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 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.


Anonymous said...

Why would anyone not be surprised by getting yanked from a British publication, any British publication starting sometime after Thatcher? In my opinion, once British academics sought to ban Israeli academics from their tea clubs, everything else about their culture is suspect. In a strange sense, they are the unreconstructed Maoists of our generation. Their loss of the colonies is still an issue. So as in all proxy wars, Israel is their enemy, since it's on the US side.

I just don't understand why you would want to have anything published in England. Who would actually read you there?

boxthejack said...

LOL Anon! I assume you're not in Britain much?

I find the LRB's response to your article outrageous, but explicable I suppose.

The historical narrative is the most vigorous area of contest, and anything that creates dissonance within one narrative or the other is unwelcome. Nuanced perspectives that don't evoke cheers from one lobby or another are rarely welcome.

I doubt they would have rejected a review from Ilan Pappe - or Efraim Karsh for that matter.

Shoded Yam said...

Dr. Avishai,

Whenever something doesn't go the way I wanted or the way I thought it would go, I immeaditley blame myself. I ask; "Where did I screw up?"

In your case, its obvious. They weren't looking for an unbiased literary review based on merit. They weren't looking for a literary review, period. They were looking for somone to validate their claptrap. You should've known better. You're completely unsuitable. Well, at least you got paid. (-:

william burns said...

Tough break. But speaking as an American, I find the idea of a land where the mainstream media is dominated by supporters of the Palestinian cause to the extent that even nuanced pro-Israel voices are excluded so remote from my own experience that it's hard to even imagine.

As far as the "bourgeois revolution" in Jordan goes, it doesn't seem to have produced press freedom, equality before the law, democracy or the dissolution of the mukhabarat state, so I wouldn't oversell its virtues. If you want a place where people living under an authoritarian government can get rich while staying out of politics, you can go to China, which no one would describe as "bourgeois."

boxthejack said...

William Burns: "a land where the mainstream media is dominated by supporters of the Palestinian cause to the extent that even nuanced pro-Israel voices are excluded".

That's not the Britain I live in - this report deals with the BBC's reporting of the Mid East.

Alas, I think it's nuance, period, that in general we don't print.

We don't have AIPAC or ADL equivalents over here, of course, although in the evangelical churches there's a pretty strong (and ancient) Christian Zionist lobby.

Y. Ben-David said...

As I understand it, the very first people to talk on a practical level about setting up a Jewish state in the Land of Israel were Christian Zionists in England around 1840. The idea spread quickly to the United States and President Abraham Lincoln among others came out in support of the idea. I am somewhat surprised to hear that there are still Christian groups in England who support the idea, considering how weak the hold of religious belief is on English society.

boxthejack said...

There are many. Mostly they draw their support from conservative evangelical fringes, or where dispensationalist theology prevails, but they're still very active.

If you're interested I did my undergrad thesis on the significance of Christian Zionism.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, a self-hating leftist anti-Semitic "academic" likes the book of another self-hating leftist anti-Semitic "academic". Some news story.

louisproyect said...

I found your flattering of the murderous comprador King Hussein almost as disgusting as Alterman's musings on the state of Israel today. It is rather neck and neck...

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