Remembering Fouad Ajami

It’s been exactly one year since the world lost the prominent, albeit controversial, Middle Eastern scholar, Professor Fouad Ajami. Lebanese-born Ajami was a senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and had a heavy influence upon American foreign policy in the Middle East. He boasted an impressive academic career, authoring several books as well as serving as adviser to United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Ajami rocked the proverbial boat as an advocate for the war in Iraq, which he referred to on the Charlie Rose Show as “a noble war”. He became known as an idealist who saw hope for the future of social progression in the Arab world. He was a strong advocate for democracy in the Middle East and believed that America had an integral role to play in it but he did not absolve the Arab world of responsibility.

His first book, The Arab Predicament, caused outrage within the Arab world as it summoned Arab societies to take responsibility for their own development and progression. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic, referred to Ajami as the “loyal son who authored the most blistering attack on the fathers in his time,” explaining that he was often labeled a heretic.

In, The Dream Palace of the Arabs, Ajami wrote that “the rhetorical need for anti-Zionism grows. But there rises, too, the recognition that it is time for the imagination to steal away from Israel and to look at the Arab reality, to behold its own view of the kind of world the Arabs want for themselves.”

To oppose common post-colonialist theory, Ajami wrote a harsh refutation to Samuel Huntington’s acclaimed, The Clash of Civilizations. Ajami’s,The Summoning, offers free-market capitalism as a solution to conflict, saying that “Huntington would have nations battle for civilizational ties and fidelities when they would rather scramble for their market shares, learn how to compete in a merciless world economy, provide jobs, move out of poverty.”

To address Islamist extremism he continues, observing that “we have been hearing from the traditionalists, but we should not exaggerate their power, for traditions are often most insistent and loud when they rupture, when people no longer really believe and when age-old customs lose their ability to keep men and women at home. The phenomenon we have dubbed as Islamic fundamentalism is less a sign of resurgence than of panic and bewilderment and guilt that the border with “the other” has been crossed.”

During his time as Princeton, Ajami became known as a prominent advocate for Palestinian self-determination. If you want to see something cool, watch this clip from 1978 when a young Ajami cross-examined our current Prime Minister (or, as was called back then, “Mr. Ben Nitay”).

About the Author
Emily Rose holds a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her work has been featured in The Forward, Hevria and Tim Marshall's news forum, The What and the Why.