s to keep another program, entrusted to the very same people, from failing again?
Thu, Jun 17 2004 7:18 am
Third World critique. Another review/critique of my Ivory Towers on Sand, this one by Pinar Bilgin in Third World Quarterly. The title of the piece: “Is the ‘Orientalist’ Past the Future of Middle East Studies?” No comment yet—I’ll digest it and add it to the corpus of critiques to be countered in one blow in future.
Wed, Jun 16 2004 1:00 pm
Historians of Egypt. Exactly 25 years ago, I was a doctoral student working in Cairo, at the American Research Center in Egypt. While there, I scored my greatest coup in prying open an archive—the royal archives for the period 1922-52—and I published a report about it. Unfortunately, grad students who tried to gain access right after me didn’t succeed. In a fit of nostalgia (25 years ago, I was 25), I post that report, and ask historians of Egypt: have any of you had access to this archive over the past quarter-century? (Also see this recent account of the state of Egypt’s archives. Still a mess, and still largely closed to researchers.)
Wed, Jun 16 2004 7:59 am
Orientalism heads-down. I’ve got high expectations of Irwin (right below). But I haven’t forgotten Zachary Lockman’s forthcoming entry: Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism. (“Beginning with ancient Greek and Roman conceptions of the world, the book goes on to discuss European ideas about Islam from its emergence in the seventh century…to the age of European imperialism….and controversies that have shaped Middle East studies in the United States over the past half century.”) From Cambridge University Press in the fall. Here’s a piece by Lockman adapted from the book, and largely devoted to debunking me. I’m flattered.
Tue, Jun 15 2004 9:52 am
Taste of Irwin. In anticipation of Irwin’s history of orientalism (right below), here is a highly original lecture by him, published a few years ago, on how orientalists ended up emulating their Arabic sources. You cannot produce such insights without a commanding control of Western cultural and Arabic literary history.
Tue, Jun 15 2004 9:49 am
Orientalism heads-up. Robert Irwin, the brilliant polymath who’s done splendid histories of the Alhambra and the Arabian Nights, has finished a two-volume history of Orientalism. Volume 1: Orientalists and Their Enemies. (“Irwin seeks to present Orientalism and Orientalists as living, breathing human beings, bringing the discipline into the new century with personal and anecdotal knowledge as well as sound historical research.”) Volume 2: The Art of Orientalism. (“Irwin will discuss the impact on Western art and literature of Oriental material.”) Publisher: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin, first half of next year. Reminder: Irwin once called Said’s Orientalism a “fantasy history.”
Tue, Jun 15 2004 2:58 am
Erdogan’s Islam. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got worked up on Saturday in Chicago, where he shared a platform with Bernard Lewis and Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.). When Lewis mentioned “Islamic terrorism,” Erdogan bristled: “‘Islam,’ in front of the word ‘terror,’ ascribes Islam to terror….You cannot say Islamic terrorism.” And when Harman mentioned “moderate Islam,” Erdogan complained again. “If you say ‘moderate Islam,’ then an alternative is created, and that is ‘immoderate Islam.’ I cannot accept such a concept as a Muslim.” So Islam cannot be reconciled with terrorism or extremism. Glad to hear him say so—even if it’s utter nonsense.
Mon, Jun 14 2004 3:31 pm
Read Spanish? I’ve just posted another valuable review of my edited volume, The Jewish Discovery of Islam, this one by Mercedes García-Arenal, from the Spanish academic journal Al-Qantara.
Mon, Jun 14 2004 9:35 am
The Massad question. Here’s a nice synopsis of the stump lecture delivered by Columbia’s Joseph Massad, on “The Persistence of the Palestinian Question.” Massad poses as an expert on modern Jewish history, the mystery of which he has miraculously penetrated (and without even knowing Hebrew!): Zionists are antisemites, and they have turned the Palestinians into Jews! Conclusion: Israel should be de-Europeanized, and Israeli Jews should be assimilated into the region. (Unlike me, Massad would get to remain Europeanized. He’s written self-importantly about how he and Edward Said would “argue about Chopin and John Field.”) Here’s my idea: Massad should be de-Columbia-nized when he comes up for tenure.
Mon, Jun 14 2004 4:49 am
Read German? A couple of years ago, Peter Heine, professor of Islamic studies at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin, published an important essay on my edited volume, The Jewish Discovery of Islam. He’s been kind enough to allow me to post it here.
