Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Kramer: The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East

My entry into the scholarship of Martin Kramer was a consequence of my reaction to 9/11. As a political centrist, I was torn in two directions - both leftwards and rightwards - by terrorism on such a massive scale.

On the one hand, I found myself nodding at Noam Chomsky's remark about chickens coming home to roost because I assumed that the United States had funded Bin Laden in the Afghan uprising against the Soviet Union, though I soon discovered that Bin Laden strongly refuted this, claiming never to have received any American money.

On the other hand, I found myself agreeing with Samuel Huntington on religious, even civilizational motives behind 9/11, and I said so in a presentation given a year after the attack, only to discover that I was guilty of "Orientalism."

I knew of Edward Said, naturally, and had even read passages from his famous book, but I couldn't see how Western Orientalism drove Muslims to such a cultural atrocity as, for example, the Islamist destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

I was somehow led to Kramer's book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, which showed the extent to which Said had misunderstood the field of Orientalism and had thereby contributed to politicizing Middle Eastern studies.

In the years since my discovery of Kramer, I have followed his writing as a guide to fact and error on the Middle East, and I am pleased to see that he has collected and expanded much of that writing in this new book, The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East. Here's the official description:
In The War on Error, historian and political analyst Martin Kramer presents a series of case studies, some based on pathfinding research and others on provocative analysis, that correct misinformation clouding the public's understanding of the Middle East. He also offers a forensic exploration of how misinformation arises and becomes "fact."

The book is divided into five themes: Orientalism and Middle Eastern studies, a prime casualty of the culture wars; Islamism, massively misrepresented by apologists; Arab politics, a generator of disappointing surprises; Israeli history, manipulated by reckless revisionists; and American Jews and Israel, the subject of irrational fantasies. Kramer shows how error permeates the debate over each of these themes, creating distorted images that cause policy failures.

Kramer approaches questions in the spirit of a relentless fact-checker. Did Israeli troops massacre Palestinian Arabs in Lydda in July 1948? Was the bestseller Exodus hatched by an advertising executive? Did Martin Luther King, Jr., describe anti-Zionism as antisemitism? Did a major post-9/11 documentary film deliberately distort the history of Islam? Did Israel push the United States into the Iraq War? Kramer also questions paradigms - the "Arab Spring," the map of the Middle East, and linkage. Along the way, he amasses new evidence, exposes carelessness, and provides definitive answers.
That looks like a pretty accurate summary to me. I fully recommend the book for anyone with an interest in its themes, and that includes about everyone - you just haven't realized it yet.

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