The Action Along the Medit
I would give the credit for this preparation first to the education I've gotten on the Middle East and nearby, almost as an aside, from many of the courses I took in college -- I minored in Classics and I majored in English, which means British and American Literature, and as you know, the British, the French, and other Europeans have been trooping in and mucking about in the Middle East and stealing things there through the ages. Secondly, ever since college I've read numerous histories and other literature that had to do with Southern Europe, Asia, and Africa, including a LOT of stuff on Egypt and its neighbors, both current and all the way back through Antiquity. But most important of all, when it comes to the current revolts that are sweeping through those Mediterranean areas like brush fires in California, has been the fact that for six or seven years I've been a regular reader of a weblog called "The Angry Arab News Service," written by a man who was born in Lebanon but for half his life has lived in the U.S. and now is a professor at a college in California, circumstances that he says will never allow him to take part in Lebanon politics, not only because he hasn't spent that much time there but also because he thinks he would be killed. Whether by the Mossad or by agents of King Saud, he didn't say.
This guy has what I think is a notably cool name: As'ad AbuKhalil, but I wouldn't be surprised if he is better known even to his close friends by the name of his site, because he has always come across as an unforgiving, extremely salty and sarcastic bird, with one or two or even more anger issues. Israel and the people that he calls "the Zionists" are at the top of his crap list, followed by the leaders of Saudi Arabia, and then by President Obama, though in a somewhat more benign way, and other American figures. But, as shown by the mention of the Saudi clan, he is even-handed in those for whom he has no use, and that includes a good many people in the Arab world, including his native Lebanon. In fact, I am at pains to think of a single Arab country for which he hasn't had a cup or two of scorn to dash in their faces.
In any case I am confident that his eyes are good and reliable telescopes and microscopes through which to look at the Arab and Israeli world that are inferior to no other and are certainly more assiduous in looking at the region than most others, with the exception, as far as I know, only of Juan Cole's "Informed Comment." Like Cole he is regarded as being an authority on the subject and is sought after for speaking and writing, except by people like a guy from the Nixon Center, who he said appeared to be outraged that he would have a site called "the Angry Arab."
AbuKhalil is extremely conscientious about keeping up his weblog, and you can count on seeing up to 20 or more new news items in there every single day, and even in the middle of every day. He drops in a few words expressing his own attitude toward the subject in about half of them, and in quite a few he ends the item by thanking somebody, citing them by their first names in a parenthesis, which suggests that a lot of his material is sent to him by others, or that the items are his excerpts from articles and news reports written by others. Also now and then he will get so worked up that he will pen an article of his own that might go on for pages.
When I started reading 'the Angry Arab" his site had the most disreputable, violent, and yet ultimately highly informative comment section that I've ever seen. Reading it was like visiting a dark, dank bar deeply floored with offal and where some very outspoken, drunken, sick, and yet ultimately informed types hung out, and where even A.A., the proprietor, spent as little time as possible. Eventually -- I guess just before the Internet police, whoever they were, closed in on him -- he axed the comment section entirely, and that was a kind of pity in spite of all, because, as a complete outsider, I had still not even begun to fully decipher just what all those jokers were talking about, because they used their own private language, references, and code words, even though most of it was spoken ostensibly in American.
When the uproar in Tunisia started, about six weeks ago, I noticed that A.A. was highly irked because he felt that the Western media was stupidly ignoring those events. I was puzzled, because I hadn't noticed that till then he had been paying much attention to Tunisia himself.
This causes me to flash back to the summer of 1966, when, as newlyweds of one year, my wife and I were strolling alongside the walls of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, touristing during that, my second trip to Japan. A young Japanese guy, trying out the English he had learned in school, engaged us in conversation, a common occurrence there, and in the midst of it, instead of the usual small stuff, he asked us what we thought of Vietnam.
I was badly taken aback and was reduced to mumbling something unintelligible, because it had only been a year since LBJ had sent American troops into Saigon or thereabouts for some reason that was totally dwarfed in importance by, for instance, the Civil Rights Drive that was then in full swing , and I hadn't paid a bit of attention to anything in Vietnam, a state of blissful ignorance that I believe I shared at that time with 99 percent of my fellow Americans. I knew that a couple of people were in a snit about something that was happening there, but that was about it. And yet, over in Japan, out of the blue--
Till A.A. started pissing and moaning about our inattention to it, I had thought things in Tunisia were okay. I thought it was, outside of those strange sheikhdoms and such along the Persian Gulf, probably the quietest of the Arab countries and was fairly prosperous. I knew also that Tunisia was where the Romans thoroughly wasted Carthage, and it was most significantly the place where the greatest military campaign of all time had begun -- Hannibal's taking it to the biggest badasses of the classical world, by crossing the snow-covered Alps on elephants and hitting the Romans right in their own back yard. In fact, at first I may even have thought that Habib Bourgiba was still in charge in Tunisia, benignly and sagely presiding over things, before I realized that I was badly out of date and that it had been some years since he had even been alive.
So right now A.A. must feel well satisfied, with Tunisia having by surprise kicked out with relative ease a dictator who seemed genuinely not to know that he had been a brutal despot and who sported for his wife a great-looking woman in the tradition of those awesome Arabian ladies but who is reported as having also been rapacious to her heart and thus was cut from exactly the same cloth as those other unbelievably grasping wives of despots, Michele Duvalier and Ymelda Marcos. And not only that but also the Tunisians had set off like a string of firecrackers the present revolt in Egypt that is gradually coming to some kind of head, and also uprisings in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, and hopefully, I am sure A.A. is thinking, in what he has convincingly presented to us over a long time as the pits of the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, for all the oil that it is squatting over and that so much of the world desperately hopes won't get burned up first in that desert before it can be pumped out, shipped over, and hungrily gulped down in their own, more deserving districts.