Ajami, who passed away last year, was seen as an enfant terrible by some Western academics and many Arab intellectuals because he often eschewed the methods of social science and espoused witheringly critical views of his own people. His belief that Arabs have often been “the authors of their own demise,” as he put it, enraged many because it downplayed the role of outside forces, especially Israel and the United States, in the struggles of Arab peoples and countries. Yet Ajami was also fascinated by and gloried in the Arab world’s rich intellectual and cultural history. The essays in this rich collection are frequently inspired by the novels, poems, and films of great Arab artists. And for a thinker who enjoyed occasionally treading the corridors of power in Washington, Ajami is often dismissive or critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Perhaps when Ajami did manage to capture the truth, it was owing to his status as something of an outsider in both the Arab world and the Western one.
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