Edward Said: The Bitter Orientalist

Before his death in 1995 the great political historian and anthropologist Ernest Gellner began a very long celebrated demolition of the literary critic Edward Said (d. 2003 pronounced Sigh-eeed), especially Said’s book titled ‘Orientalism’ (1978).  The original source is Ernest Gellner, ‘The Mightier Pen: The Double Standards of Inside-Out Colonialism’, in Times Literary Supplement, 19 Feb. 1993, pp.3-4.  It is cited here for those who wish to enjoy reading an exposed fraud that is Dr. Edward Said.

The article remains the foremost in exhorting the fraud that Said became after the publication of Said’s texts and diatribes.

Columbia University is known as being the Berkley of the east coast!

Newsflash:  This is pejorative, even if the residents of Columbia think not.

Edward Said took up the radical posture of the Palestinian cause throughout the 1980’s where he begot a cult like following throughout the left in America similar to Noam Chomsky.  Even if Said and his followers never admitted to extreme political posturing; outside of academia Said’s status has only grown.  This has much to do with the hardening of the left with both the arrival of the Obama administration, the lack of fresh ideas and the fascist impulse that grounds much of liberalism today.  Nevertheless, for those who are firmly grounded in reality, Ernest Gellner began the assault on Edward Said long before Said became fashionable.

The demolition of Said by Ernest Gellner had its origin in Edward Said’s ignorant reply that Gellner ought not to have published or spoke on anything regarding North Africa, for he was ignorant of its native languages.  This was grave ignorance on behalf of Said, for Ernest Gellner spent most of his adult life as an anthropologist living and studying throughout North Africa for over forty years.  He knew the languages, and was a world renowned expert in Medieval Islam!  Gellner was just to modest to respond publically.

A deep admiration of Said and his hard posturing for the Palestinians has lead to a schizoid review of most of his writings regarding the Near East.  The original camp of hardened leftist literary critics who espouse the beliefs of culture and its relation to power in a vein similar to Michel Foucault are contrasted by more realist Arabist’s and Near Eastern anthropologists who firmly believe that Edward Said is nothing more than a fraud, a bitter Orientalist!

We are a long way from T.E. Lawrence, St. John Philby and Gertrude Bell!

Edward Said tried to dress up in literary drab the work of both an anthropologist and/or ethnographer.  One who is fascinated by other peoples, their customs, mores, beliefs, practices and history. Of course the original was Herodotus and Thucydides.  Said corrupted the moral reserves of a fine discipline that preceded him.  For Said, the study of the Near East (the Middle East for Americans) as it is practiced in the West is always allied with colonial, imperial interests.  Said claimed that even the most disinterested, ostensibly antiquarian research was inevitably compromised by reasons of realpolitik!  Said even pushed to reveal and punish interlocutors who interrupted his fascist belief that the connivance of Orientalist’s help make possible the political, technological and cultural hegemony that American and the West has over Islam and the Islamic world.  In espousing such, Edward Said gave intellectual cover to Osama bin Ladin.  True academics who lived modest lives of intellectual responsibility distrusted such ideals.  Ernest Gellner’s childhood Jewish memories of Germany provided the impetus to respond.

In responding, Dr. Ernest Gellner sought to discern the principle of intelligibility intrinsic to Said, what he found was neither intelligible nor worthy of defense, he found Said’s premise canny, but unimaginative.

In the years after his death in 2003, many have taken time to seek out and expose Edward Said’s work as fraudulent.  It is a worthy endeavor.  Their remains a very sad chapter when you surmise the talent that became of Edward Said.  The decade before his life saw the most significant work he’d ever propose and defend.  After growing sick of his accolades he tacked a more conservative line of literary endeavor.  I witnessed his investigation into the work of Catholic Phenomenologists in the mid 1990’s as astonishing.  Can one bridge the gaping breech between the rigid fascism in ‘Orientalism’ to the lovely episodes of numerous essays in ‘Reflections On Exile’?

How can anyone make sense of a radicalized Palestinian in touch with the work Marleau Ponty?  Certainly the drive for acclaim in media overcame the sincere thinker.  How else to explain the moral breech?

Many have undertaken efforts exposing such a fraud, the most kind and sincere efforts were done by Robert Irwin in ‘Dangerous Knowledge’, Ian Burma and Avishai Margalit in ‘Occidentalism’ or ‘The Orientalist’ by Tom Reiss.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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