Very good take-down of Edward Said (and review of Ibn Warraq’s Defending the West). I don’t always agree with Peter Berkowitz (much less the Hoover Institution) but I do here.
Like the book it introduces, the preface exhibits a master propagandist at work, as he weaves together moderate and reasonable pronouncements with obscurantist rhetoric and sophisticated invective.
That’s how it’s done, of course – mixing the two so that the reasonable stuff provides cover for the obscurantist rhetoric.
Certainly, Said’s conclusions can be convenient. Learning Arabic, Turkish, and Persian, and studying the Koran and Islamic jurisprudence, Muslim poetry and philosophy, and the social and political structures and history of the peoples of the Middle East are exacting and arduous labors. It’s much easier to forgo all that hard work and instead, following Said who follows Foucault, proclaim that such learning and study inevitably falsify their subject matter and ineluctably contribute to the domination of cultures that the Western mind can never hope to understand. Better not to engage in systematic study of Arabs and Muslims, and better still to take one’s stand against those who do. In this way, Said and his disciples stand the scholarly vocation on its head, transforming the self-imposition and social enforcement of ignorance into intellectual and moral virtues.
And what’s really annoying about that is that Said has countless epigones who think and say that he was a great scholar, when that’s just what he wasn’t. David Barsamian on ‘Alternative Radio’ the other day, for instance:
Edward Said, the great Palestinian-American scholar commented that racism against Arabs is the last acceptable form of racism in the U.S. Arabs are constructed as the Other, dark and evil.
Uh huh. Barsamian ought to visit Saudi Arabia sometime if he wants to see some real Othering.
There’s one passage that every scholar, journalist, popularizer, and educator should learn by heart.
Said’s brand of propaganda is particularly insidious. Although he presents himself as a heroic defender of liberal learning and systematic scholarship, he conjures egregious misrepresentations and promulgates toxic misunderstandings, thereby undermining the separation between scholarly vocation and partisan pleading in defense of which he purports to write.
Yeah. There’s a lot of that around. That’s bad.