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November 21, 2004

"Gullible," not "naive"

From Martin Kramer we learn about the current president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Laurie Brand.

Brand didn't have a reputation as an over-the-top propagandist—until the lead-up to the Iraq war. In the spring of 2003, Brand was in Beirut on sabbatical leave. As Operation Iraqi Freedom got underway, she penned an anti-war letter (scroll to last item) addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell, on behalf of "Americans living in Lebanon." The letter cited various far-out predictions (e.g., over a million Iraqis might die because of damage to Iraq's water supply), added that "'regime change' imposed from outside is itself completely undemocratic," and ended in these words: "We refuse to stand by watching passively as the US pursues aggressive and racist policies toward the people around us. We reject your claim to be taking these actions on our behalf. Not in our name." Seventy Americans signed it.

Brand and a dozen of her colleagues then scheduled a meeting with Vincent Battle, U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, to deliver their letter. But on the appointed day, the road to the embassy was closed because of raucous anti-American demonstrations by Lebanese students. Brand and five other Americans would not be deterred. "Intent upon doing something, we took to the median strip of the Corniche," Beirut's seaside boulevard. "We stood near Beirut's International College with our protest signs identifying us as Americans and calling for an end to the war." According to Brand, passersby greeted them with thanks and blessings. It must have been quite a spectacle: the president-elect of MESA, literally walking the "Arab street" at the head of a honk-if-you-hate-U.S.-policy protest.
But what's truly funny is this:

To return to Brand's pounding the Beirut pavement in a sandwich board: she admitted she was surprised when an elderly gentleman drove by and told her, in English, "You are so gullible." "I have given this sentence some thought," wrote Brand, "wondering exactly what ideas or beliefs prompted it....Perhaps this gentleman thought our gullibility lay in an expectation that our protests would end the war." Now old gentlemen in Lebanon who speak English are quite likely to use the language with precision (unlike most American professors), and he didn't say naive. He said gullible. Yes, it would have been naive to think that protests would end the war. But to be gullible is to be subject to easy manipulation by others, and I'll bet the old man meant this: you're a dupe, for standing in the median strip of the "Arab street" to demonstrate in defense of the Arab world's most despicable regime.

Just another day in Middle Eastern Studies.