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Hypocrisy of the ‘Angry Arab’ By: John R. Bradley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 04, 2008


No author likes to read a negative review of a book they have published. I've been fortunate in that almost all the reviews of my new book, Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution, have been positive. The notable exception is a review by Professor As'ad Abukhalil, which appeared last week on his website: The Angry Arab News Service. 

 

The review was remarkable not so much for what it said about Inside Egypt as for what it revealed about the incompetence of its author, which in turn is shocking because he is a professor at California State University. In the space of a mere eight hundred words, Abukhalil made seven factual errors when quoting from the book. Yes, this is a blog we are talking about, and not a peer-reviewed academic journal; but that ratio – one error per hundred words or so – is appalling by any yardstick, and especially so when written by an individual who is paid to teach the young on the assumption that he meets basic standards of academic competence. Are these the kind of people America is entrusting to educate its young?

 

Before I draw attention to the hypocrisy of Abukhalil's anti-Orientalist diatribe – which damns all Western authors who write about the Arab world if they do not subscribe to the view that Israel and Western imperialism are the root causes of all the region's problems – it is worth listing his errors:

 

1. Abukhalil wrote: "You say that King Farouk was rehabilitated when you should have said Saudi media have tried to rehabilitate him." In fact, in Inside Egypt, I make it very clear, three times in a single paragraph, that this was done by the Saudi media: "The serial [on Farouk] was produced by the Saudi-owned satellite channel MBC, and also aired on the equally popular Saudi-funded Orbit channel... It is difficult not to speculate that MBC's decision to produce it... might also have been at least partly political. Columnists at Saudi-funded newspapers wasted no time in holding up the supposed virtues of the monarch while praising their own Gulf dynasties."

 

2. Abukhalil wrote: "You quote some Kuwaiti racist who claims that 'torture is a way of life' in the Middle East" (p. 144). This is in fact an Egyptian writer I quote, not a Kuwaiti writer, as is made clear in the second half of the sentence he quoted from: "'In the Middle East today, torture is a way of life,' Kuwait Times staff writer Rania El-Gamal, herself an Egyptian, wrote in a powerful response to the allegations."

 

3. Abukhalil wrote: "You express shock that some Egyptians you met wanted to emigrate to the West when they are politically opposed to Western governments (p. 171). No, it is only surprising because you miss to learn that the underlying causes of their hostility to West are political and not cultural or religious." But I argue the very point he claims I ignore, and at considerable length: "Many in the West have also drawn attention to a mass obsession with emigration among so many different sections of Egypt's imploding society, to the millions who long to leave not only for France, Germany, and other European countries but also, indeed perhaps especially, for... America.... But this kind of political point scoring largely misses the point. The real question is: Why do so many young Egyptians, despite their abstract hatred of the effects of U.S. regional hegemony and their personal anger at Washington for propping up their own dictator … still prefer to take their chances in the West? The obvious answer is that the hatred they hold for their own country is deeper than that which they hold for the foreign policies of the country they will be moving to: Culture and politics, personal ambition and political conviction, are not entwined as one in their minds." 

 

4. Abukhalil wrote: "You say, actually say, that all what was done under the Nasser regime was bad. Does that include state feminism, relative secularism, mass education, nationalization... welfare benefits, and land reform?" In Inside Egypt, I write: "There were considerable short-term benefits of Nasser's rule: the final liberation of Egypt from foreign dominance; the expansion of the education system; guaranteed civil service jobs for university graduates; the nationalization of the Suez Canal and building of the High Dam; fairer land redistribution." (pp. 10-11)

 

5. Abukhalil wrote: "[You] add other generalizations, like 'Some of these women slept with half of the men in Luxor before they settled on marrying one.' (p. 178) What was that? Did the editor not raise alarm about such assertions?" I said nothing of the sort. It was a direct quote, clearly marked within quotation marks, by an Egyptian I spoke to who lives in Luxor. Here Abukhalil actually seems to be calling for the censorship of empirical research that does not square with his own agenda.

 

6. Abukhalil headlined his review "Nostalgia for Colonial Rule," and repeatedly asserts in the body of the review that I glorify the pre-Nasser colonial period. To put this absurd claim in perspective, let me quote the following from the book (I could quote at least a dozen similar passages): If the inequality and corruption of Egypt under Farouk "sounds like the Egypt of today, it is because the parallels are indeed strikingly relevant. They serve as a reminder, too, that Egypt has come full circle; they serve as a reminder that the nostalgia for the Farouk era in some sections of the contemporary elite is partly symptomatic of an idealized remembrance of things past that overlooks the reality that most Egyptians of the time confronted in their daily lives. With one crucial difference: In the etiolated Egypt of today, the excesses of the ruling class produce nothing at all of value." 


7. Abukhalil wrote: "You were so offended that an Egyptian spoke to you in classical Arabic (p. 57) that you claimed (falsely) that Egyptians are not able to speak it, and that they don't like it, when fusha is still highly appreciated." As anyone who has spent more than a day in Egypt knows, Egyptians do not speak fusha (classical Arabic) fluently, and the vast majority much prefers to be spoken to in their own Egyptian Arabic. 

 

This last error may seem the most trivial. But in fact it is the most important, because it reveals how painfully unfamiliar Abukhalil is with contemporary Egypt. It came as no surprise when I was reliably informed that Abukhalil has never set foot in Egypt. If true, this is the real hypocrisy: He criticizes a Western journalist for making "generalizations" about the people of a country that he himself has never taken the trouble to visit. Indeed, Abukhalil managed to write a whole book about Saudi Arabia without spending any time doing research there either. 

 

Perhaps only a man blessed with such profound ignorance of his own corner of the globe could be so secure in the belief that Western imperialism and the state of Israel are the root causes of all the Arab world's ills.


John R. Bradley is the author of Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. He has reported extensively from Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East for many publications, including The Economist, The New Republic, Salon, The Independent, The London Telegraph, The Washington Times, and Prospect. His website is www.johnRbradley.com.


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