Politics & Policy

Who Is Fawaz Gerges?

Another problem Mideast scholar.

Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, has emerged as a foremost media interpreter of the Middle East. He is a frequent guest of Paula Zahn on CNN, has appeared recently on The Charlie Rose Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show, and is now a regular Middle East analyst for ABC News.

Gerges is typical of his field: He’s yet another Middle East specialist who minimizes the threat of militant Islam while presenting the United States as a sinister force. Let’s look at his thinking on four key issues.

Iraq. “Principles like human rights and the rule of law were sacrificed at the altar of America’s real political interests, that is, maintaining relations with autocratic regimes,” says Gerges, referring to America’s history with Iraq. So good were these relations, he concludes, that American companies “provided Saddam Hussein with the biological and chemical tools which enabled him to develop these deadly weapons in the first place and use them against his own people.” This distorted emphasis on decades-old support of Iraq against Iran neglects the much greater military assistance to aid Saddam’s nuclear and WMD program, up to the very eve of war, by Germany, Russia, and France. It better suits Gerges’s theories to maintain, with tunnel vision, “America shares a heavy burden in Hussein’s bloody legacy.”

The war in March-April of this year Gerges dismisses as a “unilateral military onslaught” Likewise, he minimizes the brutal tyranny of Saddam Hussein by comparing it with that of Israel’s democratically elected leadership and specifically Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Arabs and Muslims fault the administration, for example, for obsessing ways, enforcing sanctions against Saddam Hussein. Why not Israel?” Gerges asks. “Why is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in power to collectively punish the Palestinians?”

Militant Islam. Gerges consistently downplays the threat of militant Islam in general and Osama bin Laden in particular. One year before 9/11, he found that Osama bin Laden was “exceptionally isolated,” and “preoccupied mainly with survival, not attacking American targets.” He also ridiculed “exaggerated rhetoric” in Washington about the Bin Laden threat. Al Qaeda was no longer more than a “shadow of its former self,” Gerges had the misfortune of writing, as bin Laden was “confined to Afghanistan, constantly on the run,” and, “hemmed in by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.” Not just that, but his “resources are depleting rapidly.” Gerges drew the bizarre conclusion that the U.S. government must have its reasons for “inflating his importance.” Six months before 9/11, Gerges publicly ridiculed what he called “the terror industry” — his term for specialists voicing concerns about militant Islam — for fomenting an “irrational fear of terrorism by focusing too much on far-fetched horrible scenarios.”

Foreign-policy recommendations. Gerges offered his proposals for U.S. policy in a 1999 book. These are not exactly operational. For example, while stating that “Washington should make its foreign aid conditional on a respect for basic human, political and cultural rights,” he also warned against enacting “collective punishment” policies that confirm the Muslim perception of the United States as a “ruthless hegemony” bent on punishing unruly Arabs and Muslims. Does Gerges’s first recommendation, to withhold aid from countries that violate human, political and cultural rights, not constitute a form of collective punishment that increases the perception of the U.S. as a ruthless hegemony?

Gerges also offers contradictory recommendations for combating terrorism. The U. S. needs to “engage in earnest dialogue with non-violent Islamist movements” in search of sincere commitments “to constitutional and democratic processes” and to push them further along in that direction. He also suggests that the U.S. government needs to maintain its honest broker role in the Arab-Israeli peace process with the goal of “literally pushing Arabs and Israelis to a just and comprehensive settlement.” Hmm. Isn’t he asking Washington to meddle “hegemonically”?

Western views of the Middle East. The professor concedes in his book that Islamic leaders have been “equivocal about democratic norms, human rights, peaceful relations with the West, and the use of terror in the pursuit of domestic political goals.” Yet, Gerges then laments that, “Islamist leaders have provided much ammunition to those in the West, who seek to turn the ‘Islamic menace’ into another bogeyman.”

That’s right. It is those in the West, who seek to turn militant Islam into something dangerous. Gerges’s is in effect saying that the West needed an enemy, so it set out to demonize the Muslim world. Luckily, a few crazy militant Islamic leaders did some bad things, and the previously flimsy case for a dangerously militant branch of Islam suddenly became more plausible. But in this pre-9/11 book on political Islam, the supposed dangers of militant Islam are mere right-wing fantasies. You won’t find “Osama bin Laden,” “al Qaeda,” or “Wahhabism” in the index.

In summary, Gerges’s feels America is wrong for taking militant Islam seriously, wrong for aiding Arab states against militant Islamic opposition and wrong for not aiding Arab states against Israel. America should not “collectively punish,” yet should deny aid to a state based on the actions of its unelected ruler. America should not act “hegemonically,” yet must “push along” Islamist groups to democracy, and “literally push” Arabs and Israelis to a solution. America cannot escape its “blood legacy” for supporting Saddam decades ago, yet now it is perpetrating a “unilateral military onslaught” by removing him.

It is fortunate that Prof. Gerges is only analyzing U. S. policy, and not making it, for his thinking is a mish-mash of warmed-over bromides, inconsistencies, and anti-American banalities.

— Jonathan Calt Harris is the managing editor of Campus Watch.



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