The Military-Intellectual Complex

November 1, 2006

In April of 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, Adam Shatz of The Nation wrote a article portraying the prominent Arab-American intellectual Fouad Ajami as a “native informant.” Shatz wrote:

“…(Ajami’s) once-luminous writing, increasingly a blend of Naipaulean clichés about Muslim pathologies and Churchillian rhetoric about the burdens of empire, is saturated with hostility toward Sunni Arabs in general (save for pro-Western Gulf Arabs, toward whom he is notably indulgent), and to Palestinians in particular. He invites comparison with Henry Kissinger, another émigré intellectual to achieve extraordinary prominence as a champion of American empire…”

And underlining Ajami’s role in advocating for the invasion, “If Hollywood ever makes a film about Gulf War II, a supporting role should be reserved for Ajami…” (Read Shatz’s The Native Informant)

More recently, as the air is abuzz with word of possible ‘action’ against Iran, Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University accuses fellow Iranian intellectual in exile and author of the bestselling Reading Lolita in Tehran of serving a similar capacity in America’s designs against Iran.

According to Boston Globe’s Christopher Shea who quotes Dabashi’s “vituperative attack” on Nafisi in Al-Ahram, Dabashi writes:

“Rarely has an Oriental servant of a white-identified, imperial design, managed to pack so many services to imperial hubris abroad and racist elitism at home—all in one act.” (Read Shea’s Book Clubbed)

Yours truly has not the credentials to opine on the authenticity of the accusations against either of these luminaries, and ideally should not pretend to do so. But he can’t help himself. So here it goes.

I have long been of the opinion that just as Ike had warned about the predisposition to warmaking that is inherent in the collusion of industry, technology, and the military (the so-called “military-industrial complex”), there is an unholy matrimony of sorts between scholarship and empire-building in our times. Call it the military-intellectual complex -or even better, the hidden pun that lies in the name “think-tank,” and that might as well be extended to “think-shoot” and “think-invade.” In fact, as the late Edward Said argued nearly three decades ago in his immortal work Orientalism, the nexus of knowledge and power extends as far back as empire itself. Still one can make the argument that the relationship is especially cozy in these times.

Cast in this light, one cannot help but wonder how big a role Ajami and Nafisi may have played (wittingly or otherwise) in engineering the war plans. And frankly, both of these people look just too good and pampered on TV, and for me that is always cause for suspicion.

Now here is something that will really bake your noodle: who do you think fits the profile of the “native informant” in the case of the war in Afghanistan? And don’t say it’s Zalmay Khalilzad. He fits another profile -that of the “reluctant warrior”- in the US overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and he is scarcely “native.”

One last observation:

Ajami and Nafisi both happen to teach at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Hmmm… how intriguing.  Wonder if I (willing as I am at this point to sell my soul for admission to a PhD program with a full ride) should maybe drop by for some peptalk.