So long Safire

In this dark, tenebrous world, a little piece of good news: the New York Times' leading conservative editorialist, William Safire, is retiring. Over the past few years there has been nothing as consistently infuriating as a Safire column. There are many reasons for this -- his dogged pursuit of a mythical Iraq-Al Qaeda meeting in Iraq, which he continued to refer to even after President Bush and the CIA denied it, or his insinuations against the UN in the oil-for-food scandal we admittedly still know too little about, or his professed love of the Kurdish people for no other reason, apparently, that they are against Arabs. True, he did not always support the conservative orthodoxy, and took progressive stands on stem cell research, privacy rights and media consolidation. It's said his Sunday column, On Language, was learned and well-written, but I didn't read it often enough to tell. He'll be continuing that one every Sunday anyway.

But what I'll remember him most for was his shocking hatred of Palestinians (who unlike the Kurds did not have a national cause worth worrying about, apparently) and tendency to write press releases straight from the office of the Prime Minister of Israel. Perhaps his old habits -- he ran his own PR companies in the 60s before he joined the Nixon administration as spinmeister -- die hard. Two particularly grating examples of Safire hackery are below:

A Chat With Sharon, October 21, 2002


He's an unabashed admirer of this President Bush. "Thank
God, at this historic moment, the U.S. is leading the free
world toward liberation from fear of terror."


And his unwavering confidence under sustained pressure
makes me an unabashed Arik Sharon admirer. "We go back many
years," he says. "Call me more often." I may just do that.


His schoolgirl crush on Ariel Sharon -- surely one of the most grotesque and unsavory politicians in a region which has its shares of assholes -- made me want to throw up at the time. This was a regular Safire shtick -- phone calls to his old pal Arik -- that befits Pravda or Tishreen (the appalling Syrian daily) more than the New York Times.

But there's worse to come:

Sharon, Trusting Bush, May 26, 2003 (no link available)


Especially sticky is the claim of refugees to land fled from a half-century ago, which Arabs call a "right of return." Palestinians want to kick hundreds of thousands of Jewish "settlers" out of a future Palestine while inserting an even greater number of Muslims into Israel. Jews find that a deal-breaker.


So-called "settlers," is it? Safire takes the single issue that has done the most to propagate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tries to spin it into a Palestinian myth.

William Safire is a morally bankrupt hack when it comes to the Middle East. Good riddance.


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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.