April 29, 2003

Said's Hyperbole Edward Said lets

Said's Hyperbole

Edward Said lets loose in the London Review.

First, a few cheap shots at Fouad Ajami:

"Fouad Ajami is a Lebanese Shia educated in the US who made his name as a pro-Palestinian commentator. But by the mid-1980s, he was teaching at Johns Hopkins; he'd become a fervent anti-Arab ideologue and had been taken up by the right-wing Zionist lobby (he now works for Martin Peretz and Mort Zuckerman) and the Council on Foreign Relations. He is fond of describing himself as a non-fiction Naipaul and quotes Conrad while sounding as hokey as Khalil Gibran. He also has a penchant for catchy one-liners, ideally suited to television. The author of two or three books, he has become influential as a 'native informant' - the Arab 'expert' is a rare species on American networks. Ten years ago, he started deploying 'we' as an imperial collectivity which, along with Israel, never does anything wrong. Arabs are to blame for everything and therefore deserve 'our' contempt and hostility."

Then this concluding graf:

"This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology. What winning, or for that matter losing, such a war will ultimately entail is unthinkable. But pity the Iraqi civilians who must still suffer a great deal more before they are finally 'liberated'."

The "most reckless war in modern times." Since the French Revolution, I take it? Hitler's dreams of a Third Reich spanning the entire Eurasian landmass were less reckless, I guess.

Or how about Saddam's genocidal campaign against the Kurds from 1987-1988. Perhaps not as "reckless" vis-a-vis hyperbolic fears that the international order is no longer extant as a result of the three and a half week coalition operation in Iraq. But certainly "reckless" for the nearly 100,000 Kurds killed by Saddam's regime. Samantha Power, in her excellent "A Problem from Hell--America and the Age of Genocide", details Saddam's attacks on Kurds, including the "Kurdish Hiroshima", Saddam's attack on the town of Halabja on March 16th 1988:

"It was different from other bombs," one witness remembered. "There was a huge sound, a huge flame and it had very destructive ability. If you touched one part of your body that had been burned, your hand burned also. It caused things to catch fire." "The planes flew low enough for the pertrified Kurds to take note of the markings, which were those of the Iraqi air force. Many families tumbled into primitive air-raid shelters they had built outside their homes. When the gases seeped through the cracks, they poured out onto the streets in a panic. There they found friends and family members frozen in time like a modern version of Pompeii: slumped a few yards behind a baby carriage, caught permanently holding the hand of a loved one or shielding a child from the poisoned air, or calmly collapsed behind a car steering wheel. Not everybody who was exposed died instantly. Some of those who had inhaled the chemicals continued to stumble around town, blinded by the gas, giggling uncontrollably, or, because their nerves were malfunctioning, buckling at the knees...."

"Halabja quickly became known as the Kurdish Hiroshima. In three days of attacks, victims were exposed to mustard gas, which burns, mutates DNA, and causes malformations and cancer; and the nerve gases sarin and tabun, which can kill, paralyze, or cause immediate and lasting neuropsychiatric damage. Doctors suspect that the dreaded VX gas and the biological agent aflatoxin were also employed."

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