Middle East studies in the News
Walid Phares Under Attack
by Robert Rabil
Since his appointment as a special advisor on the Middle East by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Dr. Walid Phares has come under a concerted vicious attack discrediting his expertise and maligning his reputation, pressuring Romney to drop Dr. Phares from his roster of advisors.
A series of articles appearing in the Daily Beast (McKay Coppins, October 12, 2011), Politico (Ben Smith, October 6, 2011), Salon (As'ad Abukhalil, October 7, 2011), The New Republic (Jard Vary, October 24, 2011) and particularly Mother Jones' controversial Adam Serwer (October 27, 2011) raise in slightly different versions several arguments that are false and offensive. Most of these attacks, which could be seen as bordering defamation, were based on a letter issued by a CAIR lobby group.
Notwithstanding the fact that these articles contain imprecise information, I will comment on two main far-fetched arguments that form the gist of the authors' unfounded and inflammatory charges leveled against Dr. Phares.
The first claims that Dr. Phares was a high-level political "official" of the Lebanese Forces during Lebanon's war, and since members of the latter were reportedly accused of one of the conflict's many killings -- namely, the Palestinian Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre in 1982 -- Phares was by association "implicitly linked" to the massacre.
The other postulates that Dr. Phares is an Islamophobe and is highly aggressive towards Muslims and Islam.
Like Dr. Phares, I am an American citizen of Lebanese descent. I was born to a Christian Maronite family in Mount Lebanon. My family moved to Hazmieh, a suburb of Beirut, before the outbreak of Lebanon's civil war in 1975. When the war broke out, I was fourteen years old. The highly combustible political atmosphere gripping Beirut, coupled with the endemic apprehensive feeling among Christians that their survival was at stake, compelled almost all Christians either to contribute to defend their areas against Palestinian (as of 1975) and Syrian (as of 1978) forces or to travel far from the war zones.
With no money to spare for traveling, I decided to volunteer in the Red Cross. I refused to carry a gun or be militarily involved with any party. True, I was (and still am) critical of many political parties in Lebanon, yet I could not deny the fear I felt about the formidable threat the leftists, pan-Arabists, and PLO posed to the Christian community. I left Lebanon for United States in 1984.
I mention this because the authors of the articles, or at least most of them, are ignorant about what had happened in Lebanon during the evolving conflict. More specifically, I feel that the way in which they attacked Dr. Phares amounts to an attack on Lebanon's Christian community as a whole, and perhaps against all minorities and liberal Muslims in the Middle East. They explicitly attacked Dr. Phares on the misleading basis of guilt by association without even considering either the political context in which the Lebanese Christians operated or the collective angst of the Christian community. In fact, I neither met nor heard of Dr. Phares while I was in Lebanon, including during the horrible episode of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September 1982. Everybody in Beirut knew the leadership of the Phalange and Lebanese Forces, and Dr. Phares was not one of them during the early 1980s. I later learned about Dr. Phares through his book Pluralism in Lebanon, in which he argues for democratic principles and respect of human rights as the basis for a national multiethnic coexistence in Lebanon.
As a student of Middle East politics in United States, I then came to hear about Dr. Phares' Democratic Party in the late 1980s. As a leader of this small party in East Beirut, and along with other political parties and public personalities, he was invited to join the political council of the Lebanese Forces coalition in 1986 for a few years to represent the views of his party, expressed to a great extent in his many books. Any hint about his "retroactive link" to the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 or in the military decision making process of the Lebanese Forces from 1986 to 1989 is nothing more than a malicious intent to malign his reputation.
Subsequently, I came to know Dr. Phares on a personal level during the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq. We exchanged our views on many occasions, collaborated on publishing articles, and in the process forged a good friendship. As a friend and intellectual, Dr. Phares is an honest man, faithful to his democratic convictions and support for persecuted minorities throughout the world regardless of religion, ethnicity, or race. He was among the very first scholars to highlight the suffering and suppression of the African Muslims in Darfur, the Kurds in the Levant, women in the Arab world, and other communities. He appears frequently in international and Arab media and presents his arguments in favor of a more democratic and pluralist Arab and Muslim world. I could debate the extent to which he is worried about the reach of radical Islamism into the heartland of United States, a reach clearly demonstrated by the radicalization of some individuals in the American Muslim community. I also can take the liberty of stating that Dr. Phares is worried about the Muhammad Attas targeting democracies but not about Muslims in the world. Never has he addressed Islam as a theology. He speaks about radical Islamism.
In his prescient recent book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, he advocates supporting Muslim liberals and progressives throughout the Middle East. Obviously, the charge that he is an Islamophobe acting as a conspiracy theorist is maliciously fabricated to malign his scholarship as well as his reputation.
I respectfully call on these authors to check and vet their sources before publishing material which could end up perceived as defamatory. And if their intent is politically motivated to assassinate his character and muzzle his advocacy for human and minority rights and democracy in the Middle East, then they will have failed given the strength of his convictions and scholarship.
Robert G. Rabil is associate professor of political science and director, Middle East Studies, Political Science Department, Florida Atlantic University.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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