The death of Fouad Ajami prompted me to reread an email he sent me in late 2011. I had just written an obituary of Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi, and Fouad send me a note saying: “Do me a favor please, after 24 years and don’t ask me what the number means, I would love for you to write an obit of me!”
I’m not sure whether Fouad was ill at the time, but it’s difficult to understand his message as anything but a witty reference to the cancer that carried him away this week. I had graduated 24 years earlier from Johns Hopkins, where Fouad was my professor, yet had foolishly failed to grasp his meaning. Now I may, and I find myself writing what I insisted at the time I hoped never to write.