Edward Said

Many professors at Columbia University are dismayed that a campus culture with a long history of demonizing Israel as a barbaric imperialist state, and little to no history of criticizing terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians in the past, now actively embraces such attacks against Israelis today. “We are horrified that anyone would celebrate these monstrous attacks or, as some members of the Columbia faculty have done in a recent letter, try to ‘recontextualize’ them as a ‘salvo,’ as the ‘exercise of a right to resist’ occupation, or as ‘military action.’”

This attitude toward Israel is an outgrowth of the modern leftist doctrine that the West is history’s greatest aggressor. The sum of the West’s interventions in non-Western lands is automatically regarded with cynicism, including the post-WWI nation-building in the former Ottoman provinces – and especially the formation of Israel. Anti-Zionist leftists blindly trust the Arab side of the story, that the Israelis and not the Arabs instigated the 1948 war. Many if not most of this group – certainly the loudest – reject the notion that Jews have rightful claims to any of the territory west of the Jordan River; it was Arab-ruled before the Turkish occupation (albeit under governments headquartered outside of the region), it should be Arab-ruled again.

A key influence that fomented this culture is one of Columbia’s own. Edward Said (pronounced “si-YEED”) taught there for 40 years, from 1963 until the year of his passing in 2003. His chief contribution to leftist thinking stems from his 1989 book Orientalism, which argues that the West is incapable of objectively assessing the Middle East due to its historically ingrained biases. He also rejected the notion that the West produced any political or cultural advantages compared to the rest of the world. Naturally he opposed any Western interventionist policy in the Middle East (military or otherwise), such as the sanctions against Saddam’s Iraq and the war against the Taliban. In its article on Said, David Horowitz’s who’s who of the left “Discover the Networks” cites Stanley Kurtz:

“The founding text of postcolonial studies, Orientalism effectively de-legitimated all previous scholarship on the Middle East by branding it as racist. Said drew no distinction between the most ignorant and bigoted remarks of nineteenth-century colonialists and the most accomplished pronouncements of contemporary Western scholars: All Western knowledge of the East was intrinsically tainted with imperialism.”

Kurtz testified before Congress in 2003 regarding a consequence of Said’s legacy. Post-colonial theory influences multiple disciplines, not just Middle East studies, and Title VI-funded higher ed programs in several disciplines had been waging a boycott of the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a program for foreign language study geared for students aiming for defense and intelligence careers.

For at least a decade the African-, Latin American-, and Middle East Studies Associations have sponsored a boycott against the NSEP. Since 1981, the directors of Title VI African National Resource Centers have agreed not to apply for, accept, or recommend to students any military or intelligence funding from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the NSEP, or any other such source. Shamefully, a mere two months after September 11, Title VI African Studies Center directors voted unanimously to sustain their boycott of military and intelligence related funding, including the NSEP.

We know that transmissions from the September 11 highjackers went untranslated for want of Arabic speakers in our intelligence agencies. Given that, and given the ongoing lack of foreign language expertise in our defense and intelligence agencies, the directors of the Title VI African studies centers who voted unanimously, just after September 11, to reaffirm their boycott of the NSEP, have all acted to undermine America’s national security, and its foreign policy. And so has every other Title VI-funded scholar in Latin American-, African-, and Middle Eastern Studies who has upheld the long-standing boycott of the NSEP.

Kurtz has more to say on the hearing here.

Serving on the Palestinian National Council in the 1970s and 1980s, Said left in the wake of the Oslo Accords. He felt the agreement should establish a Palestinian state right off the bat. I do not know what he knew of Arafat’s machinations; Arafat informed Arab audiences that Oslo was step toward implementing the Phased Plan. As MEMRI reports:

[W]hile the [Oslo I Accord] ceremony was still taking place, [Arafat] had a Jordanian TV channel air a recorded speech of his in which he explained that the Accord is just a phase in the PLO’s Phased Plan of 1974, which was a mild version of the PLO’s Charter: “Oh, my beloved, do not forget that the Palestinian National Council passed the resolution in 1974 […] This is the moment of return, the moment we raise our flag on the first plot of liberated Palestinian land… This is an important, critical, and basic phase. Long live Palestine – free and Arab!”

Said stated that he was willing to accept a two-state solution: “The paramount thing is that the struggle for equality in Palestine/Israel should be directed toward a humane goal, that is, co-existence, and not further suppression and denial.” One has to wonder how he could hold this belief and at the same time support Palestinian right-of-return. Such a migration would make Israel an Arab-majority nation – unless Israel were to cede a large percentage of the land receiving the refugees. I’m not aware of anyone hawking that sort of two-state solution.

The current Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University is Rashid Khalidi. Once a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, he is as much a critic of US foreign policy as Said was, and is decidedly opposed to Israel’s right to exist.

