Ajami, Fouad 1946–
Ajami, Fouad 1946–
Born 1946, in Lebanon; immigrated to the United States, 1964; became naturalized citizen. Education: University of Washington, Ph.D.
Office—Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Lehrman Institute, New York, NY, former research fellow; Department of Politics and Center of International Studies, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, faculty member; Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, associate professor and director of Middle East Studies, became Majid Khadduri Professor of Islamic Studies and director of Middle East Studies, 1980—. Author; consultant, CBS News.
James P. Warburg postdoctoral fellowship, and Philip Lindsley Bicentennial Preceptorship, both from Princeton University; MacArthur Prize fellowship, 1982, for work on Middle East politics and culture.
The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shi'a of Lebanon, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1986.
Beirut: City of Regrets, photographs by Eli Reed, Norton (New York, NY), 1988.
The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1998.
The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, Free Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributing editor, U.S. News and World Report. Contributor of articles and essays to periodicals, including New York Times Book Review, Foreign Affairs, Washington Post Book World, Foreign Policy, Politique Etrangere, Harper's, and New Republic.
Fouad Ajami is an author, a scholar, and the director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is also known as a public speaker, one who makes regular appearances on television news shows for CBS. Ajami's eloquence is widely admired, but his political analyses, both in his role as Mideast expert on the evening news and in his writings, have sometimes met with controversy.
As the recipient of a number of prestigious fellowships, including the MacArthur Foundation Award, Ajami possesses academic credentials that have never been questioned. More controversial has been the political bent of some of his writings and views, which have at times been called anti-Arab. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has protested CBS's extensive reliance on Ajami as its Mideast expert in the face of many other able candidates. In a Nation review of Ajami's book The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey, Andrew Rubin referred to a reported comment made by U.S. President George Bush that Ajami was "more anti-Arab than even the Israelis." However, other critics, such as Daniel Pipes of the conservative journal Commentary, consider Ajami expressed admiration for Ajami's avoidance of what Pipes called "the common Arab fixation on the perfidy of Israel."
Ajami's first major book, The Arab Predicament: Arab Political Thought and Practice since 1967, relates the panic and sense of vulnerability that Israel's 1967 victory created in the Arab world. Organized into three parts, the book renders, in part one, the conflicts among three prevalent Arab points of view—"the radical, the Ba'thist, and the fundamentalist," according to a Choice reviewer; in part two, Ajami explores Egypt's central role in the Middle East and the effects of the influx of oil money into the region; in part three, he covers the rise of religious fundamentalism. Elizabeth R. Hayford, writing in Library Journal, commented especially on Ajami's ability to "[place] Islamic fundamentalism within the broad issues of relations between ruler and ruled."
Reviews of Ajami's The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shi'a of Lebanon revealed a mix of admiration and uncertainty about Ajami's role as a distant and somewhat skeptical onlooker of Middle Eastern political events. In a lengthy review in the New York Review of Books, Edward Mortimer began with a description of Ajami's brief encounter in a Beirut classroom in 1963 with Musa al Sadr, an Iranian Shi'ite cleric then just beginning his rise to power. Within a year Ajami had immigrated to the United States; although he was not personally a witness to Sadr's religious and political ascent, his Lebanese sources helped him to tell the tale of the man who raised the Lebanese Shi'a from a "despised minority" to the ruling party of Lebanon.
