August 02, 2003

Edward Said Pledges Allegiance

In the Manchester Guardian, Edward Said pledges allegiance to poverty, dictatorship, and keeping women illiterate and barefoot:

Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | A window on the world: There has been so massive and calculatedly aggressive an attack on contemporary Arab and Muslim societies for their backwardness, lack of democracy, and abrogation of women's rights that we simply forget that such notions as modernity, enlightenment, and democracy are by no means simple and agreed-upon concepts that one either does or does not find like Easter eggs in the living-room...

Of course, still bigger howlers come earlier in the article. One is the passage where Said mourns the tragedies of the Middle East:

...Lebanese civil war... violence... ugly shedding of human blood continues up to this minute. We have had the failure of the Oslo peace process...

without deigning to mention that Said worked as hard as he could for a decade to try to ensure the failure of the Oslo peace process.

There is the obligatory passage that hints at the claim that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" and says it is the western media's fault for rebroadcasting videos of the destruction of the World Trade Center:

the demonisation of an unknown enemy... the label "terrorist"... keep[s] people stirred up and angry... media images command too much attention... exploited at times of crisis and insecurity...

Most--pathetic, I guess is the word--is Said's use of the passive voice:

...the failure of the Oslo peace process...
...the outbreak of the second intifada...
...the awful suffering of the Palestinians...
...the suicide bombing phenomenon has appeared...
...apocalyptic... events of September 11 2001 and their aftermath in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq...
...the illegal occupation of Iraq by Britain and the United States...

The only hint of "agency" here is laid at the door of Britain and the United States. The other catastrophes simply happen: Said's rhetoric tries to push them as close as possible to random catastrophes of nature rather than recognize them as the deliberate and intended actions of evil, insane, or desperate human beings.

Posted by DeLong at August 2, 2003 08:50 AM | TrackBack

Comments

What a quaint affectation you have, calling it the "Manchester" Guardian...

Posted by: cdr on August 2, 2003 09:12 AM

Guess I'll put this in the "What do THEY know that Brad doesn't" file...

It says HERE:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/focus/sr030603.asp

"...The June 12-15 Gallup Poll also asked Americans whether the United States government should take Israel's side, the Palestinians' side, or neither side in the conflict. Historically, Gallup has found an overwhelming majority of Americans -- upwards of 7 in 10 respondents -- saying the United States should remain neutral in the conflict. Eighteen percent of Americans in the current poll say the United States should take Israel's side, and only 4% say the United States should side with the Palestinians..."

(Whodathunkit ;?)

Posted by: Mike on August 2, 2003 12:49 PM

I dunno. In this part of the article, Said does say that the governments of Islamic countries are actively to blame, though one could I suppose quibble with his ascription of causation. Perhaps you are being a bit unfair to Said; here he does seem to turn the guns inward, as it were, if that's your objection:

"Because the governments are relatively powerless to affect US policy toward them, they turn their energies to repressing and keeping down their own populations, with results in resentment, anger and helpless imprecations that do nothing to open up societies where secular ideas about human history and development have been overtaken by failure and frustration, as well as by an Islamism built out of rote learning and the obliteration of what are perceived to be other, competitive forms of secular knowledge."

Posted by: Thersites on August 2, 2003 01:44 PM

America supports Israel's right to exist in peace, and the formation of a peaceful democratic Palestinian state. Edward Said has preferred to throw rocks at Israel and romanticize those who would destroy Israel.

Posted by: Bill on August 2, 2003 02:22 PM

Bill wrote, "America supports Israel's right to exist in peace, and the formation of a peaceful democratic Palestinian state."

Surely you jest. Is there any evidence whatsoever that the US has tried *real* pressure on Israel---say, cutting its multibillion-dollar handout---to end its illegal occupation of the territories?

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 2, 2003 02:39 PM

In response to Stephen Fromm: Israel, lest we forget, DID offer -- as a starting point in its negotiations at Jena -- to pull out of 97% of the territories. Arafat refused even to make a counteroffer in response. It's only as a result of this that the Israeli public started supporting Sharonian intransigence.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on August 2, 2003 03:17 PM

It hasn't been "The Manchester Guardian" for some time. (does quick google). Ah, they started moving to London in 1964 and completed the move in 1976.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/newsroom/story/0,11718,728443,00.html

Posted by: Andrew Kanaber on August 2, 2003 05:24 PM

Brad -

everytime you launch into one of your childish attacks on Chomsky or Fisk or Said or recently Edward Herman, I cringe. Otherwise, i enjoy my daily stops by your blog, almost always find something enlightening to ponder or find a worthy link (in particular, i love Edward Hugh's Bonoboland blog, for which i have you to thank.) So thanks for everythink else, which comprises 98% of your blogging.

