Middle East studies in the News
by Tony Badran
If you're in the mood for some laughs, I've got the thing for you right here. A little dose of Khalidi always does the job. In fact, in this item, I'm not sure what's more hilarious: Khalidi's nonsense, or that of the people reacting to it! I think this statement captures both:
Earlham freshman Rachel John said Khalidi gave students a vista on Middle East issues previously concealed by American intelligence.
"Almost all people speak on U.S. foreign policy, but we get so little press from the Middle East," John said. "(His lecture) puts into perspective how horrible U.S. actions are in the Middle East compared to European colonialism." [Emphasis, and implicit snicker, mine!]
Khalidi self-destructs thanks to his inability even to consider a benevolent aspect to empire.
An inescapable conclusion about the modern Middle East is that indigenous liberal reform has been a spectacular illusion. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. As Arab countries embarked on post-colonial independence, they became less free. Most Arab civil societies have been bludgeoned into silence by their regimes, with even the more representative systems denying their citizens true political participation.
His Resurrecting Empire is a tribute to the headlock of history, the idea that the lessons of the past must somehow invariably apply in the same way today. Khalidi comes to readers from the commanding heights of expertise, arguing that what "seems so painful to those with any real knowledge of the region" is the unwillingness of the U.S. to accept that it is stepping into the boots of past imperial powers, and that "this cannot under any circumstances be a good thing and cannot possibly be ‘done right.'"
Khalidi, who has no doubts about America's imperial bent, rejects the possibility that it might represent something potentially constructive.
If this is the use to which history is put, it is stifling indeed. Khalidi is unimaginative when it comes to seeing the possible advantages of American power in the Middle East. Instead, he falls back on a standard template of Arab criticism, arguing that the Iraq war was part of "a new form of hegemony over the region, in collaboration with Israel."
Alas, the know-how of Arab intellectuals has rarely generated democratic change in the Middle East during the last half-century. Many, like Khalidi, came to reject transformational fantasies about the region, over time becoming de facto guardians of the status quo. It was not a status quo they liked, but one they accepted after the failures of their preferred alternatives, the most obvious one being Arab nationalism. Frustration was palliated by a perception that the region was far more complex than the uninitiated suspected, and that to understand its dynamics one had to be an expert. And so Arab "expertise" slowly bred sterility—most flagrantly in Iraq.
Security is a word rarely seen in Khalidi's text, nor does one ever get a sense from him how the 9/11 attacks shaped U.S. Middle East policy. If America's war in Iraq is old-fashioned imperialism, then it cannot be a preliminary effort to change a region that, intentionally or not, dispatched 19 young men to kill 3,000 innocents.
One thing that Khalidi said rings true: "The Iraqis are going to have to figure this out." How very true, and they have been, and they continue to, thanks to the American intervention. But this has a corollary that's relevant to Khalidi, the non-Iraqi Palestinian: let the Iraqis figure it out, and stay the hell out of it, and that means keep a lid on it, "quick"! Because it's already painful as it is. If you continue talking, it will be... how did you put it? "slow and much more painful."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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