Sun, Jun 13 2004 9:06 am
Florida boom. Here’s an article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on the growth of Middle East studies programs in Florida universities. (Latest: the Middle East is now a major at Florida State University.) The article also notes the relevant controversies (HR3077, Campus Watch). Florida’s universities have a few assets in the field, but no one institution is even close to achieving critical mass. Bottom line: there’s no reason right now for anyone outside Florida to consider these programs. But it will be interesting to see who pulls ahead—and with what sort of vision.
Sun, Jun 13 2004 5:01 am
Terrorology. Kevin Toolis is the “terrorism correspondent” of the New Statesman. How do you get that title? Spend ten years writing a book on the IRA, then make a quick visit to the Middle East, and—presto. Toolis now denounces academics specializing in terrorism: they’re adjuncts of state counter-terrorism. Why this should vitiate their findings is unclear. But what’s the alternative? Mideast academics have refused to do any systematic work on terrorism. They only do “context.” (I call this “grievance studies.”) People from every discipline have rushed to fill the vacuum, and some of them are not bad. (Even Toolis admits that “Israeli research into groups such as Hamas can be extremely insightful.”) Terrorism studies—here to stay, by default.
Fri, Jun 11 2004 6:27 am
Whose decision? Mark Geller, director of the Institute of Jewish Studies, University College London, writes of Iraq’s old regime: “Any scholar of any nationality was permitted to work in the Iraqi museums, provided that he could show a baptismal certificate. Only Jews were prohibited from working there.” So will it change? Geller: “During this past summer, Dr. Donny George of the Iraq Museum appeared in London at an international conference, and one of my colleagues from the USA went up to him and asked him directly when Jews will be able to work in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. He simply shrugged his shoulders and replied, ‘it’s not my decision’.” Note: The State Department and the Coalition Provisional Authority are putting $1.4 million into upgrading the museum and its security.
Thu, Jun 10 2004 6:09 am
Culture matters? Journalist Ann Marlowe has a shallow piece at on Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind. I’ve called the book archaic, but it’s too easy a target, and Marlowe says nothing about it that hasn’t been said sometime over the last 30 years. What she should have done was check out Seymour Hersh’s claim that Patai’s book is the “bible” of neocons. (His source: “an academic told me.”) Patai’s book is about difference—why the Arabs are not like “us.” The neoconservative vision is about sameness—why the Arabs, beginning with Iraqis, are just like “us,” or at least like the Germans and Japanese, who went from dictatorship to democracy in under a generation. It’s not Patai’s ideas that are being tested in Iraq. It’s the idea that culture doesn’t matter. We shall see.
Wed, Jun 9 2004 3:04 pm
Two minds in one. Ian Buruma’s essay in The New Yorker is subtitled “The Two Minds of Bernard Lewis.” The author compares the skeptical caution of Lewis’s earlier writings with his optimistic advocacy over Iraq and democratization. “Why did Bernard Lewis ignore his own counsel that the West should proceed with caution in the Middle East, that democracy cannot be a quick fix, and that our proposed solutions, however good, are ‘discredited by the very fact of our having suggested them’?” The answer is more complex than Buruma allows, but here’s a clue: “The crucial thing to know about Lewis is that he is a traditional European liberal” (R. Stephen Humphreys). That’s the most accurate single truth ever written about Bernard Lewis. Knowing it answers a great many questions.
Wed, Jun 9 2004 5:56 am
Where’s the apology? As long as I’m on the subject of John Burns and the New York Times (right below): On April 12, 2003, he wrote that 50,000 artifacts had been looted from the Iraq Museum. Museum officials told him “nothing remained.” On April 13, the figure grew to “at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.” (Actual losses? Some 15,000 artifacts, or 3% of total museum holdings.) Burns, later: “When we got to the museum we were disposed to believe the worst. We were tremendously distraught, and passion got the better of us.” (The “we” splits responsibility with other journalists.) Later reporting revised the estimates downwards. But I keep turning to page A-10 of the Times, in search of the official mea culpa. Not yet.
