Trust me

The other week or day I don’t remember which we mentioned some of the basic qualifications for meaningful participation in a discussion of the future of the middle east (and by extension and by analogy, anywhere else). We were again reminded of these when we saw this to our mind a set of important questions concerning a recent roundtable at the journal Foreign Affairs. I quote:

>Got a few questions for you:

>1. Are you Muslim? It doesn’t appear that any of you are.

>2. If you’re not, do any of you speak fluent Arabic, ie, well enough to hold a conversation, listen to al Jazeera, and read the newspapers?

>3. If not, how many of you have read the entire Qu’ran and most of the Hadith in translation? If not, how many of you have participated more than once in worship at a mosque? Sh’ia or Sunni – and can you quickly define the difference?

>4. If not, how many of you have travelled to Iraq since the occupation, how long did you stay, and where did you go?

>5. How many of you publicly opposed the invasion prior to the launch of the New Product – as the Bush administration termed the invasion and occupation – long before it was politically safe to do so, say, prior to the passage of the Senate resolution in fall of 2002? Before January, 2003?

>6. If you are not Muslim, don’t speak Arabic well, haven’t read the basic texts of Islam or participated in services, haven’t been to Iraq, and/or believed – for whatever reason – prior to the invasion that it was a smart, or at least reasonable, idea to invade Iraq – that is, if you can’t answer “yes” to a decent number of my first five questions – then why should I bother to take seriously anything you might think to say?

>I’m not saying you’re stupid or uninformed, I know you’re not. I’m asking: upon what is your expertise based, besides attending conferences, reading a lot of thick books by non-Islamic Americans, reading American newspapers and official government reports?

>Just asking.



It’s wise I believe to keep such qualifications in mind before one takes seriously commentary from persons such as these:

>In the last few days there have been a lot of rumors of impending ceasefires and diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East. Condoleezza Rice, to the cheers of many, is reportedly heading to the region to head off further escalation. I hope she doesn’t go, and if she does, I hope her success is measured in photo-ops and nothing more, because Israel has a moral and strategic obligation to invade southern Lebanon.

I would add one question to Tristero’s list: do you have any experience with the realities of ground combat?

UPDATE (7/20/06): Tristero writes an apology:

>In a previous post, I questioned the credentials of the members of the Foreign Affairs roundtable on “What to do in Iraq.” Some members of that panel clearly are qualified, eminently so, to have an opinion appear under the auspices of the journal that promotes itself, by way of a quote, as “The Bible of Foreign Policy Thinking.”

>In particular, Marc Lynch of Abu Aardvark wrote to Hullabaloo: “…in addition to being a liberal blogger (, I do speak and read Arabic, write about al-Jazeera and the Arab media all the time, and published an op- ed opposing war with Iraq in the Christian Science Monitor in July 2002.” Marc’s clearly one of the Serious People who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Iraq; his opinions on the mess in Iraq are invaluable. Marc, a full and complete apology. I haven’t read your blog in anthing resembling a regular fashion and that has been truly my serious loss.

>And I’d like to apologize to other panel members who have garnered high-level credentials similar to Marc’s. Your comments, too, were helpful, even if I disagreed with them…no especially if I disagreed with them.

That’s good–we’re moving in the right direction for an informed discussion. But I think Tristero should ask whether any of them live in the region.