Anyway, maybe you could attack Chris Hedges or Norman G. Finkelstein in the future. They have some stuff that will also get under your skin, and they know what they're talking about. If so, try to be more evenhanded and thoughtful about it. Read Hedges' Gaza Diaries article if you want to get after him, and if you want to attack the latter, here's a good book to sink your teeth into:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1859843395/102-2338541-7625700?v=glance

Posted by: Samuel K on August 2, 2003 08:49 PM

Out of curiosity, why are Mr. DeLongs comments on Chomsky, Fisk, Said and Herman childish? I see no real differance in tone between his comments on those worthies and what he says about Sullivan, Republican economists, hyperactive Party of the Rightists et al.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on August 2, 2003 09:40 PM

"Out of curiosity, why are Mr. DeLongs comments on Chomsky, Fisk, Said and Herman childish?"

They are "childish" because they are derisive of Samuel K.'s political heroes ...

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on August 3, 2003 06:17 AM

They are just plain silly. Said has little influence.

Some of the things he says are tautalogically correct - after all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter - somebody must want the terrorism going on. The important question - which Said doesn't answer, and DeLong doesn't address. Whose Freedom? Which Freedoms? The narco-terrorist is fighting for his freedom to sell cocaine, just as British gunboats were sent to Shanghai to keep the opium trade flowing. That doesn't make either of these actions laudable.

The underlying problem in the Arab world is that most of the real liquidity is in the hands of the few, all of the access to credit is, and therefore economic development is centered for the benefit of those few. When people in Islamabad live and work in tall buildings, they won't side with the people who fly planes into them.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on August 3, 2003 06:51 AM

"Because the governments are relatively powerless to affect US policy toward them, they turn their energies to repressing and keeping down their own populations,..."

Switzerland, New Zealand, Bermuda, and literally scores of other countries are "relatively powerless to affect U.S. policy"...but it doesn't seem to result in those governemnts "repressing and keeping down their own populations."

So if this is an attempt to "turn the gun inward," I think Mr. Said missed, and hit the U.S. Again. (Surprise.)

"...have been overtaken by failure and frustration, as well as by an Islamism built out of rote learning and the obliteration of what are perceived to be other, competitive forms of secular knowledge."

"...what are ***perceived*** to be other, competitive forms..."?! Why in the world does Mr. Said use the word "perceived?"


Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 3, 2003 03:19 PM

Said exemplifies the victimologist mindset all too common in the Arab world. All the problems of the region are the result of the machinations of the wicked Jews and greedy imperialist Americans.

Suppose the Arabs and other Muslims spent half the effort they have spent trying to destroy what the Israelis have achieved on working toward making their own countries more democratic. Suppose everybody ignored bigots and demagogues like Edward Said. What a wonderful world it would be.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on August 3, 2003 03:43 PM

Stirling is right to point out that there are those who want terrorism to occur. However, the old saw that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" ignores the confusion of ends (obtaining freedom) with means. It certainly isn't a phrase any intellectually honest person should use without derision.

Let's be plain, a terrorist is someone who seeks to induce fear, by attacking traditional noncombatants, in order to coerce a political outcome. We have other words for those who attack traditional combatants (they are guerrillas) or otherwise don't fit the definition of terrorist.

Posted by: jem on August 4, 2003 02:27 AM

Stirling is right to point out that there are those who want terrorism to occur. However, the old saw that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" ignores the confusion of ends (obtaining freedom) with means. It certainly isn't a phrase any intellectually honest person should use without derision.

Let's be plain, a terrorist is someone who seeks to induce fear, by attacking traditional noncombatants, in order to coerce a political outcome. We have other words for those who attack traditional combatants (they are guerrillas) or otherwise don't fit the definition of terrorist.