Early in the review, Mortimer spoke of Ajami's "brilliant American academic career, built largely on incisive exposure of the follies of his fellow Arabs." The comment mirrors similar criticism by others that Ajami has capitalized on American paranoia about Muslim extremists bent on terrorist acts. However, Mortimer quickly turned away from this type of critique and praised the book's eloquence, as well as its powerful hold on the complex realities Lebanon has endured. The reviewer stated that Ajami's use of the English language "represents one of those periodic transfusions of new blood which ensure its perennial vigor." Mortimer ascribed part of the power of Ajami's narrative to the strong feelings that underlie it: Ajami's rejection of Sadr's "activist, modernist version of Shi'ism" is not without admiration or regret; however, Ajami also laments Musa al Sadr's legacy being taken up as a hero in the Iran Revolution and having his name invoked by men like the Ayatollah Khomeini to justify violent acts. In addition, the Imam's disappearance during a 1978 visit to Muammar Al-Gaddafi in Libya gave him an otherworldly power that he as a flesh and blood man could never have matched. Reviewing The Vanished Imam in Library Journal, Hayford wrote: "What begins as a narrow study of a relatively minor figure becomes a sensitive and probing analysis of current Middle Eastern society."
In Beirut: City of Regrets Ajami offers a lengthy introduction and some accompanying text to what is largely a photographic essay by Eli Reed about the destruction of "the Paris of the Middle East," according to Library Journal reviewer David P. Snider. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called it "thorough, moving, and remarkably unbiased." A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, however, commented that "Ajami recounts history with such a gentle spirit and understanding mind that his text does little to help us understand why the country rages with such hatred."
Ajami's 1998 work The Dream Palace of the Arabs, generated considerably more critical controversy than his previous works. A Publishers Weekly reviewer viewed it as a "cohesive and illuminating cultural history" for "even the most general reader." Periodicals with a more political focus published stronger opinions of the book, however. Andrew Rubin's review for the Nation stated early on that, as a Mideast expert on television, Ajami "echoes the kind of anti-Arabism that both Washington and the pro-Israel lobby have come to embrace." Rubin showed some appreciation for Ajami's thoughtful analysis of the period of literary modernism that was born in the Mideast from the early 1940s onward, but whose secular bent became impractical after the religious revolutions that swept the region. Rubin, however, vigorously protested against some of Ajami's language to describe current Arab politics, including "tribal," "atavistic," "clannish," and "backward." Rubin called this kind of language "anti-Arab orientalism." The reviewer also objected strongly to Ajami's characterization of "the struggle for a Palestinian homeland only as an internal Arab contest between modernity and tradition," which ignores "Israel's policy of systematic detentions of Palestinians, its destruction of Palestinian homes and entire villages, its ruthless attacks on refugee camps, and its torture and nightly arrests."
Daniel Pipes's review of The Dream Palace of the Arabs for Commentary echoed much of Rubin's review but drew completely opposite conclusions. Pipes acknowledged the criticisms Ajami has faced from other members of the Arab-American community; for example, renowned cultural critic Edward Said of Columbia University (whom Pipes termed Ajami's "would-be rival") has accused Ajami of having "unmistakably racist prescriptions." Pipes, on the contrary, appreciated Ajami's outspoken, straightforward, and sometimes abrupt approach to Middle Eastern subjects.
Of The Dream Palace of the Arabs, Pipes said: "To my taste, the early chapters of this book, in which Ajami uses poets and intellectuals to represent the political currents of the era, seem a bit contrived. As the book goes along, however, the argument becomes increasingly direct." Pipes noted particularly the final chapter of the book, "The Orphaned Peace," which critiques Arab intellectuals' rejection of the Oslo peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. "If Fouad Ajami is right," wrote Pipes, "Arab intellectual life will continue to exalt irrationality and to honor aggression for some time to come. We may not like this, but having read [Ajami's book], we can at least begin to understand it."
Ajami stood in opposition to many Arab intellectuals when he voiced strong support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He published his views on the Iraq war in his book The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq. It is Ajami's belief that even if the citizens of the Arab world do not appreciate it, they stand to benefit greatly from the U.S.-led military intervention because it will serve to free them from a tyranny that, otherwise, might have gone on for centuries. The author's arguments are well-stated, according to Christian Caryl in Washington Monthly, but the reviewer cautioned that Ajami is "deeply and personally implicated in the policies he's describing—though you could easily read this entire book without ever figuring it out." Caryl commented that Ajami "has an enviable gift for charting those invisible lines of clan, tribe, and faction that structure the Arabic-speaking world. His chapter on the feuds and alliances among the great Shi'ite families of Iraq should be required reading for all American soldiers and policy-makers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Academy of Political and Social Science Annals, November, 1987, Barbara D. Metcalf, review of The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shi'a of Lebanon, p. 175.
