When it comes to changing a state, which is only a political union, into a people, there is nothing like defeat. Not just losing a great war or enduring a great depression, but a definitive defeat that changes everything from then on, and spells The End of everything that has come before.
For Southerners, that single Event was The War (1861-65). Accepting the National Book Award for "The Moviegoer," which was published in 1962, a century after The War was fought,
For a generation of Arabs, the pivotal Event occurred in 1967. That was the year a small, beleaguered
Talk about a shock. Arab intellectuals reacted by going off in all directions, some taking refuge in unconvincing excuses, others by joining radical movements. But one of them,
Ajami refused to take refuge in the kind of bitterness that tempted the soldier in Stonewall Jackson's famous foot cavalry. The general had found the old boy straggling along in the rear and asked if he was all right. All the old soldier would say was, "Oh, I'm all right, Gen'l -- but I'll be damned if I ever love another country!"
To Ajami, the only hope of salvation lay not in a bottomless resentment or adopting some equal but opposite ideology to replace the old triumphalism of Arab propaganda, which had talked about throwing the Jews into the sea. Instead,
Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also,
generous when they are rich,
and when they are poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee as many do foresee)
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance,
that the Medes will break through after all.
What was the secret of Ajami's acceptance of reality and his determination to go on in quiet honor and simple decency? In a word, it was forgiveness. It liberated him from bitterness, and the vulgarity of propaganda. For his goal was peace -- not just an outward peace but an inner one.
Ajami's ceaseless critic was the insufferable
"During a visit to
All honor to the memory of