June 23, 2014


Fouad Ajami, Great American : His genius lay in the breadth of his scholarship and the quality of his human understanding. (BRET STEPHENS, June 23, 2014 , WSJ)

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.

Posted by at June 23, 2014 7:28 PM

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