Tue, Jun 8 2004 3:02 pm
Burned by Burns. Oh, and the New York Times also got it wrong about Iraq’s National Library (see right below). This, from Times correspondent John Burns on April 17, 2003: “By tonight, virtually nothing was left of the library and its tens of thousands of old manuscripts and books, and of archives like Iraqi newspapers tracing the country’s turbulent history from the era of Ottoman rule through to Mr. Hussein.” In fact, the books and manuscripts survived, and so did the bound volumes of the newspapers.
Tue, Jun 8 2004 3:01 pm
Books didn’t burn. On the liberation of Baghdad, a fire broke out in Iraq’s National Library, and accusations flew. But according to the latest report by a Library of Congress mission headed by Mary-Jane Deeb, the library’s losses weren’t bad. The fire was limited in scope. Rare books and manuscripts, and archival records of the pre-Baath monarchy, had been moved for safekeeping elsewhere, or were unharmed in the stacks. Someone did deliberately set fire to archival records of Saddam’s regime, kept also in the library, and also scattered some books and papers, to give the impression of looting. And who misled us on the damage? Robert Fisk. “The old royal archives of Iraq were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat,” he wrote at the time. Wrong again.
Tue, Jun 8 2004 12:51 pm
Index librorum prohibitorum. Seymour Hersh has called Raphael Patai’s book The Arab Mind the inspiration for torture at Abu Ghraib. I’ve got doubts, and I’m not alone. Now Columbia prof Manning Marable, star of African-American studies, weighs in. He demands an executive ban on the use of the book in government, and “a Congressional investigation into the nature of the curricula being used to ‘educate’ those interacting with Arab and Islamic cultures.” Would such a probe stop at West Point and the Army War College? What about government-funded Title VI centers for the Middle East, such as Columbia’s? Their grads will also interact with those cultures. You see, the real danger to the integrity of curriculum isn’t HR3077. It’s thought-control profs, who are book banners at heart.
Tue, Jun 8 2004 8:30 am
Mass deception. Post-colonial feminist art historian Zainab Bahrani of Columbia University has been appointed deputy senior advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, to work with the Coalition Provisional Authority. “Her objective,” says a State Department announcement, “will be to continue the reconstruction at the National Museum and National Library.” Bahrani, who was born in Iraq, was one of the prime exaggerators of the museum’s losses to looting. “Blame must be placed with the Bush Administration for a catastrophic destruction of culture unparalleled in modern history,” she charged last year. “The destruction that the US military has allowed to occur in Iraq has no parallel.” I’ll give Bahrani a parallel: exaggerations about looting losses and WMD. It’s the same mechanism at work.
Mon, Jun 7 2004 9:01 am
America’s role. In my book Ivory Towers on Sand, I wrote that an American approach to the Middle East must rest on “the idea that the United States plays an essentially beneficent role in the world.” My critics ridiculed this as patently absurd. Kramer “does not bother to tell readers why they should accept this vision of the US role in the world as true,” writes NYU’s Zachary Lockman, “nor does he even acknowledge that it may be something other than self-evidently true. The assertion nonetheless undermines his avowed epistemological stance and graphically demonstrates that it is untenable.” I mark 60 years to D-Day by reiterating my epistemologically untenable assertion. In living memory, the US saved the world from two totalitarianisms. That’s self-evidently true.
Sun, Jun 6 2004 3:49 am
Broader Middle East. The revised US reform plan for the Middle East, which President Bush will present at the upcoming G-8 summit, has been scaled down, toned down, and retrofitted with a promise to work harder on Israeli-Palestinian peace. The plan’s name: “Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa.” Whew. (Originally, it was the “Greater Middle East Initiative.” But Europeans objected to “greater” as reminiscent of “Greater Germany” or “Greater Serbia,” while Arabs thought “initiative” sounded like a diktat.) It’s supposed to open a new chapter in the history of the Middle East. It already has the trappings of a footnote.
Fri, Jun 4 2004 8:36 am
My successor. I’m delighted to report that I’ll be succeeded as editor of the Middle East Quarterly by Michael Rubin. He’s an excellent choice, and I look forward to working with him (I’ll be joining Patrick Clawson as a senior editor). Rubin is currently a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He’s a Yale Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history, and recently served as a political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and as staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Rubin on his appointment: “As editor, I intend to carry on the Quarterly‘s tradition of questioning conventional wisdom and challenging general readers, policymakers, and academics to rethink their premises.”
