Samir al-Khalil became famous when his book on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, REPUBLIC OF FEAR, originally published in 1989 with little hope of popular success, became a near-bestseller because of the Persian Gulf War. At a dramatic university seminar the author revealed his true identity as Iraqi architect Kanan Makiya. In 1991 Makiya published THE MONUMENT, a short discussion of architecture under Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime.
CRUELTY AND SILENCE is Makiya’s first full-length book since REPUBLIC OF FEAR, and clearly represents a bid for further commercial success on the basis of the author’s reputation. Such a bid is not inherently despicable. This book, though, is so sloppy (structurally, conceptually, and even grammatically) and self-serving that the reader comes away feeling great sympathy (perhaps wrongly; but how can one tell?) for Makiya’s adversaries (mostly Arab intellectuals such as Edward W. Said) and with only incidentally enhanced understanding of contemporary Arab politics. A serious, honest writer surely could have exploited the critical and popular success of REPUBLIC OF FEAR to salutary effect. In this, Makiya fails utterly.
The best thing to be said for CRUELTY AND SILENCE is that in its failure it suggests the need for debate and scholarship on its ostensible topic. Eqbal Ahmad, a friend and colleague of Said’s, published a review mercilessly trashing Makiya’s book in THE NATION of August 9/16, 1993; that piece is valuable for its well-reasoned argument and its citations of several other important essays. An item in THE NEW REPUBLIC of January 3, 1994 (“Plumbing and Silence”) also is helpful. Lawrence Weschler’s long profile of Makiya and his father appeared in the January 6, 1992 issue of THE NEW YORKER.
Sources for Further Study
Foreign Affairs. LXXII, Summer, 1993, p.208.
The Nation. CCLVII, August 9, 1993, p.178.
National Review. XLV, July 5, 1993, p.51.
The New Republic. CCIX, July 19, 1993, p.37.
New Statesman and Society. VI, May 14, 1993, p.34.
The New York Review of Books. XLI, May 27, 1993, p.3.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, June 27, 1993, p.7.
The New Yorker. LXIX, April 26, 1993, p. 114.
Publishers Weekly. CCXL, March 1, 1993, p.46.
The Times Literary Supplement. June 11, 1993, p.14.