Raising the Stakes

I was astonished by many of the assertions in Lorraine Adams's review of Shibley Telhami's The Stakes: America and the Middle East (Book World, March 16). Among them: "Telhami is an ambassador of the moderate Arab perspective" whose book is a "useful primer" that "contains little that is new or striking" and "will be clarifying mostly for the novice." Even for those like me who have been immersed in the Arab-Israeli imbroglio for more than 25 years, Telhami's analytic insights, including the significance of the changing role of public opinion in the Middle East, are truly eye-openers. The distinguished scholarship that undergirds his analysis stems from Telhami's uniquely balanced perspective, so rare among scholars on this tormented region.

Contrary to the impression of pro-Arab bias that subtly but unmistakably infuses Adams's review, Telhami demonstrates throughout this book an extraordinary empathy for both Israeli and Arab perspectives on the central issues in the conflict. There are examples of this everywhere, including Telhami's condemnation of the immorality of Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli retaliatory acts against innocents.

While seeking to help his fellow Americans understand what we are up against in seeking to counter widespread, deep-seated Arab anger, Telhami never strays from his penetrating, balanced point of view. His book could not be more timely, and it richly deserves the many accolades it has already received. Unfortunately, the sketchy nature of The Post's review would sadly mislead any casual Post reader as to its worth.

SAMUEL W. LEWIS

McLean, Va.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel, 1977-1985

I was disturbed that Lorraine Adams's review of Shibley Telhami's book, The Stakes: America and the Middle East, calls the author a "Christian Arab born near Haifa" and an "ambassador of the moderate Arab perspective" when in fact he is an American citizen whose frequent use of the word "we" in the book clearly refers to Americans -- not to Arabs, Christians or Israelis.

Telhami's balanced book about American policy dilemmas no more represents "the Arab perspective" than this letter represents "the Jewish perspective." Let us hope the pigeonholing of authors by racial and religious background does not become a regular feature of Post book reviews.

JOSHUA S. GOLDSTEIN

Amherst, Mass.

The review of my book by Lorraine Adams is disturbingly misleading by omission, misrepresentation and insinuation. Stating that I said many Arabs see Palestinian suicide bombings as "acts of national liberation," she ignores my immediate reply: "This notion should be challenged as the U.S. has been trying to do: Terrorist means must be rejected regardless of their aims." In saying that I suggested that the United States must be more critical of Israeli attacks on civilian targets, she ignores my statement that, regardless of Palestinian aims, the position that "they have no right to use terrorist tactics that inflict so much horror on so many innocent people" is a "worthy moral position." When she quotes me on how much of the "world sees terrorism as an instrument," she omits that I added that it is in fact "an immoral means" -- and that the point of that whole section of the book is that terrorism "must be internationally de-legitimized." She ignores that I speak as an American who has lived here most of my life and served in the U.S. government and instead centrally features one aspect of my ethnic background as if it defines my intellect.

Adams also claims that I believe that the tendency toward conspiracy theories is "understandable" and ignores my verdict: "This tendency is ultimately self-defeating because it makes constructive change more difficult." She claims that I say "Saddam Hussein is rational" when the point of that section of The Stakes was to argue that it is much easier to deter states, even ones with ruthless dictators, than to deter shadowy non-state groups like al Qaeda.

The insinuations are troubling. Adams volunteers what I never argued: "Telhami doesn't suggest outright that the United States should cut aid to Israel." And again, she ignores what I did say: "In the end, Israeli and Palestinian leaders must assume much of the responsibility for leading their own nations out of a disastrous course." In describing my opposition to a unilateral war on Iraq she puts it this way: "He agrees with the predominant Arab view that America should not invade Iraq," as if opposing the war is "an Arab view," and not a reflection of the nearly equal division of opinion in the United States preceding the onset of the war with Iraq. It is as if Adams has read a different book.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI

Anwar Sadat Professor

for Peace and Development

University of Maryland

Non-Resident Senior Fellow

The Saban Center

at the Brookings Institution

Language is a very powerful tool, perhaps most so when abused. I am deeply upset by the prejudice-engendering language of Lorraine Adams in her review of Shibley Telhami's The Stakes.

Adams establishes an immediate sense of us vs. them in her opening sentence: "By now, it is much more than obvious that many Arabs and Muslims don't love Americans." So it seems that now, along with 6 million others, I am no longer American. Sadly, the news from the Arabian street abroad is not that people do not love Americans, but that they are fearful of the U.S. military and American foreign policy, and often feel victimized by American power. The Post repeatedly reports how Muslims and people of Arab descent who are not Americans wish they were. But Adams repeats -- indeed, burns into the reader's memory -- the causes of her allegations of Arabian hatred for Americans. This is a classic rhetorical tool used by propagandists either to desensitize their public or to sell a lie to their public as truth.

As more and more pieces like Adams's lace themselves through The Post, one can only wonder if The Post desires that its readers support a war on faceless enemies who all think alike, have repugnant ideas and hate us anyway -- and who don't exist here as citizens and neighbors.

ABDULKADER THOMAS

McLean, Va.

