Across the Bay

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

OB Juan Canobi

Just to prove my point on Cole's dismissive view of Makiya (like his contemptuous attitude toward Ajami and others, see my post "Goldberg Digs the Cole Mine" below), here's what he had to say about Makiya's masterful Republic of Fear: "Republic of Fear is a dated political polemic."

Makiya's analysis of the Baath is one of the most honest, penetrating, and thought-provoking works ever written on the subject. Its influence on other ME critical writers is easily discernible. Take a look at Hazem Saghieh's Ba'th ul-'Iraq (The Iraqi Baath) for instance. His other book, Cruelty and Silence is as moving as it is damning. (It's reviewed here by Martin Kramer.) But am I surprised to see the president of MESA dismiss Makiya? Not really. You should see the venom Edward Said spewed at him. No surprise there either since Makiya minced no words in his criticism of the silence of such types in the face of Saddam's crimes (Said cast doubt on his gassing of the Kurds). This is precisely what Young identified in his critique of Khalidi's book, calling him and his likes defenders of the status quo. Keeping with this venerable ME studies tradition, before the second Iraq war, the ME Studies department at my school had an expo on books on Iraq. Sure enough, Makiya's books were nowhere to be found! Ajami and Makiya are pariahs in MESA circles. They "sold out to the Zionists!" For a slice, see this pathetic post by Geoff Schad on H-Levant. (I had dealt with this thread, and Schad and Watenpaugh, in this post.) Schad embarks on a painful attempt to show that Makiya's judgment on the Baath was completely off, and, as Cole put it, a "political polemic," thus placing it in a purely political context, linking it to Wolfowitz, etc. His point was to dissociate the Baath from fascism and Nazism. This gets picked up by the other luminary, Keith Watenpaugh, who reveals to us why dissociating the Baath from fascism and Nazism is important for people like him (and consequently why Makiya is a no no, or "an outdate political polemic"):

    How tied up in the Palestine-Israel conflict are questions of fascism
    and Nazism (and now DeBaathification)?

    This is where this discussion began.

    There is a certain utility to labeling movements in the Arab world Nazi or
    Nazi-influenced. In current thinking it's a conversation stopper, it
    delegitimizes ones opponent and consequently, closes down critical inquiry.
    This is the seeming undercurrent in Jankowski's Egypt's Young Rebels (1975):
    Pan-Arabism is linked to fascism, especially through the persons of Gamal Abd
    al-Nasser and Anwar al-Saddat. It creates a metahistory that can cohere the
    Jewish Holocaust, Arab opposition to the formation of Israel and continued Arab
    rejection.

    Just imagine what kind of trouble one could get in were one to question if
    interwar Zionist movements were influenced by fascism, where we quite easily
    seek the fascist impulses in other colonial-settler movements?

But back to Cole's statement about Makiya's book. Take a look at this piece by Martin Kramer. Kramer quotes Cole:

    No American historian has essayed a major work on Baathist Iraq, for which the sources would have to be propaganda-ridden Iraqi newspapers, expatriate memoirs with an axe to grind, Western news wire reports, and what documents the U.S. government has been willing to declassify. Given the limitations of these sources, it is no wonder that most scholars have devoted their energies to the Ottoman and British periods, for which more documentation exists, the biases of which are more easily dealt with because passions have cooled with the passage of centuries.

As Kramer pointed out in the piece, by admitting to this, Cole has excluded himself and his ilk from pontificating about Baathist Iraq! So much for his expertise! But Makiya did do work on Baathist Iraq! As Kramer said:

    Nor is it true, as Cole says, that there is "more documentation" for the Ottoman and British periods. After the last Gulf war, the United States government brought eighteen tons of Iraqi official documents to Washington, a treasure trove seized by Kurds from Iraqi government offices. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya and Human Rights Watch have made use of these documents. Not so historians and political scientists, who presumably are too busy studying "masculinities in Egypt" and "perceptions of the deaf in Islamic societies" (real research topics funded with "national security" appropriations). (Emphasis added.)

In fact, Makiya has been very busy working on archives and testimonials to preserve the memory of Iraq under Baathist rule. (See here for examples.)

So, after dismissing Ajami as unoriginal and lacking a thesis (picking up where Said left off. For him Ajami was no more than a "native informant"), and trashing Makiya as an outdated political polemic (also carrying Said's torch on that one), and given his statement that "no American historian" has done work on Baathist Iraq, what else are we left with? Well, it should be obvious! Since Cole is the "Informed Commentator" and Iraq expert who commands Arabic ("who is like thee among the luminaries!?"), I guess there is no choice but for us to fall down on our knees and cry: "Save us OB Juan Canobi, you're our only hope!"