Fouad Ajami and his legacy

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

The news of Ajami’s death triggered a competition among American journalists: they all wanted to express how much they loved him and admired him. They all spoke about his “grace” and one Zionist publication called him the “genuine Arab hero.” The New York Times and Wall Street Journal were quick to publish glowing obituaries.

Fouad Ajami is not the only Arab Zionist (and I am using the word Zionist here as a description and not as an insult, which it is for all of us anti-Zionists who measure the ideology by its devastating impact on the lives of Palestinians and Arabs and by its blatantly racist discourse) but he may have been the first Arab Zionist to advocate publicly for his Zionism. Ajami’s career is a political career and not an academic one.

Academic careers in the top US universities are specifically and rigidly structured and designed: those who are not graduates of the “elite US universities” don’t even get short-listed for jobs. Yet, Fouad Ajami went to school at Eastern Oregon College and received his PhD at the University of Washington, Seattle. It is certain that he is the only graduate of the University of Washington, Seattle who got an offer from Harvard University (he turned it down). When Martin Peretz and other Zionists at Harvard were lobbying for the university to hire Ajami, he demurred. He set his own conditions: that he did not want to teach undergraduates. They explained to him that all faculty at Harvard teach undergraduates.

When Ajami was being pursued by Harvard back in the 1990s, Mohsin Mahdi (one of the first Arabs to get tenure at Harvard) was outraged. I was in Mahdi’s office at the time, and he was (in his own quiet way) fuming at the very idea. He gave me a clip from The Harvard Crimson in which an “unnamed” professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard was quoted as saying that Ajami’s reputation is political and not academic. Mahdi told me that it was him, but insisted that his identity not be revealed.

It is not that Ajami was despised by Arabs but here is somebody who got anointed by US establishment media as the foremost Arab expert (after Bernard Lewis) while his colleagues in Middle Eastern studies never held him in high esteem. But Ajami, and this may be surprising to American readers, was never really known among Arabs the way Bernard Lewis was known through his translated works. Ajami was more of an American phenomenon, the product of American Zionism. Ajami was quite known and deeply despised by Arabs in the US. In fact, when Ajami started to spew his hate and contempt for Arabs in the US media, many were shocked and expressed disbelief that one of their own would take those positions. I remember once at a dinner with Arab students in the DC area, a Kuwaiti student shared his theory about Ajami. He said that it is not possible for an Arab to take such extreme Zionist positions and that Ajami must have a secret plan. “What plan are you talking about?” I asked him. He said that Ajami is carefully working his way up the American establishment hierarchy and then, he finished the sentence. I asked, “and then what? liberate Palestine?”

There is a reason for why Ajami rose in prominence in the media and foreign policy establishment. His first job was at Princeton where he got to befriend Bernard Lewis. But even Lewis could not secure him a tenured job at the Department of Politics. His second job was at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (he succeeded Majid Khadduri who lobbied for his former student, Elie Salem of AUB).

Ajami’s first book, The Arab Predicament was a hit, but he never was able to go beyond it. The verbally gifted man spoke and wrote in a flowery language that captivated the attention of American viewers and readers. His book spoke about poetry and translated Arabic poems and discourse to English language readers. There were very few original insights in the book, as Hanna Batatu always told me, but it was a useful book in Middle East studies classes. Ajami’s later books were not imitations of, but more like caricatures of the original. The flowery language got old and repetitive, and the policy recommendation became more and more pronounced and provocative.

The Zionists loved Ajami and he became a sought-after media guest and congressional and government expert. This is a man who once told a congressional committee that the “Sunnis are homicidal and the Shia are suicidal.” I was watching the event on C-Span and I was struck that everyone in the room laughed. If one is to replace the word “Jewish” with “Arab” in all the rhetoric and analysis of Ajami, one would rightly be accused and condemned as an anti-Semitic.

But Ajami’s name and accent served him well. He was “one of them” but testifying to their brutality, “atavism” and “culture of terrorism.” Ajami was willing to express views that Westerners were, at that time, reluctant to say publicly. He gave a respectable cast to the racist discourse about Arabs and shared inside views about “their culture.” Ajami was incapable of speaking for a few minutes without reminding viewers that he is a proud American — he would always preface his remarks by, “We Americans.” Ajami is like the one Jewish person who gets invited to anti-Semitic conferences to attest the views about Jews held by anti-Semites.

