Shaky arguments on shaky ideological assumptions
by Akbar Ahmed
In two recent blog posts for Commentary, Max Boot while referring to my recent article in the New York Times and my latest study The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, writes that I “blame outsiders” for the problems of Pakistan, mainly “the dread Americans and their high-tech drones.”
Because his assessments of my arguments were incorrect, I took advantage of my right to reply, a hallmark of debate and discussion in this country. However, the editor of Commentary denied me this right to correct the misrepresentation of my work. I find this to be both unfair and unethical, particularly given the troubled times in which we live and the sensitivity of the issues which I raise. I, therefore, would like to set the record straight.
In both postings, Boot misses the core thesis of my entire study. The turmoil of the Tribal Areas and other tribal communities in border areas of the Muslim world, I cited 40 case-studies, is a result of the historical conflict between center and periphery, largely due to the mishandling of the central government. After 9/11, U.S. involvement through the war on terror, one small part of which is the use of the drone, exacerbates these conflicts which pre-date 9/11. The problems of Waziristan, however, are the problems of Pakistan, not the United States. It is only Pakistan that can resolve the law and order situation of Waziristan but this process is complicated by use of the drones. If the drones are gone tomorrow, the problems of Waziristan will remain without long term political and administrative solutions from the central government. As for the people on the periphery, their lives are being made miserable by drone strikes, the violent actions of the suicide bombers, the assaults of the national army, and their own tribal rivalries – factors that I have constantly underlined in my study. To single out only drones misrepresents it.
In regards to his critique of me, for him to say that Muslims, he mentions Egyptians and Pakistanis, always blame the United States for the failures of their own government and ignore their failings is absurd. I have spent, along with my family and friends, over two decades, a process accelerated since 9/11, promoting bridge-building and understanding between the US and the Muslim world. In this study, as in my previous ones, I have stressed the need for scholarship based in field research and facts, for which I have had the assistance of a dedicated team of young American scholars, all intensely patriotic and yet committed to my work. Indeed the last chapter of my book is called How to win the War on Terror. Besides, for Boot to write Akbar Ahmed says this because he is Pakistani is as ridiculous as saying Max Boot says these things because he is Russian.
Contrary to what Boot writes I have been particularly critical of the failure of central governments in the Muslim world to deal with the problems of the periphery and as a result have been criticized as “a Zionist agent” and “a Muslim traitor” (in this case after my comments on Baluchistan). But for Boot, scholarship on Muslims is only valid if it is in the mould of scholars like Bernard Lewis. This is again absurd. There are many differences between Lewis and myself—for a start, he is a historian and I am an anthropologist.
Surely an author should be judged on his work, and not the critic’s ideological assumptions. I expect more from a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and would suggest that Mr. Boot actually read my work before commenting on it again. Perhaps even someone called Ahmed may assist him in his growth as a fair-minded scholar.
Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He is the author of The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings 2013).