Fathom | Internalising defeat – the Six-Day War and the Arab world: an interview with Kanan Makiya

Kanan Makiya is known for two seminal books – Republic of Fear, which called attention to the cruel human rights abuses in Saddam’s Iraq, and Cruelty and Silence which highlighted how many Arab intellectuals and Western Leftists were turning a blind eye to that cruelty, their silence justified on “ideological” grounds. A supporter of the Iraq War as a member of the Iraqi opposition, he later became a critic of the conduct of the intervention. Most recently, he has published a novel, The Rope, about Iraqi failure in the wake of the 2003 American invasion, as seen through the eyes of a Shiite militiaman whose participation in the execution of Saddam Hussein changes his life in ways he could never have anticipated.

In this anniversary year of the 1967 Six-Day War, Kanan Makiya spoke to Fathom Editor and BICOM Senior Research Fellow Professor Alan Johnson about the legacy of the Six-Day War for the Arab World, for Arab politics, for the left, and for himself.

Alan Johnson: Growing up in Iraq, what was the feeling amongst your circle about Nasserism?

Kanan Makiya: Since the 1958 coup in Iraq, led by Brigadier Abd al Karim Qasim, which overthrew the monarchy and replaced it with the republic, the Nasserist movement in Iraq, never very strong in the first place, was essentially divided. The country was divided between Iraqists who put Iraq first and Arab nationalists who wanted the unification of the Arab world. In the years 1958 67, when I was growing up, this was a very divisive and defining political issue.

AJ: Can you recall the mood in Iraqi society immediately prior to the 1967 war? Was it hopeful?

KM: Absolutely not. Iraq differed from other Arab countries in that respect. Iraqi society was exhausted by 10 years of coups and counter coups. These were bloody affairs; in 1963 Qasim was overthrown by the Ba’ath party and killed in a spectacularly cruel and terrible way. The country was riven by a fundamental conflict between the Iraqi Communist Party, the largest and most popular party in the country, and the rising influence of the Arab nationalists. By the time of the 1967 war you could say people were exhausted and despondent.

Read the full article in Fathom.

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