But the usefulness of Ajami waned after September 11. There were many imitators and racism against Arabs and Muslims became quite widely acceptable in polite and impolite companies. There were also many Arab and Arab-American imitators in the US and in Europe. They wanted to achieve prominence by bashing Arabs. Bassam Tibi played that role in Germany, others played similar roles in Western countries. But the limits on discourse against Arabs were lifted and the ability to capture attention by resorting to extreme positions stopped working because extremism (against Arabs and Muslims) became part of the mainstream (the liberal and conservative mainstream).

The director of the right-wing Hoover Institution described Ajami as “one of the most brilliant Middle East scholars of our times” and all media later copied that title. None of them wondered whether the conservative director had the qualifications to assess the status of Middle East studies and its scholars. But the criteria are political and ever since the first Gulf war, Ajami became a politician writing advice and instructions to policy-makers. The era of the Bush administration changed Ajami: even his flowery language was gone. He started to speak and write like Republican consultants and vulgar neo-conservative pundits. Nuance was never his forte. Ajami’s cheerleading role in the Bush administration earned him high honors in the Bush White House who bestowed one of the highest honors a president can bestow on a citizen. After all, Ajami predicted that Arabs would greet the American invasion and occupation of Iraq “with joy.”

There is no accountability in punditry. Witness how all those who were wrong about Iraq in 2003 have risen again and are dispensing advice and knowledge about the country in US media. Ajami was unrepentant: in his last column for the Wall Street Journal, he singled out Obama and Maliki for criticisms. They alone were responsible for the mess in Iraq. America was, of course, blameless.

Ajami left a harmful legacy for Arabs. He charted a new course in Middle East analysis in the US (and the West in general): people should not be shy about expressing bigotry and hostility to Arabs anymore. The field is wide open. He also left many questions unanswered with his death. His bitterness toward Arabs and his need (in every statement and every interview) to remind people that he was an American spoke of a psychological condition. We will never know why somebody would have such deep contempt and hatred for his people and the culture in which he was born. His avowed Zionism was only an expression of that condition.

Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil.

Comments

I have just watched Peter Robinson interview with Fouad Ajami - interesting that Peter Robinson has notes to read / a script if you will. And they have left Fouad Ajami to ad lib .../?
Somehow I doubt it. He needed to be saying - spin doctors & script writers at work

We have TV in Australia - a member of the audience - sitting in the front row - first seat - camera opportunity NO:-1 - stood up & threw both his shoes & accusations & insults - at the former Prime Minister John Howard - no one moved - security looked on - then the shoe thrower left - with out his shoes, even.
CONTRIVED :- SPIN DOCTORS & SCRIPT WRITERS AT WORK - as if they would allow a manic loose - the litigation bill would be massive - but they actually believed that they fooled us & patted themselves on the back for a job done well - how sad is that.
I don't know anything about this man, I know that the Middle Eastern leaders are just as complicit in the disaster that is the Middle East as is the West.
Shame on them all !
But, hey - democracy is not the aristocracy way.
In any argument we need to hear all of it, not just the nice stuff so as to have the bigger picture & that includes everyone & you Professor.

The Western imperialists and their lackeys - aka the majority of he Middle Eastern leaders are sure guilty. But usually it is masters who call the shots, and their lackeys are just jump as high as they are ordered. It is clear that R Davis should learn a lot more about the ME and the politics of imperialism before telling us who is to blame, I recommend to start reading Al Akhbar regularly and the blog of As'ad.

He spoke the truth about the Arab failures of the past several centuries. You despise him because he held a mirror to you and you could bear what you saw. No Nobels, no scientific achievements. You should have listened to him. Instead you kill Muslims all day.

The truth hurts

Martin sure knows about how the truth hurts, or he would not try to use a native informant parroting imperialist masters' propaganda to whitewash "his" side crimes against Arabs and Muslims - just as against others non-whites, from Latin America to Africa.
There were not Arabs or Muslims who during the past several centuries mass-murdered and robbed all over the world(colonization, 2 world wars and so on) - there were Martin's people.

List the Arab scientific achievements of the past 50 years...100....150....200...250 years

Lol

Thanks for playing
;)

I would happily compare the progress and achievements of the civilized world to those of the Arab world in the past 50 years. Besides suicide bombings and religious wars, what exactly were your contributions to humanity? ISIS? Hezbollah?