American Historical Review, June, 1982, review of The Arab Predicament: Arab Political Thought and Practice since 1967, p. 829.
American Photographer, November, 1988, Vicki Goldberg, review of Beirut: City of Regrets, pp. 20-21.
American Political Science Review, June, 1982, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 429.
America's Intelligence Wire, May 6, 2006, interview with Fouad Ajami.
Antioch Review, fall, 1986, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 486.
Atlantic, June, 1986, David Ignatius, review of The Vanished Imam, pp. 77-78.
Booklist, January 1, 1998, Grace Fill, review of The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey, p. 768.
Business Week, March 4, 1991, Stanley Reed, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 8.
Choice, November, 1981, review of The Arab Predicament, pp. 43-39.
Commentary, July, 1982, Martin Kramer, review of The Arab Predicament, pp. 86-88; March, 1998, Daniel Pipes, review of The Dream Palace of the Arabs; September, 2006, Victor Davis Hanson, review of The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, p. 67.
Commonweal, January 31, 1986, pp. 40-41.
Current History, January, 1983, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 32.
Economist, December 12, 1981, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 105; February 7, 1987, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 83.
Guardian Weekly, January 22, 1989, review of Beirut, p. 20.
Library Journal, July, 1981, Elizabeth R. Hayford, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 1402; July, 1986, Elizabeth Hayford, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 89; July, 1988, David P. Snider, review of Beirut, p. 84.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 18, 1986, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 3; June 19, 1988, review of Beirut, p. 4.
Middle East Journal, autumn, 1981, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 639; spring, 1987, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 287; summer, 1994, review of revised edition of The Arab Predicament, p. 561.
Modern Age, fall, 1985, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 365.
Nation, December 26, 1981, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 714; April, 1998, Andrew Rubin, review of The Dream Palace.
New Republic, June 13, 1981, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 36; May 12, 1986, Itamar Rabinovich, review of The Vanished Imam, pp. 30-33.
Newsweek, February 18, 1991, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 62.
New York Review of Books, October 9, 1986, Edward Mortimer, review of The Vanished Imam, pp. 17-18.
New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1986, Mary Catherine Bateson, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 5; July 17, 1988, Stewart Kellerman, review of Beirut, p. 20; July 30, 2006, Noah Feldman, review of The Foreigner's Gift, p. 8.
Observer, May 23, 1982, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 31.
Political Science Quarterly, winter, 1981, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 709.
Publishers Weekly, April 25, 1986, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 62; June 17, 1988, review of Beirut, p. 63; January 5, 1998, review of The Dream Palace of the Arabs, p. 50.
Times Literary Supplement, September 10, 1982, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 963.
U.S. News and World Report, November 27, 2006, Brian Duffy, "Fouad Ajami of School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University Wins National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal," p. 10.
Wall Street Journal, June 2, 1988, review of Beirut, p. 20.
Washington Monthly, December, 1988, pp. 58-59; September, 2006, Christian Caryl, review of The Foreigner's Gift, p. 49.
Washington Post Book World, October 18, 1988, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 12; December 25, 1988, review of Beirut, p. 1.
Wilson Quarterly, spring, 1982, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 153, fall, 1986, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 150.
World Politics, July, 1986, review of The Arab Predicament, p. 611; April, 1991, Saul Newman, review of The Vanished Imam, p. 451.
Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Web site,http://apps.sais-jhu.edu/ (February 4, 2007), biographical information on Fouad Ajami.
Just World News,http://justworldnews.org/ (May 26, 2004), Helena Cobban, "Fouad Ajami's Mea Not-Quite-Culpa."