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Tel Aviv Journal: Muammar Qaddafi’s Reading List and Mine

1. An article by David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times reported that three volumes of Muammar Qaddafi’s heavy thoughts had over the years become mandatory reading for Libyans. I don’t know whether Hitler’s Mein Kampf or Mao Zedong’s Red Book is the more apt analogy for this sort of brain-washing. But I do remember from decades ago when many of my fellow graduate students were reading the Mao bible at least as much to absorb the great ideas as for scholarly purposes. Some of these are now full professors at serious American universities. Pity their acolytes.

The Times also reports on the tyrant’s own favorite reading:

Colonel Qaddafi maintains a strong interest in American books about public affairs. In one cable, the embassy reported that Colonel Qaddafi assigned trusted aides to prepare Arabic summaries of Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World,” Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat 3.0,” George Soros’s “The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror” and President Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope.” Another of Zakaria’s books, “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad,” was said to be a Qaddafi favorite.

The cable referred to in the Times’ citation is a WikiLeaks special.

2. Was George VI also not an appeaser? Did he really want Churchill as prime minister? I suppose you are not accustomed to getting history lessons from The American Spectator. But in this right-wing sheet there is a fascinating counterpoint to the Academy Award winning film The King’s Speech. It was written by Daniel Mandel, an Australian historian whose work I know well. He shows the rough road Churchill had to plough through against not only the Tory Party but basically the whole British nobility and establishment—a word which at the time had not come into use.

It’s ironic that The American Spectator, one of the tablets of antiquarian conservatism, is poking its finger at 1930s isolationism in England when similar views were the prevailing dogma of reactionary circles in the U.S.

3. Tell me the last time you read a serious article on the phenomenon of Palestinian incitement against Israelis and Jews and also against Israel, the Jewish state. Incitement is an immediate peril to Israeli life, as we saw in the gruesome murder of five members of a family in the Jewish village of Itamar in the West Bank. It is also an ongoing threat because it deeply suggests that Arab hatred of Jews will be a permanent factor in the conflict. For decades whatever Israeli hostility towards the Arabs of Palestine existed was kept under a lock of conscience. Alas, one cannot deny that this lock is being broken. It is now a tangible factor in the diplomacy of the conflict. The Palestinian Authority itself and in (most of) its public statements tries to keep clear of Jew-hatred. But there is nothing, literally nothing of this restraint on its television programs, in its schools, with its cheerleading public symbols, and in its tacky intra-Muslim diplomacy. The historian Joel Fishman has written a long scholarly essay on why Palestinian incitement cannot be ignored.

4. The London School of Economics is a pioneer in taking tyrants’ money. But it’s only a pioneer. Other British universities are in on the take, too. And it matters very much. An intrinsically juicy but not at all exploitative story by Danna Harman on this witches’ sabbath appears in the weekend edition of Ha’aretz. Let me own up about Danna: Her family has been very close to my family for decades. And she is one of my daughter’s closest friends. She is still a very classy reporter.

5. The Copts are living on a prayer. I hesitate to give voice to my own anxieties about what will ultimately occur in post-Mubarak Egypt. It is still pretty damn exhilarating. If you look closely, however, you will find happenings that will discomfit you. For example: The Copts, arguably Christianity’s first communion and just one—but the largest—out of 25 others, have experienced renewed terror since the revolution. Lela Gilbert has written a concise but informative essay on what puts fear into 10 million Coptic Egyptians. It is in the weekend edition of The Jerusalem Post.

6. The most convincing evidence that America is “out of it” in the Middle East comes from Rami G. Khouri, the suck-up journalist, in an article, “As Saudi Arabia Advances,” in Friday’s International Herald Tribune:

There is no better sign of the reality that Washington has become a marginal player in much of the Middle East, largely as a consequence of its own incompetence, inconsistency, bias and weakness in allowing its policies to be shaped by neoconservative fanatics, pro-Israeli zealots, anti-Islamic demagogues, Christian fundamentalist extremists, and assorted other folks who trample American principles and generate foreign policies that marginalize the United States abroad.

Of course, his list of President Obama’s manipulators is bonkers.

In any case, Khouri is always sucking up to some one. And now it is Saudi Arabia. Commenting on the decision of the monarchy to dispatch 1,000 armed men to unsettled and unsettling Bahrain, he remarks:

An inner beast has awoken in Saudi Arabia, as sending Saudi troops to other lands is a sign of real concern and growing panic, but also of self-confidence in foreign policy.

The implications of this move are enormous and also unpredictable. It is also fascinating that the United States says it was not aware of the decision on cross-border military movements by its closest Arab ally.

7. Will Hillary Clinton resign? It’s the question Barry Rubin asks at the end of a long analysis of President Obama’s policy towards Arab governments and in the Middle East generally. Unlike Rubin, I don’t see Hillary as being especially moved by ideals. Maybe at her Wellesley College commencement … but really. I am also not as pessimistic as Rubin is about the prospects of a little more liberty in Egypt and maybe even in the other countries with which he groups it.

But Rubin is one of the closest and most astute commentators on the region, and he has been that ever since he first alerted people decades ago to the now widely recognized fact (but then ridiculed as Jewish paranoia) that Yassir Arafat was an intellectual gangster, a moral bandit, and a strategic failure. After all, Arafat could have had a Palestinian state at least three times—a rather spacious Palestinian state at that. But he wanted glory, and, among Arab governments, there is no greater glory that being defeated. Rubin is one of the few scholars of the region who knows all of its languages. In any case, if he is anxious about a happy official formula for the future, I am eager to read it.

Rubin’s analysis of the testimony of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns to the Senate foreign relations committee is devastating. And one reason it is devastating is because Rubin believes that the undersecretary doesn’t really hold the view to which he attested.

Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.