James Zogby Disappoints

Last night James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, interviewed author Lawrence Wright on C-Span about his Al-Qaeda book, The Looming Tower, and alas made a hash of it.

The best thing about After Words, the book interview show, is that it pairs an author with someone who knows the subject and often comes at it from a different point of view. The best example of this was David Frum’s superb interview of Victor Navasky a year ago, for Navasky’s book, A Matter of Opinion. Frum was both respectful and sharp, and the polished Navasky humored him for a while before he grew impatient with Frum’s description of the errors of the left, and defenestrated him. I forget the specific exchange, though I do recall that Frum tried to grill Navasky over the alleged anti-Semitism of Nation magazine writers. (Frum and I share a hobbyhorse; he just rides it backwards).

Anyway, last night, the interview went along on data points surrounding Al Qaeda before Wright climbed up to the high board: the despair in the Muslim world. “Islamic societies are in a crisis… All the statistics are so dismal… the absence of knowledge, the widespread illiteracy, all these things create depair…”

This is Bernard Lewis regurgitated by a new generation, and some of it is true. I have commented often on the lack of reading I observed in Syria. The problem is that it is purely materialistic. The statistics are economic ones, and they often seek to valorize Israel, because it is so modern. Those of us on the left who are concerned with Muslim hearts and minds are not talking strictly about their pocketbooks. Other things beside western progress puncture the spirit of Arabs. Like, injustice.

Zogby knows this, and could have educated a great number of us by expressing this point of view. The closest he got was “Doesn’t the loss of control and policies we’ve perpetrated contribute as well?” He meant, I will bet, the Occupied Territories, and the charnel house that David Frum and John Podhoretz have made of Iraq. But he didn’t say so out loud. And Wright then pushed the question aside with another serving of pablum. Zogby had something of a fawning smile throughout. This was a true misfortune, a lost opportunity to extend the dialogue between worldviews…