Posted by: jem on August 4, 2003 02:27 AM

"The only hint of "agency" here is laid at the door of Britain and the United States. The other catastrophes simply happen: "

This phenomenon has always fascinated me, it's been the hallmark of the apologencia for decades (if not longer). Personally I think it is a defense mechanism; when an idiologue comes across a tyranny so dispicable as to throw their own belief system in doubt, the only resolution is to treat these agents as some sort of natural disaster like a flood or earthquake instead of the results of very evil decisions by real men. The acts if Israel or the US (while no-where near the ballpark of butchers like Hussein or Stalin) elicit shrieks of consternation, while the acts of true despots bring shrugs, excuses, and many 'yes, buts'. I can't bring myself to believe that these folks are intentionally siding with the tyrants, so the only answer is that they are psychologically unable to register the reality of the situation. This manifests as a callous, seemingly almost rascist, disregard for the goings on in places like the Middle East. We may be sad if an earthquake kills 100,000, but we don't rage over it.

Posted by: Mark Buehner on August 4, 2003 07:45 AM

"The only hint of "agency" here is laid at the door of Britain and the United States. The other catastrophes simply happen: "

This phenomenon has always fascinated me, it's been the hallmark of the apologencia for decades (if not longer). Personally I think it is a defense mechanism; when an idiologue comes across a tyranny so dispicable as to throw their own belief system in doubt, the only resolution is to treat these agents as some sort of natural disaster like a flood or earthquake instead of the results of very evil decisions by real men. The acts if Israel or the US (while no-where near the ballpark of butchers like Hussein or Stalin) elicit shrieks of consternation, while the acts of true despots bring shrugs, excuses, and many 'yes, buts'. I can't bring myself to believe that these folks are intentionally siding with the tyrants, so the only answer is that they are psychologically unable to register the reality of the situation. This manifests as a callous, seemingly almost rascist, disregard for the goings on in places like the Middle East. We may be sad if an earthquake kills 100,000, but we don't rage over it.

Posted by: Mark Buehner on August 4, 2003 07:47 AM

"The only hint of "agency" here is laid at the door of Britain and the United States. The other catastrophes simply happen: "

This phenomenon has always fascinated me, it's been the hallmark of the apologencia for decades (if not longer). Personally I think it is a defense mechanism; when an idiologue comes across a tyranny so dispicable as to throw their own belief system in doubt, the only resolution is to treat these agents as some sort of natural disaster like a flood or earthquake instead of the results of very evil decisions by real men. The acts if Israel or the US (while no-where near the ballpark of butchers like Hussein or Stalin) elicit shrieks of consternation, while the acts of true despots bring shrugs, excuses, and many 'yes, buts'. I can't bring myself to believe that these folks are intentionally siding with the tyrants, so the only answer is that they are psychologically unable to register the reality of the situation. This manifests as a callous, seemingly almost rascist, disregard for the goings on in places like the Middle East. We may be sad if an earthquake kills 100,000, but we don't rage over it.

Posted by: Mark Buehner on August 4, 2003 07:48 AM

"Suppose everybody ignored bigots and demagogues like Edward Said. What a wonderful world it would be."

I don't think it's better to ignore them. I think it's better to address their complaints by each time pointing out that most problems in the Middle East*** are caused by the Arab/Muslim majority.

***When I refer to "Middle East," I'm including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc. I find it very interesting how the majority of media outlets that I follow (NPR being predominant) seem to ONLY mean Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, when they refer to "Middle East." In other words, somehow, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc. are apparently not in the "Middle East."

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 5, 2003 09:21 AM

Said's vision is of a united, multi-religious, multi-ethnic state. Which has its own demographic issues, undoubtedly; but so does the balkanisation of the occupied territories.

And if you regard Said as a bigot and demagogue, Joe, then here's to bigots and demagogues; at least, here's to 'bigots and demagogues' who do things such as organise cross-community musical symposia with Daniel Barenboim, allowing kids from Arab countries and Israel to surmount their prejudices by learning to play together.

Posted by: nick sweeney on August 6, 2003 12:27 AM

Nice piece, Brad. Sadly, Said is far from alone--there are plenty of folks who think the US is the only unmoved mover of world events.

Posted by: Luke Weiger on August 6, 2003 01:18 AM

Anyone who thinks Said gives a pass to Palestinians in particular or Arab leaders in general, is either lying or ignorant. In this case, I'm sure it's the latter. Many of Said's pieces are available in one place at al-Ahram, where one can read any number of bitter denunciations of Arafat and his cronies, going back at least to 1998: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/1998/391/op1.htm

Yes, he denounced Oslo at the time of its signing and now that it's fallen apart as he predicted, DeLong holds him responsible for it? I opposed invading Iraq because I predicted it would be impossible to govern. Am I therefore responsible for today's bombing?

Posted by: Tresy on August 7, 2003 12:53 PM
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