Friday, September 5, 2008

On King Hussein, The London Review, And Prerogative

Avi Shlaim's biography of King Hussein, which I review at length in the current issue of The Nation, is about to be published in the United States.  The book should stimulate, not only a reevaluation of what advocates of "peace process" have (and have not) accomplished during the past 40 years, but the generally underappreciated role of Jordan in Israel's and Palestine's future.

The king was an advocate of peace and dignified compromise for more than a generation. Jordan, meanwhile, has itself become a kind of miracle in the desert, a commercial hub of regional business, an early example of the kind of economic development that the globalization of intellectual capital makes possible.  Dubai, now, is the poster-child of this kind of development, but Hussein is among its pioneers.  This economic development is far more consequential to the slow process of democratizing the Arab Middle East than neocon-inspired military adventures. 
Anyway, Jordan remains the place where many of the real leaders of a future Palestinian state are building the business and political connections Palestine will need.  They will be natural partners with both Israeli entrepreneurs and Ramallah's and East Jerusalem's leaders. The king's determination to use his prerogatives to secure a moderate, Western-leaning regime is responsible for this bourgeois revolution.  He doesn't get enough credit for it.
ONE REASON HE doesn't, by the way, is that the idea of a bourgeois revolution seems ugly to certain Western intellectuals (you know, the kind who think Fredrick Engels's version of Manchester cotton mills was pretty much the last word on capitalism), who are often the same people who think that appreciation of Jordan means a betrayal of some anti-imperialist Palestinian nationalism, which the very existence of Jordan would seem to contradict.
We are supposed to believe the half-truths that keep our thoughts and loyalties from getting messy: e.g., that Hussein's was just a police state left over by Churchill, which colluded with Israel to repress the Palestinians; that the problem is Israel, the solution, one-state for all, and that we could get there, presumably, if not for Israel's occupation-regime, the Jewish lobby, Republicans, and, yes, backward, repressive Arab monarchs.  
And you find many purveyors of this wisdom in Britain especially, which is why when the London Review of Books originally asked me to review Shlaim's book for them I jumped at the chance.  It seemed to me that this magazine's audience in particular needed to hear a more complex view.  So I delivered the piece you now see before you, which "the editors" (yes, an editorial "collective," with one email address for all) received with apparent gratitude, fussed with a bit, put into galleys and proofs, then scheduled.  On the Wednesday before the Friday it was to be published, I got a note asking to finalize my bio.  

In any case, that was the last thing I heard from "the editors." The next communication I received was from Mary Kay Wilmers, the editor-in-chief, a letter of apology with a cheque and the claim that the piece "does not work--or at least not for us."  No explanation, no request for revisions.  The article that replaced mine, I soon learned, was a last minute report about how Israelis were shooting up Gaza.

This was not the first time that Wilmers has used her prerogatives to treat authors with less than the graciousness of, say, King Hussein.  Or, I am grateful to report, the open-spirited respect for nuanced views about the conflict--and professionalism--of The Nation.  No doubt, her vigilance leaves London readers better off.