From Kanan Makiya
Writing a book is a long and personal experience. If the experience of writing is genuine—when the writer wrestles with the world’s demons and reflects or refracts those demons through his or her writing—then a good book will invariably result. A book’s beauty comes from personal opinion.
Republic of Fear first appeared to the public in 1989, but was actually finished in 1986. The book took six years to write, which is something one would not know from reading it. But it took those six years to change from one way of thinking about the world to another.
My first political experience was in 1967, the year of the Six Day War. Many Arabs of that generation had similar feelings about the completeness of the Arab defeat. This was not something that a young man growing up in Baghdad, who was totally immersed in school, could ignore. It was a revealing time. The event exposed the lies of the post-World War II nation-states that appeared in the Middle East. Like the rest of my generation, I pinned my hopes on, and channeled my energy into, supporting the rising star of the Palestinian resistance movement. This movement became a viable alternative to the decrepit regimes that had failed in 1967—and the realization that this too was an illusion was the real impetus behind Republic of Fear.
Three major events in the Middle East were crucial to the transformation that resulted in Republic of Fear. The first experience was the Lebanese civil war. The same Palestinian organizations through which so many Arabs had hoped to find a new beginning engaged in mafia-like conduct. The second major event was the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the explosion that threw Marxist notions of progressive movements into complete disarray. The final event was the Iraq-Iran War. The casualties of the war alone, which far outnumbered those of the Arab-Israeli conflict, demonstrated that the political center of gravity did not lie in the ongoing Palestinian dilemma. Instead, the center could be found in much bigger conflicts. Other little things led to the writing of Republic of Fear as well, such as personal stories about the terrible atrocities inside Iraq. There were no explanations or theories for their existence—something that added to my overall disillusionment.
In the course of writing Republic of Fear, I underwent a kind of political transformation from a nationalist, socialist, and Marxist perspective to one based on the liberal classics of the last two hundred years—books that were not available before the writing project began. When I discovered these writings in the early 1980s, it was so revolutionary for my own understanding that I began translating some of them into Arabic. Twenty years later, a contemporary author who wrote biting internet satires of the Iraqi political elite was enormously influenced by these translations. In this way, books live on in other writers in some shape or form.
Kanan Makiya delivered these remarks last October 20, at the launch of The Washington Institute Book Prize. —MESH