To the Editor:
In his response to Edward W. Said’s comment on his article, “Do the Arabs Want Peace?” [February], Gil Carl AlRoy notes [Letters from Readers, May] the symptoms of “a serious phenomenon, long known to Orientalists as ‘apologetics’ ”: an Arab (e.g., Mr. Said) will perfidiously and hypocritically curse the unvarnished truth of an Orientalist (e.g., Mr. AlRoy) when it appears in the West; yet when it appears in the East, that same Arab condones it. Hence the sad plight of Orientalists, concludes Mr. AlRoy, or at least of the plain-speaking ones like himself, that they must dwell in “a certain climate of intimidation.” Mr. AlRoy’s phenomenon is, I think, more widespread than he would have us believe, and its seriousness is not, as he supposes, confined to the fallacious comments of Arabs known and confessed.
It is, of course, serious that when an Orientalist is accused of racial bias, he can only reply that his colleagues share his views; that when he reads that full peace depends upon the recognition of Palestinian rights, he supposes that this can only come with the disappearance of Jewish statehood. Still, since the Near East question will never be settled in the pages of COMMENTARY or by Orientalists, one may view these antics, if not with levity, at least with bemused or exhausted intolerance. Mr. AlRoy’s “phenomenon” is quite another matter.
For this phenomenon is also known to Occidentalists like myself as “question dodging” and a “red herring,” or even, in its more extreme form, as “paranoia.” Must we really believe that “a certain climate of intimidation” surrounds the Orientalist writing in COMMENTARY if a single Arab dares to question his opinions? Is there any other magazine where Mr. Said’s “Arabian” origins might be proposed as a necessary and sufficient explanation of his stand on Palestine? Do Orientalists live in Orientalia, a tiny enclave surrounded by firmly united Arabs? If such is the case, Mr. AlRoy’s “climate”—or, as one might say, “condition”—is a “serious phenomenon” indeed.
Gil Carl AlRoy writes:
Hugh Amory’s complaint is based on his presumed understanding of “apologetics,” a subject about. Which he knows nothing at all, as his letter demonstrates. If he really would like to learn about Arab apologetics, he can find an excellent introduction in Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s classic, Islam in Modern History. And as as for the charge that I indulge in “question dodging,” permit me to report that the condition described in my February article has not changed in the interim. The tone in the Arab press remains the same, with no recognition whatsoever given to the legitimacy of Israel and no abatement in the demands that the state be eliminated altogether. This attitude is epitomized by a cartoon in the April 7 issue of al-Ahram showing figures lining up in front of a guillotine, labeled Moshe Dayan, the Government of Israel, the Israeli Political System, and, finally, Zionism.
As for policy pronouncements, to cite only Egypt, Youth Minister Kamal Abu al-Magd declared in Beirut (April 17) that Egypt proceeds against Israel by stages. The first stage is a return to the borders of May 1967; the next the reclosing of the Straits of Tiran, opened in 1956; then finally the liquidation of the remaining political entity, created in 1948.
Incidentally, I do not, as Mr. Amory claims, feel that there is a necessary connection between recognition of the rights of the Palestinians and the disappearence of the Jewish state. Quite the contrary; I can easily envisage scenarios in which the rights of the Palestinians would be accommodated without putting an end to Israel. It is those who presume to speak for the Palestinians, including those who argue for participation in the Geneva talks, who define the “rights” of the Palestinians as ultimately incompatible with Jewish statehood. Typical is the response of Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (the group responsible for the attack on Maalot), to the question of whether his organization’s goal would still be the liquidation of Israel even after a Palestinian state had been formed on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He replied: “Yes. We shall not relent on this goal because our purpose is the establishment of a democratic state in all of Palestine. A state in the occupied territories is not an obstacle, it is a starting point” (Deutsche Zeitung, April 30).
This brings me to the perennial question of the credibility of Arab statements. My own study inclines me to respect Arab feelings and the Arab sense of outrage at Jewish statehood. Like all people, when Arabs hurt they cry out and their hurt in this respect is very deep. It is ironic that those who are their apologists tend to imply that Arabs, alone among God’s creatures, are unable to speak for themselves. This is the familiar patronizing attitude of the missionary, and it is no accident that in this country the roots of the Arab lobby are in the 150-year-old Protestant missionary endeavor in the Middle East.
But of course Mr. Amory is familiar with all of this—which is no doubt why, instead of discussing the issue rationally, he chooses to throw about epithets and indictments. With greater reticence, I will keep to myself my opinion of his motives in doing so.