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BeitragVerfasst am: Di Jun 24, 2014 20:32:11 
Titel: Fouad Ajami RIP….
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Fouad Ajami, Great American

His genius lay in the breadth of his scholarship and the quality of his human understanding.


June 23, 2014 6:54 p.m. ET

Fouad Ajami would have been amused, but not surprised, to read his own obituary in the New York Times "Edward Said, the Palestinian cultural critic who died in 2003, accused [Ajami] of having 'unmistakably racist prescriptions,'" quoted obituarist Douglas Martin.

Thus was Said, the most mendacious, self-infatuated and profitably self-pitying of Arab-American intellectuals—a man whose account of his own childhood cannot be trusted—raised from the grave to defame, for one last time, the most honest and honorable and generous of American intellectuals, no hyphenation necessary.

Ajami, who died of prostate cancer Sunday in his summer home in Maine, was often described as among the foremost scholars of the modern Arab and Islamic worlds, and so he was. He was born in 1945 to a family of farmers in a Shiite village in southern Lebanon and was raised in Beirut in the politics of the age.

"I was formed by an amorphous Arab nationalist sensibility," he wrote in his 1998 masterpiece, "The Dream Palace of the Arabs." He came to the U.S. for college and graduate school, became a U.S. citizen, and first made his political mark as an advocate for Palestinian nationalism. For those who knew Ajami mainly as a consistent advocate of Saddam Hussein's ouster, it's worth watching a YouTube snippet of his 1978 debate with Benjamin Netanyahu, in which Ajami makes the now-standard case against Israeli iniquity.

Today Mr. Netanyahu sounds very much like his 28-year-old self. But Ajami changed. He was, to borrow a phrase, mugged by reality. By the 1980s, he wrote, "Arab society had run through most of its myths, and what remained in the wake of the word, of the many proud statements people had made about themselves and their history, was a new world of cruelty, waste, and confusion."

What Ajami did was to see that world plain, without the usual evasions and obfuscations and shifting of blame to Israel and the U.S. Like Sidney Hook or Eric Hoffer, the great ex-communists of a previous generation, his honesty, courage and intelligence got the better of his ideology; he understood his former beliefs with the hard-won wisdom of the disillusioned.

He also understood with empathy and without rancor. Converts tend to be fanatics. But Ajami was too interested in people—in their motives and aspirations, their deceits and self-deceits, their pride, shame and unexpected nobility—to hate anyone except the truly despicable, namely tyrants and their apologists. To read Ajami is to see that his genius lay not only in the breadth of the scholarship or the sharpness of political insight but also in the quality of human understanding. If Joseph Conrad had been reborn as a modern-day academic, he would have been Fouad Ajami.

Consider a typical example, from an op-ed he wrote for these pages in February 2013 on the second anniversary of the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime:

"Throughout [Mubarak's] reign, a toxic brew poisoned the life of Egypt—a mix of anti-modernism, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. That trinity ran rampant in the universities and the professional syndicates and the official media. As pillage had become the obsession of the ruling family and its retainers, the underclass was left to the rule of darkness and to a culture of conspiracy."

Or here he is on Barack Obama's fading political appeal, from a piece from last November:

"The current troubles of the Obama presidency can be read back into its beginnings. Rule by personal charisma has met its proper fate. The spell has been broken, and the magician stands exposed. We need no pollsters to tell us of the loss of faith in Mr. Obama's policies—and, more significantly, in the man himself. Charisma is like that. Crowds come together and they project their needs onto an imagined redeemer. The redeemer leaves the crowd to its imagination: For as long as the charismatic moment lasts—a year, an era—the redeemer is above and beyond judgment."

A publisher ought to collect these pieces. Who else could write so profoundly and so well? Ajami understood the Arab world as only an insider could—intimately, sympathetically, without self-pity. And he loved America as only an immigrant could—with a depth of appreciation and absence of cynicism rarely given to the native-born. If there was ever an error in his judgment, it's that he believed in people—Arabs and Americans alike—perhaps more than they believed in themselves. It was the kind of mistake only a generous spirit could make.

Over the years Ajami mentored many people—the mentorship often turning to friendship—who went on to great things. One of them, Samuel Tadros, a native of Egypt and now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, wrote me Monday with an apt valediction:

"Fouad is remarkable because he became a full American, loved this country as anyone could love it, but that did not lessen his passion for what he left behind. He cared deeply about the region, he was always an optimist. He knew well the region's ills, the pains it gave those who cherished it. God knows it gave him nothing but pain, but he always believed that the peoples of the region deserved better."

"don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters…" ( copyright: B. Dylan)
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