Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hating Edward Said

February must have been Put the Boot into Edward Said Month at The Australian.

The charge was led by foreign editor Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan:

"No intellectual in Western life has had a more doleful influence than that champion of frauds, Edward Said. His animating idea was that all Western scholarship on the Orient, by which he meant the Arab world, was a kind of false consciousness, trapped in a narrative of colonialism and Western superiority. The silliness of the idea has led to its reverse, a kind of reflexive idealising of 'the other', so Arab despots, extremists and millenarian mass murderers are imbued in many progressive circles of the West with all kinds of qualities of wisdom and kindness which they singularly do not possess." (Dictator's useful idiots happy to take his money: Gaddafi is the most absurd example of a monster adored by his ignorant fan club, 24/2/11)

Mere days later, The Australian's turgid trollumnist, David Burchell, weighed in:

"Nowadays the late American literary critic Edward Said passes for a moral authority on the historical relations of the Arab and Western worlds... Like his soulmate Noam Chomsky, Said presented a political perspective of almost child-like simplicity: the West, in its domineering ignorance, was forever doomed to 'other' the Orient, and to treat it as its inferior, even while Said and his disciples blissfully 'othered' the Middle East themselves, as a sepulchre of Arab suffering, in a mirror-image of those they deplored. Said's acolytes are probably less familiar with the articles he wrote over many years for the Egyptian state press* - articles devoid of the criticism of any existing Arab government; (least of all Mubarak's); and which reduce all the problems of the Arab world to the actions of those two familiar pantomime villains, the US and Israel... You can search Said's articles in vain for the words now on the lips of young people across the region: democracy, freedom, women's rights. Instead, like earlier colonialist bromides they are souvenirs of pure social and political reaction." (Libyans failed by Left orientalism, 28/2/11)

You can search Said's articles in vain... Oh, really? We are talking about the same Edward Said, right? You should have contacted me, David. I could have saved you all that trouble and lent you my copy of Said's collection of essays (including those published in Al-Ahram), From Oslo to Iraq & the Roadmap (2004), in which you'd have found such passages as:

"Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is too dependent on the $2 billion in annual US aid for him so much as to demur at US policy. Like the others, he needs the United States to protect him from his people far too much for him to oppose Clinton and his peacemaking team of former Israeli lobby officials. Meanwhile the sense of Arab anger, humiliation, and frustration continues to build up, whether because the regimes are so undemocratic and unpopular or because all the basic elements of human life - employment, income, nutrition, health, education, infrastructure, transportation, environment - have so fallen beneath tolerable limits that only appeals to Islam and generalized expressions of outrage will do, instead of a sense of citizenship and participatory democracy. This bodes ill for the future, the Arabs' as well as Israel's... Moreover, the old frameworks that survived the cold war have slowly crumbled as the Arab leaderships have aged, without viable successors in sight. Egypt's Mubarak has refused even to appoint a vice-president, Arafat has no clear successor, and as in the case either of Iraq's and Syria's 'democratic socialist' Ba'ath republics or Jordan's kingdom, the rulers' sons have taken or will take over with the merest fig leaf of legitimacy to cover their dynastic autocracy." (London Review of Books, 14/12/00; republished in From Oslo... , pp 7-8)

"Neither a constitution nor an election process has any real meaning if such suspensions of law and justice can take place with the relative acquiescence of an entire people, especially the intellectuals. What I mean is not just that we don't have democracy, but that at bottom we seem to have refused the very concept itself. I became dramatically aware of this 8 years ago when, after a lecture I gave in London in which I criticized the Arab governments for their abuse of human freedoms, I was summoned by an Arab ambassador to apologize for my remarks. When I refused even to speak to the man, a friend interceded and arranged for me to have tea with the offended ambassador at my friend's house. What transpired was profoundly revealing. When I repeated my comments, the ambassador lost his temper (he happened also to be a member of the ruling party) and told me in no uncertain terms that, as far as he and his regime were concerned, democracy was little more than AIDS, pornography and chaos. 'We don't want that', he kept repeating with almost insensate rage." (Al-Ahram, July 19-25, 2001, republished in From Oslo..., pp 80-81)

Edward Said wrote in his 1978 classic, Orientalism:

"The modern Orientalist was, in his view, a hero rescuing the Orient from the obscurity, alienation, and strangeness which he himself had properly distinguished." (p 121)

He must have seen Burchell coming:

"[A]bout how to create such a country, beyond toppling statues and setting fire to police stations, [young Libyans] have been left almost totally in the dark - partly through the agency of their own rulers, and partly by us."

However, just in case Burchell is thinking of taking up the White Man's burden and rushing off to Libya to tutor these "half-devil & half-child" natives on what to do after they've toppled Qaddafi's statues and torched his police stations, maybe someone should tell him that "Hafiz Ghoga, the spokesman for the newly formed National Libyan Council in the rebel-controlled eastern city of Benghazi, said 'foreign intervention' would not be welcome. The rest of Libya will be liberated by the people... and Gaddafi's security forces will be eliminated by the people of Libya', Ghoga said at a news conference." (Libyan rebels say they don't want foreign intervention, Will Rahn, dailycaller.com, 27/2/11)

[* Forget the Egyptian press, I've been fascinated by Burchell's apparent familiarity with the entire Egyptian media ever since he admitted to "scouring" it for "lonely coracles of sanity in a vast ocean of paranoia." See my 2/2/11 post Burchell Buffs the Banana.]

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