Thursday, August 31, 2006

Iraq: Fouad Ajami on What Went Wrong


Lebanese-born Shia Fouad Ajami supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

In a new book, The Foreigner's Gift, he writes about went wrong with that war. Ajami says the Arab world was prejudiced against the Shia Muslims who were poised to lead Iraq, and it was prejudiced against the Americans who confidently expected to help them do it.

He traveled to Iraq several times while writing a book called The Foreigner's Gift. To Ajami, that gift was supposed to be liberty for Iraq and a new political order for the Arab world. He says the disaster came when Arab governments, Muslim imams, even Western-leaning intellectuals, rejected that gift.


One notable contribution Ajami made in the September October 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs was a rebuttal to Samuel Huntington’s "The Clash of Civilizations?", regarding the state and future of international relations after the Cold War. Ajami's critiques of Huntington had a resounding effect on views of the East-West dichotomy, offering an important alternative assessment of future relations.

Huntington presents a world divided at the highest level into eight civilizations, and includes a number of countries that are “torn” between two civilizations, arguing that these civilizational divides are far more fundamental than economic interests, ideology, and regimes, and that the world is becoming a smaller place with increasingly close interactions. He further claims that the pre-eminence of a so-called "kin-country" syndrome will provide a civilizational rallying point that will replace political ideology and traditional "balance of power" considerations for relations between states and nations, resulting in a division between the West and "the rest" creating a backlash against Western values (which supposedly "differ fundamentally" from those prevalent in other civilizations).

In his article “The Summoning”, Ajami criticises Huntington for ignoring the empirical complexities and state interests which drive conflicts in and between civilizations. Ajami believes that states will remain the dominant factor influencing the global framework and interaction. He also argues that civilizational ties are only utilized by states and groups when it is in their best interest to do so and that modernity and secularism are here to stay, especially in places with considerable struggles to obtain them, and he cites the example of the Indian Middle class. Ajami also believes that civilizations do not control states; rather, states control civilizations.

Throughout his career, Ajami has variously espoused Nasserism, Shia sectarianism, the Palestinian cause, the Israeli government cause, and the US invasion of Iraq. He has been criticized by all sides so maybe he is doing something right - maybe he is doing his best to tell the truth from each perspective...

Heart of Darkness: From Zarqawi to the man on the street, Sunni Arabs fear Shiite emancipation, Fouad Ajami (WSJ: September 28, 2005)
The Autumn of the Autocrats, Fouad Ajami (Foreign Affairs: May/June 2005)
The Falseness of Anti-Americanism, Fouad Ajami (Foreign Policy: Sept/Oct 1993)




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