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The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq Hardcover – July 4, 2006

33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Ajami draws on a variety of contemporary texts, mostly unknown or inaccessible to Western authors.... The result, based on six extended visits to Iraq and a lifetime of travel and experience, is the best and most idiosyncratic recent treatment of the American presence there. A series of firsthand portraits, often brilliantly subtle, of some fascinating players in contemporary Iraq." -- Victor Davis Hanson, Commentary

"The Foreigner's Gift stands in the tradition of Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul.... A wide-ranging, brilliant investigation of Iraq and the Arab world since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Elegantly, Ajami interweaves history, literature, philosophy, politics, and religion with a sensitive grasp of politics in Iraq and the United States. A masterpiece." -- Josef Joffe, Publisher-editor of Die Zeit

"Few have the requisite ability and courage to accurately diagnose the Arab world's myriad political maladies.... Fouad Ajami, who has performed the task admirably on more than one occasion, does not disappoint with The Foreigner's Gift." -- Rayyan al-Sharaf, San Francisco Chronicle --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Fouad Ajami is the Majid Khadduri Professor of Middle East Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report and a consultant to CBS News on Middle Eastern affairs. Ajami is a frequent contributor to Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and other periodicals and outlets worldwide. Born in Lebanon and raised in Beirut, he is based in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 378 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (July 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074323667X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743236676
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,778,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the cochair of the Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order. From 1980 to 2011 he was director of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Arab Predicament, Beirut: City of Regrets, The Dream Palace of the Arabs, and The Foreigner's Gift. His most recent publication is The Syrian Rebellion (Hoover Institution Press, 2012). His writings also include some four hundred essays on Arab and Islamic politics, US foreign policy, and contemporary international history. Ajami has received numerous awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award for public service (2011), the Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism (2011), the Bradley Prize (2006), the National Humanities Medal (2006), and the MacArthur Fellows Award (1982). His research has charted the road to 9/11, the Iraq war, and the US presence in the Arab-Islamic world.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 90 people found the following review helpful By John Zxerce on July 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The thing I appreciate most about Ajami's book is that it's based on research he gathered during six trips to Iraq. He's interviewed, listened to, and spoken with people from every conceivable position of influence. As a result, he's writing from and commenting on a collection of feelings, hopes, and fears prevailing in Iraq.

Ajami has a deep love for the Middle Eastern culture, which combined with scholarly insight produces a book of beautiful and revealing sketches of the ongoing struggle for Iraq and of the American encounter with the Arab culture. If that sounds like a contradiction, it almost is.

While Ajami is careful to avoid generalizations he ends up painting a portrait using both black and white - hope and despair. In fact, he believes both are living together side-by-side in Iraq. It is through this haze that he peers in order to bring some clarity and insight regarding the daily life of various Arab perspectives on the current state of Iraq. One way he does that is by focusing on how Iraq's particular history led to its present circumstance.

In addition to the historical emphasis of the book I wish Ajami had asked questions of Islam itself and how the foundational tenants of the religion contribute to the feelings, tensions, and state of the region. Of course that might require a level of fearlessness that even Ajami would prefer to avoid.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Mark Blackburn on January 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In a recent review for a best-selling book "America Alone," one of Amazon's top 30 reviewers had just one "major complaint."

"(Author) Mark Steyn does a great job describing where we're at NOW, and where we might be in thirty years, but offers almost nothing about what could happen in the middle. A lot of events will occur between now and then" (for instance) "radical Islam could implode --- simultaneously squeezed from the outside by the United States and from within by substantial . . . differences among the branches of Islam."

For all of us asking the same question, "What's going to happen there next?" I believe the most enlightening answers are available right here -- in this beautifully written, deeply insightful book by Fouad Ajami: "The Foreigner's Gift: Americans, Arabs and Iraqis in Iraq."

A teacher at Johns Hopkins University ("2006 recipient of the Bradley Prize") Ajami enlightens us on why things will get better in Iraq - eventually. But in the meantime he says,

"Pity those men now hunkered down in Baghdad . . . as they walk a fine, thin line between the yearning for justice and retribution in their land, and the scrutiny of the outside world."

"In the fullness of time," the author says, "the Arab world's order of power will come to a grudging acceptance of the order that is sure to take hold in Baghdad." This is after all, a region which "respects the prerogatives of power." Of all Arab lands, "Iraq is the most checkered -- a frontier country at the crossroads of Arabia, Turkey and Persia" . . . and "Sunni Arabs in Iraq and beyond have never accepted (such) diversity.
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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on August 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For many Americans - myself included - the war in Iraq was not entirely about oil, weapons of mass destruction, nor links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Although all of these reasons were given for going to war, it was ultimately about something else. The nineteen young Arabs that attacked America on 9/11 were products of Arab history and culture. They were products of the "anger" of the Arab world were terrorism had taken root. Of all the Arab lands, the most tortured and merciless was Iraq. The Baath regime in Baghdad had poisoned the atmosphere in the Middle East for many years. The American overthrow of the regime was meant to give Iraqis and other peoples of the region the possiblity of liberating themselves and building a decent future, and in the process eliminating the root causes of terrorism.

To my knowledge no one has articulated this view better than Fouad Ajami. I have been a fan of his for many years, finding his assessments of the Middle East to be very accurate. He was born of a Shiite family in Lebanon and he is currently professor of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins. His new book is based on six trips he made to Iraq since the American invasion. He has been granted access to many government officials in Iraq as well as Washington.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the ruling Sunni minority in Baghdad caused an upheaval in the Arab world that at first was met with silence. The Sunni Arab elites were reticent about the rise of the Shiite majority and were secretly hoping that the Sunnis would remain in power. They rarely criticized the Jordanian born Sunni al-Zarqawi during his three year reign of terror when he brought death and destruction to Iraqi civilians.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Linda on November 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fouad Ajami's text provides deeper insight into the complicated nature of Iraq. The relations between the Shia and the Sunnis often reminds one of the complicated relationship between the Catholics and the early Protestants as the Christian church altered its vision of Christianity. My understanding of the importance of tribalism and the various long-term family backgrounds of the current leaders emerging in Iraq has also been deepened. The value of America's intervention in Iraq is clearly favored by Ajami which is something I knew before I read the book, but reading this perspective has greatly improved my understanding of why we entered Iraq. Also, my understanding of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran and the entire Middle East has grown. I had no idea how the other nations impacted the machinations of Iraq and each other until I read this book. Now when I read the news, I have a greater understanding of how the various nations impact each other. The beauty of Iraq is also clearly expressed and valued by Ajami - I had no idea about the great poetry of the region and its importance to its people. The descriptions of the Iraq landscape allow one to see positives about the region that are not read in the current media. Also, Ajami's portrayal of leaders who have long-term positive visions for Iraq and work towards those visions despite death threats and deaths of their family and other like-minded leaders, filled me with hope.
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