As the banner on our cover proclaims, spring 1986 is our fifteenth anniversary. In early April, we celebrated with a banquet attended by some 200 hundred readers and friends in Washington. On that occasion, MERIP also honored four individuals whose work has helped inform our own efforts. They were: the French writer and thinker Maxime Rodinson; Richard Butler, who heads the Church World Service, relief agency of the National Council of Churches, and who has consistently raised the Palestine question in church circles; Suad Al Sabah, who has worked to advance human rights and women’s rights in Kuwait and the Arab world; and Eqbal Ahmad, who has long been an articulate advocate of Middle East issues in the United States. We would like to take this occasion to share with you Eqbal’s remarks of that evening:
I am deeply moved. I should tell you why. It is nice in these painful times to be honored by people you can respect. I am very grateful.
Few institutions in the world, and none in North America, have told the truth about the Middle East or served the interests of its people more courageously and consistently than has the MERIP collective. Its longevity is a tribute to the commitment and consistency of those youthful intellectual activists who now approach their middle years as I become an older man. They offer a model of hard work, strength and independence. These opulent Middle Eastern rulers and bureaucrats who bring their plaints to the White House and the State Department or the Council on Foreign Relations could learn something from MERIP about what commands respect in this country.
MERIP remains a modest and austere outfit, limited in its outreach by the meagerness of its resources, blocked from experimenting by what appears to be a perennial financial handicap. Yet MERIP’s future and its solid reputation is, I believe, assured. For it has linked arms with the future. It is by far the most used Middle Eastern journal on American campuses. MERIP editors are teaching at institutions of higher learning; they are undoubtedly producing young scholars of humane outlook and radical inclination. I see an inspiring continuity here of generations of activist intellect.
I have lost my sense of humor tonight. Lynne Barbee’s affectionate compliments bear some responsibility. These are painful times for those of us who care deeply about the Middle East and its peoples. Adversity and elite indifference appear to have taken hold in these lands which, with but few exceptions, are occupied by armed, sectarian and undemocratic minority regimes. The Israelis are still in the occupied territories, lording over the beleaguered Palestinians. Saddam Hussein hangs on, determined to shed the last drop of Iraqi or Iranian blood to save his ill-gotten presidential seat. Across the boundaries of a pitiless war sits the stern Ayatollah, obsessed with an imagined past, oblivious to the destroyed lives and wrecked dreams of a great revolution.
The use of chemical weapons by one and the human wave attacks by the other accurately express Middle Eastern rulers’ contempt for the lives and welfare of the people. Lebanon goes on dying while “strongmen” everywhere preside over weak nations, from Pakistan to Morocco. In this tragic environment of menace and betrayal, modest groups — inside the Middle East no less than outside — strive to keep the candles of hope and reflection and resistance burning. With them, not with the moneyed and powerful, lies the future of the region. The MERIP collective is part of that effort to keep the civil society alive and critical. In these barbaric times you have continued to work, overtime, on subsistence wages — if any wages at all — critically and without compromise. It is a severe tribute to the collective that your report, the most widely read and influential scholarly Middle Eastern journal in North America, remains a lean, bootstrap outfit perpetually uncertain of its survival, yet alert to its obligations.
For these gifts, I am grateful and honored to be with you.
The barbarism that afflicts the Middle East and US policy there has already taken an enormous toll of lives, most recently in Libya. We feel a particular loss and grief over the kidnapping, torture and murder of Michel Seurat in Lebanon. Michel, a friend and contributor to our work, was an excellent and dedicated scholar who committed his life to weaving threads of understanding between the cultures of the West and the Middle East.
Teachers and journalists, not spies or policymakers, have been the principal Western victims of the perverted rage of Middle Easterners determined to avenge outside aggression against their societies. Michel, along with Peter Kilburn and Alex Collett, and alongside thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians, are martyrs ultimately to the desperate and ignorant efforts of the United States and its local allies, especially Israel, to impose their interests on the peoples of the region, no matter what the cost in blood.
We would like to clarify any misunderstanding that may have arisen from the “Marching Toward Civil War” title of our October-December issue on Israel and the occupied territories. MERIP continues to believe that the central issue here is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the suppression of Palestinian human and national rights, which inevitably gives rise to Palestinian resistance. The lead article focused on the rise of fascism and polarization within Israel; neither the title nor the first paragraph intended to suggest that Israel and the occupied territories constitute a single national unit or that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict represents a civil war.