From a Shiite village in southern Lebanon, the young Fouad Ajami, who died early this week at age sixty-eight, emigrated to the United States, earning a BA from Eastern Oregon College and a PhD from the University of Washington. A career in political science at Princeton and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies quickly blossomed into a role as one of the most significant observers of the Middle East in an era of increasingly intense and highly controversial American involvement in that region’s affairs. Ajami bucked the academic consensus by ascribing indigenous causes to the violence and authoritarianism that plague the Arab world. Unlike his academic colleagues in America, and unlike Arab nationalists in the Middle East, he never blamed imperialism or Zionism for the furies (to borrow an Ajami-esque word) that bedevil his birthplace. What is more, he supported a muscular American foreign policy, including George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.
Mourning Fouad Ajami
Nobody could match him as an interpreter of the Arab Middle East—or as a deft and witty scourge of his academic opponents.