Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Analyzing Said

The following is an excellent extract from an interview with the Muslim scholar Ibn Warraq. The topic is Edward Said's Orientalism
For the Full interview go to:


His work had the attraction of an all-purpose tool which his acolytes, eager, intellectually unprepared, aesthetically unsophisticated, could apply to every cultural phenomenon without having to think critically or without having to conduct any real archival research requiring mastery of languages, or research in the field requiring the mastery of technique and a rigorous methodology. Said's Orientalism displays all the laziness and arrogance of the man of letters who does not have much time for empirical research or, above all, for making sense of its results. His method derives from the work of fashionable French intellectuals and theorists. Existentialists, structuralists, deconstructionists, post-modernists all postulate grandiose theories, but, unfortunately, these are based on flimsy historical or empirical foundations. Claude Lévi-Strauss, with just a few years of fieldwork in Brazil , constructed a grand theory about the structures of the human mind. This tradition was carried on by Michel Foucault, surely one of the great charlatans of modern times.

Said, influenced by Foucault, Marx and the French intellectual tradition, refuses to acknowledge evidence that does not fit into his already prepared Procrustean bed. Said in an ideologue who is immune to argument, he believes his ideas about man, history and society to be self-evident, and anyone opposing them is either stupid or malevolent.

But why was it so successful among Western intellectuals? Post- Second World War Western intellectuals, and leftists were consumed by guilt for the West's colonial past and continuing colonialist present, and wholeheartedly embraced any theory or ideology that voiced or at least seemed to voice the putatively thwarted aspirations of the peoples of the Third World . Orientalism came at the precise time when anti-Western rhetoric was at its most shrill, and was already being taught at western universities, and third-worldism was at its most popular. Jean-Paul Sartre[1] preached that all white men were complicit in the exploitation of the Third World , and that violence against westerners was a legitimate means for colonized men to re-acquire their manhood. Said went further: “It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric." [2] Not only, for Said, is every European a racist, but he must necessarily be so. As I have argued, Western Civilisation has been more willing to criticize itself than any other major culture.These self-administered admonishments are a far cry from Said's savage strictures, and yet they found a new generation ready to take them to heart. Berating and blaming the West, a fashionable game in the 1960s and 1970s which impressionable youth took seriously, had the results we now see when the same generation appears unwilling to defend the West against the greatest threat that it has faced since the Nazis.

When shown that Said is indeed a fraud, his friends and supporters in academia, side-step the criticisms and evidence, and pretend, as did several reviewers of Robert Irwin's book on Said, that Said may indeed have got the "footling details" wrong but he was, nonetheless, onto a higher truth. Said's influence, thus, was a result of a conjunction of several intellectual and political trends: post-French Algeria and post-Vietnam tiers mondisme [third-worldism], the politicization of increasingly post-modernist English departments which had argued away the very idea of truth, objective truth, and the influence of Michel Foucault. In effect Said played on each of these confidence tricks to create a master fraud which bound American academics and Middle East tyrants in unstated bonds of anti-American complicity. [3]
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