Adam Shatz: Writers or Missionaries?

This is an important essay by Adam Shatz in The Nation, in which he reflects on how his own writing on the Middle East has developed over the years and, more broadly, how the region is written about: 

I still stand by most of the positions that I took when I was starting out. But when I re-read the articles I published then, I find the tone jarring, the confidence unearned, the lack of humility suspect. I have the same reaction when I read a self-consciously committed journalist like Robert Fisk, who seems never to doubt his own thunderous convictions. I recently re-read Pity the Nation, his tome about the Lebanese civil war, and I was struck by how little Fisk tells us about the Lebanese, a people he has lived among since the mid-1970s. For all his emoting about the Lebanese, their voices are never allowed to interrupt his sermonizing. That I agree with parts of the sermon doesn’t mean I have the patience to sit through it. Fisk’s book, which once so impressed me, now strikes me as a wasted opportunity, unless journalism is understood as a narrowly prosecutorial endeavor, beginning and ending with the description of crimes and the naming (and shaming) of perpetrators. And yet Fisk’s example is instructive, in a cautionary way. It reminds us that immersion in the region isn’t enough: it’s how you process the experience, the traces that it leaves on the page. The Fiskian cri de coeur substitutes rage for understanding, hang-wringing for analysis.

A fascinating read, especially in how he explains his initial approach to the region was through the prism of Algeria – "Algeria made a mockery of my nostalgia for the heroic certainties of anticolonialism and cured me of my lingering Third World–ism."

Patrick Seale: A Remembrance

A tribute of Seale by Adam Shatz for MERIP, as fascinating as the man: 

After his studies with Albert Hourani at St. Antony’s, he moved in 1963 to Beirut, where he befriended Philby. (Philby later claimed that Seale worked for MI6, which Seale denied.) It was the Mad Men era of Middle East reporting, a time of high living and high-stakes intrigue. The “Arab cold war” was at its height, and there was no better, or more pleasurable, listening post for a foreign correspondent than Beirut. The correspondent’s calendar was marked by revolutionary conspiracies; many were first reported as rumors, sometimes overheard at the bar of the St. George Hotel, where spies, arms dealers, diplomats and other adventurers gathered at the end of the day.

Great details in there (I never realized he was married to Mahmoud Darwish's ex-wife, who is also Nizar Qabbani's sister) and a fair appraisals of his failings too.

Adam Shatz: Is Palestine next?

In the latest London Review of Books:

American disapproval would once have counted against these strategies, but America is no longer seen by the leadership to hold the keys to liberation. ‘Obama, the poor man, he got into the ring with Netanyahu and he got a bloody nose while the whole world was watching,’ Zomlot said. ‘Should we wait for America to come around? We’ve been waiting for 20 years. The depressing fact is that America is impotent.’ But the Arabs, at last, are not. ‘The region has changed irreversibly,’ Zomlot said, ‘but Israel still has the manual of 1948. The removal of the Arab regimes that stood in the way of the Palestinians is neutralising Israel’s machine. If the Israelis don’t change, they will end up as a tiny minority in a sea of Arab democracies. I hope they will come back to their senses before it’s too late.’ But it may already be too late for partition. ‘I’m afraid we’re beyond the two states,’ he said. ‘Drive to Nablus. It’s Israel – all the roads to Nablus. Look at the map: the settlements are the core, they have the highways and the infrastructure, while Palestinian cities are the periphery, connected by bypass roads.’

Read More

Shatz: After Egypt

It is too early to say whether Egypt will make the transition to civilian rule and recover its sovereignty after 30 years as an American client state, much less whether it will ever recapture the regional leadership it enjoyed under Nasser. But it is not too early to speculate on the regional impact of Mubarak’s overthrow. As the Syrian philosopher Sadiq al-Azm has put it, ‘the regimes feel vulnerable now.’ The symptoms of this anxiety are plain to see: Mahmoud Abbas’s hasty cabinet reshuffle; the Algerian government’s mobilisation of 30,000 police officers to confront a few thousand protesters in central Algiers; the violent repression of the recent demonstrations in Iran, Libya and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, which recommended that Mubarak crush the protests by force – and which offered to continue subsidising the army when the Obama administration briefly hinted that it might reconsider its aid package – is nervously watching developments in Cairo. So is Israel, though it has retreated into radio silence after failing to persuade Obama to continue propping up Mubarak. It’s not just the peace treaty that worries the Israeli government: The last thing it wants to see is a national, Egyptian-style campaign of non-violent resistance against the occupation, or indeed against the Jewish state’s ‘partner in peace’, the increasingly unpopular Palestinian Authority.