It is hard to believe when one reads some of the op-eds and articles that have been written about him in the 24 hours following his passing that beyond the façades of decency, kindness and intelligence that Dr. Fouad Ajami always projected lay an actually decent, kind and intelligent man. For, unfortunately, the truth can often be hidden under a ton of ideological nonsense.
But Fouad was a scholar not an ideologue, albeit he did allow himself on occasions to become an activist for the cause of change in the so-called Arab World, one who saw in the U.S. plans to invade Iraq in 2003 a potential way out for the region from a certain historic legacy that continues to plague her to date. He might have been wrong in this, but his detractors should at least make a serious effort to understand the ethos that motivated him, rather than dismiss him as an “informant” or an “ideologue,” and they should also be mindful of the honesty, depth and integrity involved in his scholarly work, where he was often right. Indeed, the very developments that proved that he was wrong about what to expect in Iraq provide ample justifications for the conclusions he drew in his scholarly work about the region, her problems, and her future, at least if certain issues continue to fail being addressed effectively.
Fouad knew very well that he was taken a major gamble by supporting American adventurism in Iraq, but he did it, motivated by the kind of deep frustration that can only plague a man like him, a man with an almost clairvoyant understanding of things and processes, and who have spent decades watching the ruling elite in his native lands, political, socioeconomic, and intellectual, lead our peoples from one disaster into another, and squander every opportunity for developing and modernizing our societies. Fouad seems to have hoped that the U.S. invasion would come as an externally-imposed shock therapy treatment that would succeed in breaking the existing stalemate following decades of failure. In the process, he was willing to set aside his own scholarship in this regard in the hope of being proven wrong, because ultimately, he wanted the region and her peoples to move forward, and to embrace modernity, democracy and development. In doing this, he might have betrayed the dictates of his mind, but only to follow the dictates of his soul. Fouad was indeed a tormented man.
His detractors, an ideologically motivated bunch, whose understanding of right and wrong is premised more on ideological sympathies than objective analysis of the facts, will never understand the meaning of being a decent human being wrestling publicly with the dictates of a living conscience. They will never understand the strong desire to be proven wrong rather than right, because there is simply no satisfaction, relief or pride in being proven right when you are always predicting disasters. What decent man wouldn’t want to be proven wrong here? What decent man would just resign himself to such dire predictions?
Personally, I was never on board with the U.S. plans to invade Iraq and I wrote about it, and it was easy for me to predict the sectarian mayhem that will unfold. But once it became clear that the plans were moving forward, I, like Fouad, and contrary to the expressed sentiments and wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Arab intellectual elite and their international ideological sympathizers at the time, wanted the Americans to succeed, I wanted them to achieve their avowed goal to rebuild Iraq along democratic lines and was deeply dismayed by every setback and fuckup that took place since. Because it was clear to me that the price of failure will ultimately be borne by the Iraqi people, irrespective of their national or sectarian background, and that this failure will also reverberate throughout the region. Meanwhile, my intellectual colleagues reveled in seeing America bogged down in Iraq and cared little for the price that the Iraqis were paying for that.
Today, members of the same merry band have gotten back together to “denounce” and “expose” Fouad, delighting in his passing and ignoring the bulk of his academic work where he made his real mark, and the sentiments that actually made him embrace the ill-fated American adventure in Iraq. By doing this, they are exposing themselves, not Fouad, as ideologically impaired hucksters who will be remembered only as the detractors of great scholars and human beings like Fouad, and not for anything original that they will have contributed, as they are, indeed, incapable of original thinking.