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Farewell to Fouad Ajami

1:05 PM, Jun 25, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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Why were the words of Fouad Ajami “never welcomed in the cultural salons of Beirut and Cairo?” asks Samuel Tadros in Tablet magazine. And why are they now “unfashionable … in the halls of power in Washington?” Because “instead of following the herd and blaming the ills of the region on the foreigner, he had written in the opening pages of his 1981 book The Arab Predicament that ‘the wounds that mattered were self-inflicted wounds.’”

Tadros, a contributor to this magazine, has written a wonderful tribute to his teacher, and later publisher of his two brilliant books on the failure of liberalism in modern Egypt, Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity, and the recently released Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt. “I met Ajami for the first time in October 2010,” writes Tadros.

As a student at Georgetown distressed with the state of Middle East studies in American universities, I had emailed him asking for his advice on my quest for a doctorate. We met a week later, and for the next three hours a bond was created. I like to think that he saw a younger, though less brilliant, version of himself in the student sitting in front of him, that he saw a similarity between my ideological transformation because of Sept. 11 from an Arab nationalist to a conservative, and his…

Ajami was remarkable because he became a full American and loved this country as anyone could love it, but that never lessened his passion for what he had left behind. He knew well the region’s ills, the pains it gave those who cherished it, and God knows it gave him nothing but pain. But he always believed the peoples of the region deserved better, and he was unabashed in championing their cause and their yearning for freedom.

Tadros’s moving reminiscence, alongside those of others like Paul Wolfowitz, Bret Stephens, and Michael Mandelbaum, is perhaps the most personal. “For me,” writes Tadros, “I will remember the magnificent scholar who took a young man under his wing and mentored him for four years. I will remember the kindness, the encouragement, the generosity he showed me. Farwell, my Mo’allem. Farewell my friend. Farwell to the complex and extraordinary Fouad, the American, the Shia, the Lebanese, and though he wouldn’t have liked it, the Arab as well.”

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