April 01, 2010

On Lady Gaga and Settlements: Thomas Hegghammer Weighs In

The debate over whether or not Lady Gaga or Israeli settlements is a bigger driver of conflict and anti-Americanism in the Middle East has heated up in spectacularly hilarious fashion since Brett Stephens wrote his original op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and I responded by posting videos of Haifa Wehbe, noting that sex and pop culture already mix in the Arabic-language public space almost as much as they do in ours. Stephens responded to some of the criticism that's been aimed his way here and makes the perfectly uncontroversial claim that America should stand up for its principles, its liberties, and its allies. Well... yeah. (The unasked and more controversial question is whether or not confronting Israel on settlements is good or bad for both U.S. and Israeli security.)

One point I made in my post, though, was that those whose understanding of the strands and evolution of Islamist thought is that of a learned amateur should be very careful holding forth on the subject and using the writings of people like Sayyid Qutb as evidence to support their claims. Someone with a more sophisticated grasp of the literature is likely to make your life miserable, which is one reason why I keep my mouth shut on the subject. Thomas Hegghammer briefly weighed in through the comments section of my post, and as I amended the post to make clear, I follow two rules concerning the study of Islamist ideologies:

  1. Thomas Hegghammer's analysis is correct.
  2. When you believe that Thomas Hegghammer's analysis is incorrect, refer back to Rule #1.

Read what Thomas wrote on Foreign Policy in response to Stephens. It's not that Palestine is the only issue Islamists care about, but it is an issue they care about, and in a big way. And that has potential consequences for policy-makers as they try to reduce drivers of conflict and lower levels of anti-Americanism in the region. Pretending otherwise, or walling all issues concerning Israel and the Palestinians off from your analysis, is just silly.