The War on Error

The War on Error

Israel, Islam, and the Middle East

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ISBN: 978-1-4128-6433-6
Pages: 342
Binding: Hardcover
Publication Date: 10-13-2016
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In The War on Error, historian and political analyst Martin Kramer presents a series of case studies, some based on pathfinding research and others on provocative analysis, that correct misinformation clouding the public’s understanding of the Middle East. He also offers a forensic exploration of how misinformation arises and becomes “fact.”

The book is divided into five themes: Orientalism and Middle Eastern studies, a prime casualty of the culture wars; Islamism, massively misrepresented by apologists; Arab politics, a generator of disappointing surprises; Israeli history, manipulated by reckless revisionists; and American Jews and Israel, the subject of irrational fantasies. Kramer shows how error permeates the debate over each of these themes, creating distorted images that cause policy failures.

Kramer approaches questions in the spirit of a relentless fact-checker. Did Israeli troops massacre Palestinian Arabs in Lydda in July 1948? Was the bestseller Exodus hatched by an advertising executive? Did Martin Luther King, Jr., describe anti-Zionism as antisemitism? Did a major post-9/11 documentary film deliberately distort the history of Islam? Did Israel push the United States into the Iraq War? Kramer also questions paradigms—the “Arab Spring,” the map of the Middle East, and linkage. Along the way, he amasses new evidence, exposes carelessness, and provides definitive answers.

Editorial Reviews

“[The War on Error] exposes the mistakes that historians, journalists, filmmakers, and others have made doing history in the region, and shows that our vision has only grown worse.”

—Shepard Barbash, The Federalist

“There is no simple way of resolving the tension between scholarship and politics, but The War on Error, though a collection of mostly previously published essays, blog posts, and speeches, is held together by its attempt to demonstrate by example how the norms of scholarship are essential to clear thinking about the Middle East. The highest praise I have of a book that is praiseworthy in many other respects is that it carries into the public sphere the spirit of the scholarly enterprise as [Bernard] Lewis described it. . . . One treat of one gets from the War on Error is hearing Kramer pay tribute to people he admires . . . Kramer admires human beings who, though driven by passions—which we cannot get around—subject themselves to the discipline of seeking out, weighing, and reflecting on the evidence. In The War on Error, Kramer demonstrates his kinship with the people he admires. His book deserves to be widely read.”

—Jonathan Marks, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

"Kramer is not only a distinguished scholar of the Middle East who writes with an eye to the past as well as the present (and future), but also a gifted prose stylist."

—Lee Smith, The Weekly Standard

The best antidote to academic assaults on Israel and false versions of Zionist history is Martin Kramer. These essays on Israel and on current Arab and Islamic politics show him at his best: a sharp, wise, and very funny guide. If you don’t know Kramer, you’re in for an intellectual feast.”

—Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

“Martin Kramer spans an unusual range. He is a first-rate historian of the modern Middle East who is as masterful with social media as he is with the traditional archive. This new collection of essays and papers deals with the most current issues in Middle Eastern politics and policies from a perspective that only a profound historian possesses. But Kramer is not encumbered by his academic baggage; he writes well and vividly. I sometimes disagree with him but I always read carefully and learn something new or different. I strongly recommend the book for the professional and the lay reader.”

—Itamar Rabinovich, president of the Israel Institute and former Israeli ambassador to the United States

“[Kramer] fearlessly and eloquently exposes the myths, half-truths, and outright lies that pervade the public discussion, and so inhibit public understanding, of the region he knows so well.”

—Michael Mandelbaum, Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

“Correcting error is the indispensable first step in stopping terror. No one writes better on the Middle East, its distorters and misinterpreters than Martin Kramer. He must be read—to be believed.”

—Ruth R. Wisse, former professor of Yiddish and comparative literature, Harvard University

“What is the Talmudic spirit? It is to poke, probe and provoke, never to let received notions stand. Today’s Middle East harbors more half-truths and willful misrepresentations than oil under its sands. Concepts like ‘Orientalism’ are ideologies posing as dispassionate scholarship. Islamism is a magnet for apologists blind to the region’s cultural pathologies. Terrorism is transfigured into legitimate anti-colonialism, even though the Arab world has been independent for two, three generations. Martin Kramer has done the ‘Talmudic’ thing, exposing sloppy or mean-spirited thinking with an incisive mind and first-rate empirical research. This collection is required reading for anybody who prefers intellectual rigor to ideological obfuscation.”

—Josef Joffe, fellow of the Hoover Institution and the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

“Martin Kramer is a major scholarly contributor to the worldwide political debate about the contemporary Middle East. Not all will agree with his strong views, but they are always stimulating and challenging, and it is worth taking up such a challenge in the unprecedented chaos that the region has witnessed since 9/11, both within its ever-changing borders and in its complex relations with Europe and America.”

—Gilles Kepel, professor at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) and member of the Institut universitaire de France

Martin Kramer, a preeminent and prolific scholar of the Middle East, provides expert and singularly clear-sighted insights into this crucial region. Whether writing about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the West’s relations with Islam, or the global struggle against terror, Kramer is at once deeply informed, courageous, and engaging.”

—Michael Oren, member of Knesset and former Israeli ambassador to the United States

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Awards and News

This video of Martin Kramer talking about The War on Error at The Washington Institute offers an excellent introduction to the book and its contents. (15 min) 

Table of Contents




Part I. The Middle East (Studies) Conflict

1 Dangerous Orientalists
2 The Shifting Sands of Academe
3 Surveying the Middle East
4 Policy and the Academy

Part II. Missing Islam
5 Fundamentalists or Islamists?
6 “Islamic Fascism”
7 Islam for Viewers Like You
8 Afghani and America
9 He Might Have Been Pope
10 Hamas of the Intellectuals
11 Know Thy Enemy

Part III. Misunderstood Arabs
12 1967 and Memory
13 Sadat and Begin: The Peacemakers
14 When Minorities Rule
15 Syria in the Fertile Crescent
16 Arab Spring, Arab Crisis
17 Listening to Arabs

Part IV. Inventing Israel’s History
18 What Happened at Lydda
19 Shabtai Teveth and the Whole Truth
20 Who Censored the Six-Day War?

Part V. Elders of Zion
21 The Exodus Conspiracy
22 In the Words of Martin Luther King
23 Israel and the Iraq War
24 Fouad Ajami Goes to Israel
25 “Gaza Is Auschwitz”