The fall of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime brought the first glimpse of freedom for Iraq and unleashed elation, resentment, and chaos. On the one hand, there is hope: the Iraqi people have their first chance at independence. On the other hand, there is despair: the country is exploding with violent sectarian and political power struggles. Through it all, Iraq has remained an enigma to much of the world. What is it about this country that makes for such a seemingly intractable situation? How did Iraq's particular history lead to its present circumstances? And what can we fear or hope for in the coming years?
Fouad Ajami, one of the world's foremost authorities on Middle Eastern politics, offers a brilliant, illuminating, and lyrical portrait of the ongoing struggle for Iraq and of the American encounter with that volatile Arab land. Ajami situates the current unrest within the context of Iraq's recent history of dictatorship and its rich, diverse cultural heritage. He applies his incisive political commentary, his broad and deep historical view, his mastery of the Arabic language and Arabic sources, and his lustrous prose to every aspect of his subject, wresting a coherent, fascinating, and textured picture from the media storm of fragmented information.
In the few years after the Iraq war began, Ajami made many trips to that country and met Iraqis of all ethnicities, religions, politics, and regions. Looking beneath the familiar media images of Iraq and the war, Ajami visits with individuals representing the breadth of Iraq's populace, from Sunni leaders and Shia clerics to Kurdish politicians and poets, Iraqi policemen, and ordinary people voting for the first time in their lives. He also hears from American soldiers on the ground, and the result of all his encounters is an astonishing portrayal of a land that has emerged as a crucial battleground between American power and the wider forces of Arab religious and political extremism.
With his unrivaled access -- he has been granted an audience with the great, reclusive Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and been admitted into the sacred shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf for a discussion with its religious scholars -- Ajami provides an intimate portrait that draws on both his learning and his lifelong interest in the traditions and the history of Iraq. With his commentator's eye, his scholarly depth of understanding, his poetic ear, and his abiding love for the Middle East, Fouad Ajami is an essential voice for our times. The Foreigner's Gift is the book we all need to read in order to understand what is happening in Iraq today and what the future might hold for all of us.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
July 04, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Foreigner's Gift by Fouad Ajami
Those nineteen young Arabs who assaulted America on the morning of 9/11 had come into their own after the disappointments of modern Arab history. They were not exactly traditional men: they were the issue, the children, of disappointment and of the tearing asunder of modern Arab history. They were city people, newly urbanized, half educated. They had filled the faith with their anxieties and a belligerent piety. They hated the West but were drawn to its magnetic force and felt the power of its attraction; they sharpened their "tradition," but it could no longer contain their lives or truly answer their needs. I had set out to write a long narrative of these pitiless young men -- and the culture that had given rise to them. But the Iraq war, "embedded" in this cruel history, was to overtake the writing I was doing.
A war fated and "written," maktoob, as the Arabs would say, this Iraq war turned out to be. For the full length of a decade, in the 1990s, the anti-American subversion -- and the incitement feeding it -- knew no respite. Appeasement had not worked. The "moderns," with Bill Clinton as their standard-bearer, had been sure we would be delivered by the marketplace and the spread of the World Wide Web. History had mocked them, and us all. In Kabul, and then in Baghdad, America had taken up sword against these troubles.
"The justice of a cause is not a promise of its success," Leon Wieseltier wrote in the pages of The New Republic, in a reassessment of the Iraq war. For growing numbers of Americans, the prospects for "success" in Iraq look uncertain at best. Before success, though, some words about the justice of this war. Let me be forthright about the view that runs through these pages. For me this was a legitimate and, at the beginning, a popular war that issued out of a deep American frustration with the "road rage" of the Arab world and with the culture of terrorism that had put down roots in Arab lands. It was not an isolated band of misguided young men who came America's way on 9/11. They emerged out of the Arab world's dominant culture and malignancies. There were the financiers who subsidized the terrorism. There were the intellectuals who winked at the terrorism and justified it. There were the preachers -- from Arabia to Amsterdam and Finsbury Park -- who gave it religious sanction and cover. And there were the Arab rulers whose authoritarian orders produced the terrorism and who looked away from it so long as it targeted foreign shores.
Afghanistan was the setting for the first battle against Arab radicalism. That desperate, impoverished land had been hijacked, rented if you will, by the Arab jihadists and their masters and financiers. Iraq followed: America wanted to get closer to the source of the troubles in the Arab world. It wasn't democracy that was at stake in Iraq. It was something more limited but important and achievable in its own way: a state less lethal to its own people and to the lands and peoples around it. Iraq's political culture had been poisoned by a crude theory of race and a racialist Arabism that had wrecked and unsettled Arab and Muslim life in the 1980s and 1990s. The Tikriti rulers had ignited a Sunni-Shia war within and over Islam. They had given Arabs a cruel view of history -- iron and fire and bigotry. They had, for all practical purposes, cut off the Arab world from the possibility of a decent, modern life.