An American Difference of Opinion

If all the world saw eye to eye on the merits of literary works, the task of selecting titles for the Library of America would be both easier and duller. Knowing as I do the wide-ranging, informed and passionate discussions that take place before any title enters the series, I am baffled by Jonathan Yardley's imputation of editorial dereliction (Book World, March 9). That Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy is visionary, penetrating and enduringly influential is not an esoteric opinion, whether or not Yardley happens to share it. The point of the Library of America is not to ratify the opinions of any particular person or group but to publish work that has had a continuing vital significance for the culture. Dreiser's major novels certainly qualify.

GEOFFREY O'BRIEN

Editor-in-Chief

The Library of America

Guns and Numbers

In his review of my work (Book World, February 2), Saul Cornell falsely claimed that "David B. Mustard, Lott's original co-author, . . . concedes that data from the 1990s show a rise in crime in those states that adopted right-to-carry laws." In fact, Mustard wrote the exact opposite: that the data showed "sharp decreases in murder, rape and robbery."

In addition, the research in my new book, The Bias Against Guns, uses three more years of data than have been used previously through 2000 and continues to find very similar reductions in violent crime from right-to-carry laws.

JOHN R. LOTT JR.

Resident Scholar

The American Enterprise Institute

Saul Cornell replies:

Scholars have a duty to check their sources before they go into print. The quotation that Lott attributes to Mustard does not appear anywhere in the book I reviewed, Evaluating Gun Policy. What Mustard actually argues there is that the more restrictive nature of concealed-carry laws passed in the 1990s might account for economist John J. Donohue's discovery that states passing such laws witnessed an increase in crime. This argument implicitly concedes Donohue's point, but seeks to explain away its significance by arguing that the second wave of concealed carry laws passed in the 1990s imposed too great a cost on those seeking permits.

Mustard's explanation is not very persuasive. If more guns mean less crime, then more restrictive concealed-carry laws ought to lead to smaller decreases, not increases, in crime. Mustard does argue that if one looks at both the 1980s and '90s together the net impact was a decrease in crime, but this does not bear directly on the question of what happened to those states that enacted permissive gun-carrying laws in the 1990s.

The Book on the Unabomber

My first reaction, on reading Todd Gitlin's review of my book, Harvard and the Unabomber (Book World, March 2), was that he had confused it with another. Not only is his review riddled with errors, ascribing to me claims I never made and falsely accusing me of sloppy research, it also missed the major theme of the book.

Contrary to what Gitlin claims, I nowhere wrote that Harvard and not Kaczynski was to blame for his crimes. Rather, I repeatedly emphasized that Kaczynski is an evil man who committed murder of his own free will and deserves his punishment. And while I did suggest that his Harvard years were "a turning point" (but not the turning point) in his life, I made clear his experiences there neither excused nor fully explained his crimes.

More important, by treating my book so simplistically, Gitlin missed the larger historical dimension, namely: how the Cold War changed America, contributing to a culture of despair on college campuses while simultaneously encouraging many professors to engage in ethically questionable research. Half the book is dedicated to this history, which reveals how this despair and the co-optation of much of academe by the military encouraged the proliferation of various ideologies of violence, some of which still spread their poison. And I suggest this contains a lesson for today: that in launching the "war on terrorism," our government is about to repeat the mistakes it made during the Cold War.

It was within the context of this broad history that I put Kaczynski's experiences at Harvard. In doing so, I made clear that there was nothing special, nor specially irresponsible, about the university, its professors or curriculum, but that they were emblematic of the times. Likewise, Kaczynski's experiences there did not differ in most important respects from those of other students at hundreds of educational institutions.

Instead of discussing this broad and important topic, however, Gitlin devoted himself to minutiae. And in doing so he committed yet more errors. Here's one: "Chase," he says, "does not trouble to investigate Kaczynski's 1958 reading list" (in the Harvard course entitled Humanities 5). In fact, I not only investigated it, I made a photocopy -- as I did of the reading in every course Kaczynski took. And contrary to Gitlin's claim that works by Freud and Marx were not assigned in that course, they were. He can look it up, as I did.

So why did Gitlin so cavalierly accuse me of basing claims on memory rather than documentation? Could it be because that's what he does?

ALSTON CHASE

Livingston, Mont.

Todd Gitlin responds:

There's a reason why Chase's book is not entitled The Unabomber: What Made Ted Kaczynski Tick but Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist. The sensational title, together with his heading for Part II ("The Education of a Serial Killer"), introduces his claim that Harvard's General Education reforms undermined reason and other values. Chase's argument at this point is confused, but he seems to believe that the "march of positivism," which Harvard's bad ideas either shored up or failed to arrest, "eventually brought the legitimacy of everything into question, including the legitimacy of the state." Gen Ed "delivered . . . a double whammy of pessimism," supplied "a syllabus of despair," promoted "delusions [that] lasted far beyond graduation," etc. It's a pity that scores of portentous pages in this vein detract from Chase's far more damaging revelations about the terrible Henry Murray experiments, of which Kaczynski was surely a victim.

I'm glad to know Chase possesses a copy of the 1958 Humanities 5 reading list, but then why didn't he share it with his readers rather than devoting pages to itemizing what he read 5 years earlier? *