Read with Caution!
MERIP owes its readers a much more critical review of Alan Hart’s Arafat: Terrorist or Peacemaker? than John Egan’s (MERIP Reports 136/37). Hart’s analytic style is that of a public relations agent. The average reader will doubt the accuracy of his account since he treats every PLO official’s utterance as a pearl of wisdom; the more specialized reader will be put off by his sycophantic tone. Hart’s own self-promotion as the agent of a failed diplomatic mission involving the PLO is a further irritant. Arafat and the PLO need and deserve serious analysis, not hagiographies. Hart’s book should be read with extreme caution.
John Egan responds: I agree that Alan Hart’s book lacks critical distance. Hart’s rhetoric is frequently hyperbolic, his evidence is selective and his argument lacks subtlety. Perhaps my brief review didn’t make this clear enough. Hart’s title suggests his primary audience was the general reader in Britain or the US who would be more likely to view the Middle East in terms of “terrorism” versus “peace.” Should he not be judged by somewhat different criteria than if he had written for Middle East specialists? In any case, it is clear that Arafat is not the first sympathetic book on the Palestinians which ends up shooting itself in the foot.
I can sympathize with Kiera Powers’ letter in the October-December issue. My impression is that the New Jewish Agenda plays the role of apologist for the Zionists within the progressive movement, and that actions such as those described by David Finkel in his letter cannot really be described as “mistakes.” The NJA quite consistently transmits information of our activities to the Zionist establishment, and just as consistently is quite disciplined about keeping untoward information about Zionist activities away from us, their supposed “friends.” Other examples, such as voting to exclude the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Commit- tee from a coalition, should be familiar to everyone. All of which points up the simple truth that there is no such thing as a “progressive” Zionist. Such oxymoronic expressions should not appear in MERIP.
Women and Baku
As a long-term subscriber and recently a sustainer, I found issue 138, “Women and Politics,” very disappointing and disturbing. Considering that MERIP’s analyses have always been based on a materialist (dare I say Marxist) methodology, it was very surprising to see several articles which, while at some points offering objective reports on the diverse and changing political roles of women in the Middle East, seemed determined to force that development onto a Procrustean bed of a feminist analysis.
Rather than studying women’s activity in the context of what was politically possible in given situations, or trying to understand why women chose the roles they chose, the articles on Sudan and Palestine in particular seem to indict the revolutionary movements for their failure to support or develop “autonomous women’s movements” without giving us any clue as to what would be the role of such a movement, how it could function in the existing class society at the existing level of technological development. What comes across is a moralistic indictment of the revolutionary forces for not taking up the (unspecified) agenda the writer would like to see. The specific problems of sexism that do exist and have been taken up well or poorly as they presented them? selves to the real needs of the national liberation movement are slighted…. [One paragraph] imputes, without any evidence whatsoever, a sinister motive to (male) Palestinian leadership and interest in continuing to oppress women, and then implies that Palestinian women, in not taking up a feminist agenda (whatever that is) are hopelessly naive, participants in their own oppression.
None of the divisions within the revolutionary classes…can be postponed until after the revolution. Nevertheless, they cannot be seen as more important than the overriding struggle for national liberation, which in the second half of the twentieth century means socialist revolution. When a nation cannot determine its own future, it can hardly move to change the social structures which can decisively eliminate sexism, racism or any other social division. This is an understanding shared, and shown in practice, by revolutionary women in many underdeveloped countries, and deserves some more respect from feminist preachers from the imperialist countries.
A second disturbing item in the issue was the letter from Baku, whose grudging recognition of some of the accomplishments of Soviet Azerbaijan was liberally sprinkled with anti-communist cliches. Toward the end of the article, the question of secession is raised, with the implication that material wellbeing has precluded interest in that — should I take that to mean the Soviet Union has bribed its Azerbaijanis to give up their national identity? Leaving aside its substantial degree of autonomy in many areas other than overall national economic planning, Azerbaijanis participate fully in the development of national policy, and are no more dictated to by Moscow than the state of New York is dictated to by Washington; on a popular level, I suspect there is a far greater understanding and support of national policies than you would find from the man on the street in any state of the US.
During a visit to Baku last summer as part of a trade union delegation, I found that talking with people on the street was more difficult than in Moscow or Leningrad…the language in the parks and streets is not Russian, schools are not conducted in Russian, but in Azerbaijani.
Unlike any other city I have visited in the Middle East, Baku at midday lacked bars and cafes full of men in their twenties and thirties — graphic illustration of full employment. Despite the lack of any shrill religious moral authority, I suspect it is harder to find a prostitute in Baku than Tehran or even Riyadh.
We asked [our guides] if there was any immigration to Azerbaijan from Iran, given the obviously more stable and healthy economic and political situation. At first they denied there was any. We didn’t accept this answer and pressing our hosts, found out that there is a substantial amount of illegal immigration for economic reasons — and that such people when discovered are generally repatriated. However, political asylum is granted on occasion; approximately 600 as of August 1985. A lot of activists, while supporting liberation struggles in process become skeptical fault finders after they are achieved. We can criticize Azerbaijan, surely, but first let’s lay a foundation of solidarity and support for the tremendous accomplishments of national and socialist liberation in one important piece of the Middle East/Southwest Asia.
Zone of Peace Conference
Fremantle is one of the more important US "rest and relaxation" ports of call in the Indian Ocean. Our main aim is to campaign against these visits. Your publication has been very useful in helping us understand the role of the US here and in the region. From the back page of our newsletter you will see a table of US port calls in the region in 1984. You may find it interesting. The development of the local and Australian peace movement has been quite dramatic over the past six years, and particularly so here in Fremantle. We and other groups locally have successfully sought government funds to hold an “Indian Ocean Zone of Peace Peoples Conference” in Fremantle later this year. We will be looking to invite representatives from as many of the Indian Ocean countries as possible — and also from the US, probably also the USSR, New Zealand and the Philippines. We will discuss historical and economic aspects alongside the military and UN declaration. If you are in contact with likely interested people within the region can you please advise us of their names, addresses and particular interests or have them contact us.