Lol

Dumbass ever hear of the Islamic Golden Age? Of al-Razi? Ibn Haytham? al-Ma'arri? Avicenna, Averroes, Ibn Tufail, al-Khwarizmi, al-Biruni, al-Zarqali, al-Kindi, al-Idrisi? You want the 20th century, let's look at the great cultural achievements. The flowering of modern Arabic literature? Jurji Zaydan, Naguib Mahfouz (who won the Nobel), Taha Hussein, Abdel Rahman Munif, Elias Khoury, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Adonis (who was nominated for the Nobel during the 2000's), Mahmoud Darwish? How about Arabic music? Umm Kulthum, Fairouz, Abdel Halim Hafez, Mohammad Abdel Wahab, Sabah, Farid al-Atrash, Asmahan, Nazem al-Ghazali, Salima Pasha (who was Jewish)? Let's look at the Persian world, writers like Sadegh Hedayat, Foroughzad, Ahmad Shamlou, Simin Daneshvar? Musicians like Googoosh, Leila Forouhar? Not to mention a fluorishing art house cinema including greats like Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Darius Mehrjui, Majid Majidi, etc. Or how about recent Nobel Muslim laureates from South Asia like Abdus Salam from Pakistan or Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh? You clearly know nothing about the Islamic world. Yes it has lots of problems but those are structural, not cultural. And much of the structural issues comes from Western imperialist and capitalist meddling in the region, particularly the US.

You forgot to list the scientists. None?you don't say

If you think analytically, you would go beyond the superficiality with which you make your assertions or pose questions that presuppose your preconceived conclusions. ISIS was your creation to achieve your objective : to initiate what you call "creative chaos" that is supposed to change the map of the Middle East and to create a New Middle East that would install Israel as its director. As for Hizbollah, you should remember that the invasion and occupation of Lebanon created it. Its primary task is to defend Lebanon from the Zionis imperial designs.

Not Innocent Fouad Was.

The late Fouad Ajami used (in Arabic) the same derogatory terms and expressions of Maj. Saad Haddad when he informally chatted with Lebanese individuals in Brooklyn New York in the 80's and 90's. He used to call on the annihilation of the Palestinians from the face of the planet!

HE HAD A POLITICAL AGENDENDA: HE CHANNELED CASH (under the pretext that they were collected from Lebanese Shia immigrants) TO AMAL MOVEMENT AND ITS CHIEF DURING THE BATTLES OF "THE CAMPS during 1987 ," something Mr. Abu Khalil choose to ignore.

"Ajami sided fully with the Israeli interests," this how once the Late Edward Saed articulated an Arab traitor to the US media.

Douri Of the South,
BintJbail, Southern Lebanon

Akh ya Douri,
You know what you are Douri, other than an imposter and a phony: You are pensive. I am sure everyone on this site can agree that you are pensive. No one can say that not pensive Douri of south is. Pensive you are.

Fouad Ajami was a pig in a man clothes .All what he was looking for is to please his host and the viewers by speaking against Arabs and Muslims .I watched him for 30 years on the news , I am sure he has benefitted out of his wrong stand , besides he was a cheap man that just wanted to get ahead with no principals or pride . If any person is not proud of his origin , America is not benefitting much from his existence , because people like that are fake without any firm beliefs or solid principals to benefit any one , Good riddance of people like him . The world is a better place without fake people .

Did the Professor even READ the NY Times obituary? That was "glowing"? "Glowing"? In which planet? It was an attack piece on Ajami. Maybe, the Professor doesn't know the meaning of the word "glowing"?

Haha, I see. TNYT has not praise Adjami without mentioning (!) some criticism by others. It means to Alireza that it was "attack". Of course, some Zionist war criminal got much nicer treatment from TNYT, but one cannot reasonably demand the same for the mere native informant. Lackey is not getting the same eulogy as a master.

Dear Lidia, you are a genius. But, your reading comprehension leaves something to be desired. I suggest you read the NY Times obit and see if you still say that it is "glowing". Then, look up glowing in the dictionary. Toodles.

Bravo; an obituary well deserved.

After over a thousand year history of a desert cult imposed through invasion, occupation, massacres, oppression, and racism on Iranians, I wonder why there isn't more love for Arabs among the Iranian people.

After a 500 years of European colonialism by mass-murder, torture, robbery, rape and so on on the most of the world, including Iran - and still going on - it is so clever to spew anti-Arabic venom - from "Iranian" POV, sure. and I am the Quinn of Sheba.

