Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Arab Predicament by Fouad Ajami

This was published 23 years ago (1981), and is not a book you'd look to for analysis of current trends. Nevertheless, his study of Arab, and in particular Egyptian, reaction to the the defeat of 1967 (and to the in some ways more disastrous victory of 1973) is still worthwhile today. Some of the same forces are still at work; the effect of corrupt governments is still as strong; and the confusion about what went wrong is still as great. Ajami predicted the growing primacy of Islamic "traditionalism," but points out that traditionalism (a conscious focus on the way things were done in the past) generally heralds the decay of tradition (an unconscious but general understanding of the way things ought to be done). And so Islamic traditionalism will also be another failure, though I wonder if he understood on how big a scale.

Why would a victory be more disastrous than a defeat? You may be blamed for a defeat, but you aren't generally expected to perform miracles afterwards. But after a victory . . . First the Sinai was recovered, and then the oil states humiliated the West and began swimming in money. It must be miracle season, right? But nothing important changes. And the West rebounds, and Israel becomes more powerful, and the sea of money is spent on foolishness and the spread of Wahabism. And even a baby could see that the Saudis bargain with the Wahabis will destroy them.

This isn't on my buy-it list, and I wouldn't call it critical for understanding the situation today. But if you want a better rounded picture (and I do), read it.

You say 73 wasn't a victory? But it was, wasn't it? The Egyptian armies crossed back into Sinai, into enemy territory, and weren't completely creamed. Isn't that what counts?

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