Sunday, April 13, 2003

I can reveal that Shatz used very different language when he contacted me for information on Ajami while preparing the piece, writing: "I have enormous respect for Ajami's work, particularly for The Arab Predicament and The Hidden Imam [sic]. He is, of course, a splendidly elegant stylist." I can also say that I told Shatz he had contacted the wrong person for what he said would be "a critical profile of Fouad Ajami."

Shatz does reproduce a genuinely interesting comment by Hisham Melhem, Washington correspondent of Al-Safir: "Edward [Said] and Fouad are both crazy about Conrad, but they see in him very different things. Edward sees the critic of empire, especially in Heart of Darkness. Fouad, on the other hand, admires the Polish exile in Western Europe who made a conscious break with the old country." Yet Shatz never takes that judgment to its logical conclusion.

What does one get out of this mishmash? Perhaps a realization that people on the left treasure stalemate over change, and powerlessness over all else. Yet what irks Ajami's enemies most is his estrangement from his cultural roots combined with his simultaneous fascination for the Arab world. Somehow, in giving up on his critics’ version of the Middle East, Ajami was supposed to roll over and play dead. The fact that he didn't, and actually has a say in Washington, has meant "[l]ike the empire he serves, Ajami is more influential, and more isolated, than he has ever been."

Alas, I fear it is Shatz and his comrades who are the isolated ones, which is not necessarily for the better in a Washington that today leans in only one direction. But Ajami is not the culprit. The left is, for so foolishly considering that having influence in "the empire" is something fundamentally evil.

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