Henry Kissinger’s world view of the Middle East

Kissinger photo
Photo by david_shankbone

In his new book “World Order,” Henry Kissinger reveals the extent to which classical Orientalism lives on the mindset and worldviews of thinkers, writers, journalists, and scholars. New scholarship on the Middle East hold little sway in comparison to the classical Orientalist literature which validates the worst impressions and misconceptions about Arabs and Muslims. In Kissinger’s new book, in the section dealing with the Middle East he seems totally indebted to the writings of Majid Khadduri.

Someone has to write about this but it is clear that the writings of Majid Khadduri had a great impact on American public and official views of the Middle East and Islam. Khadduri was an Iraqi scholar who taught in Iraq before settling in the US. He taught at several American universities and founded the Middle East program at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies. He became an expert on Islamic international law.

But the field of Islamic international law can also be studied historically and not as a field of contemporary political science. Yet, Khadduri left the lines between what was historical and what is contemporary rather murky and thus fueled Orientalist imagination that insisted that one has to hark back on the classical Islamic literature on all matters in order to understand the political behavior of current Muslims. Of all the writings on Islamic law by Khadduri, this was its legacy for classical Orientalists and for those US government and media is the dogmatic Zhdanovian split into the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. According to this ancient Islamic legal dichotomy, the Muslims are obligated to expand the Abode of Islam, thus implying that the Muslims would be in a state of constant war.



In reality, the adherence to such principles of Islamic law was dubious at best. Khadduri seemed to ignore the Abode of Sulh (Peace of Conciliation) that governed, for example, the relationship between Muhammad and the Christians of Najran. The reliance on this worldview was rejuvenated in the vulgar rejuvenation of the most vulgar forms of classical Orientalism (not the erudite and learned forms). In the book by Kissinger, his obsession with this classical worldview became an art form. In all his analysis of Arabs and Muslims, Kissinger strictly adheres to this interpretation of their behavior. This realist couldn’t countenance that Arabs and Muslims could act according to the same impulses of other states in the world. Kissinger has no problem applying his realist doctrine to understanding Chinese foreign policy but then again, the man has had deep business and consulting ventures there.

There are at least two flaws in this silly adherence. First, Muslims even in history never strictly adhered to this split of the two abodes. In the era of the Crusades, Muslims rulers often aligned with Crusader kingdoms against other fellow Muslim rulers. The rule of the Crusades relied much more on assistance of opportunistic local Muslim rulers than on the insignificant role played by Lebanese Maronites – which got to be exaggerated in Maronite patriarchate lore in order to remind the West of past services rendered. Second, what is the relevance of classical and antiquated Islamic laws in explaining the behavior of Muslim states today? The wishes of the US government play a far bigger role in determining the foreign policy orientations of Arab and Muslim states than the rules and regulations of Islamic law.

It is fitting that Kissinger, in his promotion of the Islamic and Arab threat, would fall onto the vulgar dogmas of classical Orientalism. “They” always have to operate according to norms and rules of behavior that apply to no other people on this earth.


Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil


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