Okay, okay, you are the "Quinn" :-)

Yeah, Iranians should be embracing 1400 years of an imposed desert cult that eradicated and devastated the country's rich pre-Islamic civilization and has left it in the position of just another backwards Muslim country that hasn't made a single original, innovative contribution to science and technology in the last 500 years. Look how well "colonized" South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore are doing -- and compare it with the mess that is the Muslim world. Of course, everyone is to blame except for the Muslim themselves -- why not just blame the Danish cartoons that led to riots in which over 200 were killed -- over CARTOONS! In another 500 years, the Muslim world will be in the same pathetic position it is today. Keep up the good work!

Ah, the native informant, I see. Iranian who repeats imperialist Islamophobic propaganda looks quite pathetic, like a Zionist Jew who calls anti-Zionist Jews names (even victims of Nazis) I am an Atheist of Jewish origin.
South Korea and Taiwan were only let by imperialists to breath because of possible "bad example" from North Korea and China. Of course, the great majority of colonized (without "") states are not something for A to point to LOL
And sure, Singapore the tiny dot is the reliable example for Iran, for ex.
But of course, when white imperialists take a break from Islamofobia they blame Black and Brown peoples (non-Muslims) for their own plight - not imperialist crimes.

Ah, the regurgitator of "leftish" gibberish learned in a college course. You are full of original insights. Reach for the stars.

See how Islamophobia and anti-Arab racists argue after their "arguments" refuted - they just call the opponent names (by the way, is learning something in college is a fault?).
Of course, as all racists Alireza mixes Arabs and Muslims - but who cares? I stay refuted because I have learned something in college (as Alireza wisely detected)

Oh yes, invoking the nonsense, meaningless term "Islamophobia" and "anti-Arab racism" really constitute "refutation". I suggest looking that word up in the dictionary at the same time you look up "glowing". I don't think you understand the meaning of the words you use. Better luck next time!

Regarding Scott's comment, politics aside, Mario Vargas Llosa was a world class writer in two languages. No one will make that claim for Fouad Ajami. I think he falls into the category of middle-rate intellectuals who make it to the big time by attaching themselves to power. Lots of white Christian and Jewish American intellectuals follow that route, and a few African Americans too. No reason why some Arab Americans wouldn't climb on the prestige gravy train.
David Finkel (Detroit)

There's another aspect to Fouad Ajami's life that may shed some light on his staunch Zionist stance. I knew Fouad since we were kids in the elementary school which his father owned and ran in the poor neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud in East Beirut. He and his brother were raised by their step mother who was rough and gruff even on their father, who was a gentle man. His entire family, of whom I knew many members, are nice people and pan-Arabist. In fact I learned my first inklings about Arabism from his late uncle Abbas. And Fouad grew up in this milieu before he left for America.So why the change in him against his own upbringing and all his family stood for-and still does?
Fouad Ajami reminds me of Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Both came from humble origins and both had great ambitions. Also, growing up poor, both were two of the millions of the down trodden. As such, every chance they had to show the white master what they can do to earn his admiration-not necessarily respect- they did it, nuancing, "See what I can do? You ought to respect me because I can be like you." But Westerners, they were not. The West welcomed them to its fold to use them, and it did. At the same time, they were telling their own people "We're not from you or of you. We're different and better. Look at how the Western masters are treating us. And to feed their egos on being better and different they trash their own people and race.they both were like the cat licking the iron file. They enjoy the taste of blood,even if it is their own.

Interesting observation. thanks for sharing this with us .one can say the same from a Zionist perspective ,about Dr. Norman Finkelstein .you may like them or loath them but they are free to express their. Controversial opinions.

Yigal the Zionist colonizer of Palestine has a gall to equate anti-Zionism (a political creed of many Jews in history, by the way) with being a native informant. The best Jewish pair to FA is a Zionist Jew who licks a...ss of Nazis or other white racists to get help for colonization of Palestine.
And, by the way, NF is a Zionist, only a "liberal" one. Of course, even such Zionism was not enough for NF to secure a tenure in USA - so much for "free to express"

Dr. Fouad Ajami related in one of his writing that he was once slighted in the Arab Gulf region because his name "Ajami" betrayed that he is of Persian descent. I remember watching a Stanford University event where Ajami was introduced as a scholar of "Persian descent."

His writings on the Arabs reeked of sarcasm and mockery of Arabs. I doubt that Ajami thought of himself as an Arab.

This is fascinating and revealing. Only an hour ago I watched Wolf Blitzer's eulogy on CNN.

His ascendancy was certainly rapid, and the encomiums will surely be pouring in over the next few days!

He was to the Arab world what Mario Vargas Llosa is to Latin America.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><blockquote><span><aside>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

^ Back to Top