You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Thursday, October 02, 2003


Unexpectedly negative comment about Saint Edward in The American Prospect:

"The problem, as I came to believe while rereading his books and keeping up with his columns, was that while my interest in Arab culture had partly been inspired by Said, his work generally tended to discourage readers from conducting their own research. He dismissed authors of any opinion he disagreed with. To him, they were – to use the once-neutral phrase he had turned into an insult – Orientalists, and all too often they were just straight-out racists.

"Said’s enmity toward Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis is well-known. Other frequent targets included Fouad Ajami and Kanan Makiya. These two are Arabs, and because they couldn’t be tarred as racists, Said retreated to equally unattractive formulations, like self-loathing, to deflect their work. Said contended – rightly, though it’s hard to know exactly to what degree – that these men had served US policy-makers by telling them the bad things they had wanted to hear about the Arab world. Said thus dismissed their work as compromised and not worth reading. It was perhaps an understandable position for an activist whose views were at odds with US policy, especially regarding Israel and the Palestinians; but as a scholar and intellectual it was dishonourable and irresponsible. He should instead have encouraged both his American and Arab followers to read as much material as possible and to engage it all critically and systematically.

"Said’s frequent recourse to charges of racism was in keeping with the general thesis of Orientalism: that most writing on the Arabs and Islam was undertaken as a handmaiden of empire in order to dominate and subjugate the Middle East. Orientalism is essential reading for anyone interested in the meeting of the West and the Orient, but its canonical status, and frequent tone of condescension, convinced far too many readers they had an explanation at hand and needed to go no further. The sad result is that Said abetted the conditions he himself so often lamented: Americans, even the best-intentioned and most well-educated, don’t know much about the Arab world or Islam."

-- Lee Smith, “Reconsidering Said: Edward Said’s moral courage and mortal mistakes”, The American Prospect Online (30 September 2003)

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