This Reader is a guide to some of Martin Kramer’s most influential articles and addresses. These are presently grouped around seven themes: Academe, Islamism, U.S. Policy, Terrorism, Shiism, Identities, and Mediators.
Martin Kramer’s 2001 book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America challenged the untenable dogmas that have dominated the field for twenty years. For his critique of Middle Eastern studies, see the following:
- Ivory Towers on Sand, the book, which may be downloaded in its entirety (pdf).
- Ivory Towers book launch, remarks made upon publication of the book, placing it in context.
- Arab Studes: My Critical Review, an address delivered at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in 2005. asking what, if anything, has changed in the field since 9/11.
The debate over Islamism has grown in intensity as Islamist movements have grown in influence. Dr. Kramer has long expressed a skeptical view about nature of Islamism and its possible evolution:
- Fundamentalist Islam: The Drive for Power describes the major phases of Islamism through the 1990s.
- Islam vs. Democracy considers the Islamists’ own reservations about democracy and political pluralism.
- The Mismeasure of Political Islam is a reflection on academic myths about the flexibility of Islamism.
- Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists? shows how confusion in terminology reflects differences of interpretation.
- Islamists of All Kinds argues that the risks of integrating Hamas and Hizbullah exceed those of all other Islamist movements.
United States policy has wavered between idealism and realism. It has been crippled, too, by the failure to build up a cadre of experts who would explain U.S. policy to Arabs and Muslims. These articles touch on aspects of U.S. policy and its promotion in these essays:
- Endangered Species: The Arabists assesses the strengths and limitations of the famed State Department Arabists.
- What You Should Know about Muslim Politics and Society, published in an Aspen Institute book of “memos” to a U.S. president, sets out basic parameters of an illusion-free policy.
- Should America Promote a Liberal, Democratic Middle East? dwells on the perils of indiscriminate democracy promotion.
- Mr. Sharansky, Ease My Doubts engages Natan Sharansky’s democracy-first principle, embraced so wholeheartedly by President Bush.
- Déjà Vu: The ABCs of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East draws public diplomacy lessons for the United States from precedents set by former great powers.
The Middle East is the world’s prime generator of terrorism, global and local. But experts on the Middle East have avoided the study of terrorism, and terrorism experts often lack a grounding in the region’s history, culture, and languages. These studies seek to bridge the gap:
- Sacrifice and ‘Self-Martyrdom’ in Shiite Lebanon probes the origins of suicide bombings in Lebanon in the 1980s.
- Islam and the West (including Manhattan), published in 1993, examined the context of the first World Trade Center bombing. It contains some prescient passages.
- The War on Terror, an address delivered shortly after 9/11, is an analysis of the motives of Al Qaeda.
- Suicide Terrorism: Origins and Response is Martin Kramer’s side of a debate with Robert Pape, author of the influential Dying to Win.
It has been called the ‘Shi’ite crescent’: the belt of Shi’ite Muslims that runs from Lebanon in the west through Iraq, Iran, the Persian Gulf, and into south Asia. Martin Kramer came to the study of Shi’ism via Lebanon, and expanded from there. Here are some highlights:
- Hizbullah: The Calculus of Jihad is an overview of the rise and evolution of Lebanon’s radical Shi’ite movement.
- Syria’s Alawis and Shi’ism is an exploration of the weak link in the ‘Shi’ite crescent,’ and the way Syria’s secular regime has leveraged its (tenuous) affiliation to Sh’iite Islam.
- Khomeini’s Messengers in Mecca looks at the long history of Shi’ite-Wahhabi animosity through the prism of the pilgrimage to Mecca.
- Shi’ites and U.S. Policy: Between Allies and Adversaries explores divergent Shiite perceptions of the United States since the Iraq war.
The Middle East is a place where identities have been turned upside-down by modern history. The break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of nationalism, the resurgence of religion, and the crises of the state, have sharpened primordial allegiances and prompted violence. A few excursions:
- Arab Nationalism: Mistaken Identity runs briskly through the rise, heyday, and decline of the idea of one Arab nation. (This is the most-visited article on this website.)
- Rude Arab Awakening reflects on the deterioration of Arab politics in the mirror of Fouad Ajami’s Dream Palace of the Arabs.
- The Middle East, Old and New, is a mid-1990s think-piece on the state of identity in Israel, Iran, Turkey, and the Arab Middle East.
- When Minorities Rule, inspired by the Iraq war, asks whether minority rule is always illegitimate in a Middle East with no tradition of democracy.
The Middle East is subject to perpetual mediation by those who seek to explain, clarify, or obscure it to the West. Some come from the region, some from the West. Their motives are mixed, but their mediation is often driven by a personal pursuit of meaning. Some examples:
- The Arab Nation of Shakib Arslan gives an account of Europe’s leading pan-Islamic activist between the world wars.
- Ambition, Arabism, and George Antonius explores the irreconcilable allegiances that derailed the author of The Arab Awakening in his last years.
- The Road from Mecca: Muhammad Asad (born Leopold Weiss) follows the strange career of the Austrian Jew whose Road to Mecca is the most famous account of conversion to Islam.
- Prisoner of Hate: Jean Genet and Palestine asks why the iconoclastic French playwright became enamored of Palestinian violence.