Thu, Jun 3 2004 10:58 am
Dragomans. Apropos the shortfall in translators and interpreters of Arabic (last two entries below), listen to Bernard Lewis (NPR interview) explain the role of dragomans, the Ottoman court interpreters who made communication possible between the Ottomans and the European powers. Dragomans eventually gained a reputation for unreliability, leading the governments of Europe to train their own interpreters. As Lewis wryly notes, this practice has yet to cross the Atlantic.
Thu, Jun 3 2004 4:52 am
Beginning Arabic. “America will need a generation of Arab[ic] linguists.” President Bush said so yesterday (see immediately below). And where does America get them now? Well, the Defense Department pays $657 million to the Titan Corporation, to provide “skilled contract linguists” to US military forces. According to this report (main link), the results have been mixed. Demand is exceeding supply, and incompetent interpreters are missing signals in Iraq. Under Title VI, the US government has subsidized Arabic study in universities for 45 years, and it hasn’t reaped a benefit. Now’s the time to expand and renegotiate the Title VI contract, beginning with HR3077.
Thu, Jun 3 2004 4:40 am
Experts needed. President Bush in his Air Force Academy speech today: “Overcoming terrorism, and bringing greater freedom to the nations of the Middle East, is the work of decades. To prevail,… America will need a generation of Arab linguists, and experts on Middle Eastern history and culture. America will need improved intelligence capabilities to track threats and expose the plans of unseen enemies.” Unfortunately, the government-subsidized academic apparatus that produces such experts and linguists doesn’t want the mission, and even discourages students from accepting it. If Bush is serious, I urge him to throw his weight behind HR3077.
Wed, Jun 2 2004 6:02 pm
Don’t know history. Rashid Khalidi, keen to emphasize his vocation as historian, complains: “Americans don’t pay attention to history. Why? Because Americans came here to begin with to escape the past. Americans have had the good fortune to live on the largest island on Earth.” He sounds like Bernard Lewis (in The Crisis of Islam) : “In current American usage, the phrase ‘that’s history’ is commonly used to dismiss something as unimportant…. the general level of historical knowledge in American society is abysmally low.” There’s no argument here. The debate begins over which history shapes the present. When do we begin? Which history are we doomed to repeat if we fail to learn it? The moment historians answer, they become advocates.
Wed, Jun 2 2004 10:32 am
Lie of the century. There’s a conference in Amman on recovering stolen Iraqi treasures, and the head of the Jordanian Customs Department, one Mahmoud Qteishat, begins by calling the looting of Iraqi artifacts “the greatest crime of the century.” Qteishat is just echoing Donny George, the Baathist holdover, also attending the conference, who (incredibly) still speaks for Iraqi archaeology. Just click here and see how often George, a relentless propagandist, throws out the “crime of the century” line. It’s moral cretinism and an insult to our intelligence. These hacks should be sent off to excavate some mass graves, to get some real crime under their fingernails. (More on this miasma: Alex Joffe, “Museum Madness in Baghdad,” current Middle East Quarterly, coming soon to the web.)
Tue, Jun 1 2004 6:25 pm
“Trust us.” The New York Sun reports that Columbia University is looking to raise money for a chair in Israel studies. Provost Alan Brinkley says “we have not yet done any formal fundraising for such a chair, have not set a financial target for it,and have not considered where it might sit if it were to be created.” But he says that Columbia “would welcome” a chair. My sources say it’s gone a bit beyond that already. No comment at this time, except to recall this cautionary tale I told about Berkeley back in February.
Tue, Jun 1 2004 5:37 pm
Across the Bay. Here’s a new weblog on the Middle East, still a bit rough around the edges but with some interesting commentary on where academics and pundits are positioning themselves over Iraq. It’s the work of one Tony Badran, said to be a Lebanese doctoral student at New York University. He takes a special interest in the foibles of Juan Cole.
Tue, Jun 1 2004 2:56 pm
Islam in America. The Middle East Quarterly posts two more articles from the spring issue, my next-to-last as editor. One, by Jonathan Dowd-Gailey, takes a hard look at the Muslim Students’ Association. The other, by Daniel Pipes, takes a hard look at UCLA professor Khaled Abou El Fadl. Both authors make the same argument: let’s raise the bar high in our definition of “moderation,” post-9/11.
Tue, Jun 1 2004 12:42 pm