Michael Oren: Interviewed about the Middle East
HNN Editor: This interview is from 2002. We decided to post a link to it at HNN in light of the 6-Day War anniversary.]
Michael B. Oren, the author of Six Days of War, talks about how a short but momentous conflict forged the modern Middle East....
You have said,"I'm a Zionist; I've devoted my life to Israel. Still, I set out to write a thoroughly honest and dispassionate book." Could you talk about how you went about trying to achieve that balance? How did your strong feelings about Israel play into the writing of the book?
No one writes an objective book. In the postmodern period, there's a tendency to indulge one's prejudices in history. The assumption is that you can't be objective and that to claim objectivity is to be disingenuous. But I believe that balance is something you strive for in the way a mathematician will strive for absolute zero, knowing in advance that he can't ever achieve it, but that he can get closer to it. Since my objective was to understand the Six-Day War and to understand how such a profound event unfolded—an event that is so profoundly impacting our current world—for me to indulge my prejudices would have been counterproductive. And I really viewed those prejudices as obstacles to overcome when I sat down to write history. Every time I came to a document that could be interpreted one way or another, I had to ask myself, Am I interpreting this document in the most balanced way possible, or am I reading it as an Israeli? From the first to the very last page of this book it was a challenge. But some of the most gratifying feedback I've received on the book has been from Arab scholars. I've spoken at Harvard, at Oxford, and most recently at the Council on Foreign Affairs and the National Press Club, and there have been Arab scholars at all of these talks and the feedback has been very encouraging. Recently I was invited to interview on Al Jazeera. It was the highest compliment I could get. I finally made it. I made Al Jazeera!
It seems from what you say in the book that in the years following 1967 the war was an incredibly painful, off-limits topic for the Arabs, so Arab scholars must have waited a while before they started studying it.
Even now it's very painful. This was the Arab world's first major postcolonial crisis, and they didn't fare well in it. They had to come to grips with why the promise of national liberation failed, and that is a painful endeavor. By the way, I think it's a necessary endeavor. It is an essential step in both the political maturation of the region and toward some resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict....
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