The man who did more than any other to destroy legitimate Middle East studies in the United States, the late professor Edward Said, author of the notorious Orientalism, is the subject of a devastating critique in the Middle East Quarterly, “Did Edward Said Really Speak Truth to Power?” by Efraim Karsh and Rory Miller (thanks to Hot Air).
Said’s substitution of politics for scholarship in the name of “speaking truth to power” has spawned scores of students, professors, and journalists who seek to emulate his path to fame. Justifying any polemic under the rubric of speaking truth to power now brings reward in most Western universities. Said once described himself “as a teacher of how language is used and abused”; indeed, he provided a global audience with a master class on the subject.
It is ironic that while Said and his intellectual successors””Dabashi, Columbia University associate professor Joseph Massad, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, and Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer and his Harvard University coauthor Stephen Walt””seek to profit from false claims of persecution and censorship, across the Arab world, a plethora of reformers and opponents of authoritarian regimes suffer for attempting to speak truth to power. By substituting polemics for research and conflating academic freedom with freedom from academic standards, Said’s legacy may ultimately be to harm fact-based and lasting Middle East studies scholarship and instruction in American and European universities.
And even better is Ibn Warraq’s outstanding new book, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism — a remarkable destruction of Said’s central thesis, that Western study of Islam was merely an ethnocentric handmaiden of imperialism, and an erudite exploration of Western intellectual and artistic attitudes toward the Islamic world, which in reality have been far more multicfaceted and complex than Said ever acknowledged or, probably, even knew.