In the last week or two, I've seen talks given by Juan Cole and Bernard Rougier. I wasn't sure what to expect from either, because of the sometimes shrill tone of the former and the sensationalist title of the latter's book. (I've got an aversion to books with the word "Jihad" in them.)
In both instances, I was pleasantly surprised. Cole was well spoken and interesting. And although the first part of his talk, which was just a recapping of the last 6 years, was pretty dry and unnecessary for a Middle Eastern audience, his comments during the Q&A were worth listening to the first part of the lecture. One point kind of bugged me, though. He made a point of pointing out Egypt's success in combating Islamist terrorist groups, even going so far as to imply that authoritarian governments might be as good as democratic ones at fighting terrorism. I'm not sure how I feel about that idea, except that my gut instinct is that while authoritarian governments might have more success at crushing these groups due to their freedom of action (not being tied down by human rights concerns, for example), I'm convinced that authoritarian rule is one of the causes of terrorism in the first place. So Egypt's "success" might be only short-term and might end up biting Cairo in the ass later.
As for Rougier, I found his participation on a panel about Palestinian identity and citizenship very interesting. He was accused of being an orientalist and of ignoring who was obviously to blame in the Nahr el-Bared conflict. (It's hard to know what to say when someone tells you that neither Fatah al-Islam nor the Lebanese Army were to blame for Nahr el-Bared, but that rather it was the Americans' fault. Incidentally, this was a comment made by a participant in the talk, not a random crank who'd wandered in because he heard there'd be food.) In any case, Rougier convinced me to go out and buy his book, despite the horrible weakness of the dollar and thus the Lebanese pound compared to the mighty euro. I'll be reading it as soon as I finish the books that are currently on my plate.