16 thoughts on “Edward Said”

  1. Khalidi was also the recipient of Obama’s speech, still hidden by the LA Times, that revealed much of Obama’s alliance with Muslim ideology.

  2. I actually read Said’s book Orientalism – may still have the copy knocking around somewhere – and I didn’t think well of him, when I was done. I thought he was dumping all over a wide range of scholars of the Middle East, just because they were enthusiasts and NOT ethnically from the Middle East. It was as if he was sitting on the subject, and snarling “Mine! MINE! ALL MINE!!!” at everyone else.

  3. I find it rather amusing that there are people in the United States who support Hamas for the reason that Israel is “colonialist.” The United States, before it became independent, was a British colony. As such, the United States has a “colonialist” heritage.

    Consider those in the US of Middle Eastern origin. Colonists impose the practices of their countries of origin on the country which they colonize. The current narrative is that people moving to the United States should preserve as much as possible the customs and practices of their countries of origin. That is, the current narrative says that they should COLONIZE the United States.

    For all those living in the United States who condemn Israel for being “colonialist,” I would suggest that they be consistent and go back to where you or your ancestors came from. Just as Hamas wants Jews to leave Israel. After all, if it is bad for Israel to be “colonialist,” it is equally bad for those living in the United States to be “colonialist.”

  4. Thanks for posting this. I had forgotten about Said, which I in retrospect is surprising given how his post-structuralist approach is basically one of the foundations for post-modernism.

    You bring up a good point about Right-to-Return. How do you say death to Israel without actually saying death to Israel? Right-to-Return. The refugee camps are now on their 4th generation of inhabitants and exist solely to provide political leverage because to disband the camps and allow the “refugees” to integrate would be to deny title. Nowhere else in the world does does this multi-generational refugee situation exist.

    How do you say today, death to Israel without saying death to Israel? Free Palestine, which I noticed yesterday while observing the big Palestinian rally in DC (I stayed an extra day) was followed by “From the River to the Sea.”

  5. The refugee camps also provide leverage to extract money out of western taxpayers. It’s a racket. Palestinians around the world are hard-working and enterprising, yet Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon have “refugee camps”. Our money gets laundered through the UNRWA and direct subsidies from the US govt, pays multiple layers of western bureaucrat middlemen, pays for Hamas infrastructure, tunnels, weapons, operational expenses, and personal overseas bank accounts, and similar for the Palestinian Authority.

  6. Without European and latterly American scholars, almost nothing at all would be known about the histories of the Middle East, South Asia, or Central Asia, nothing of Africa, and more but surprisingly less than one would think about Southeast Asia or China.

    Modern historical analytical methods and writing styles, to say nothing of physical archeology, are wholly Western inventions.

    The Muslim world produced a few historians worthy to rank with Herodotus or Thucydides and above most medieval Europeans. But it never turned into the modern discipline of History that emerged in Europe from the 18th century. Like earlier Europeans, they took a lot of myth and religion on faith. And unlike Europeans from an early date, they were not much interested in accurate study of pre-Muslim times. The Persians, a little.

    Nothing at all would be known of the ancient Levant or Mesopotamia, save the partial [in ever sense] mythohistorical accounts of the Bible, were it not for European archeologists and historians. Even Egypt, leaving behind huge physical evidence, was scarcely known to its own descendants until Europeans put it all together and wrote about it all.

    India, a great and semi -continuous civilization, did not produce a systematic study of its own history despite vast scholarship on other things. They didn’t seem to think in narrative or analytic terms about the human past.

    China is a partial exception, of course, but we, and they, know vastly more about their past than their own tradition by itself provided.

    Said, working in the critical theory domain whose purpose is power, not study, was ipso facto always a fraud and an insult to scholarship.

  7. I understand.

    If the Palestinians were MY people, I would resent all the lost wars, the lost homeland, and would want it all back at any cost including war. And no matter how much time had passed.

    Who among us would not at least entertain these thoughts for their own people, in like circumstances? Come on.

    Indeed, I would condemn anyone who did not feel that way, and at least tolerate the idea that one should wage war to regain what was lost.

    It has been done before, and someone will regain a lost homeland this way again someday somewhere.

    Alas, the Palestinians are not my people, I do not care about them, and above all they have no claim on me or my support and I owe them nothing.

    Also, if I WERE them, I’d at least aim for self awareness. I might not emphasize how other refugees have been resettled, or the mistakes of my past leaders, or the reality that this is my people’s problem, not the world’s, but I’d at least be aware of them myself.

  8. I wanted to second RO’s observation regarding empathy. If I was a Palestinian, I would be pretty resentful as well,

    To go back to Said, why don’t we adopt his post-structuralist framework as an analytical tool but instead of looking at it through Western, colonialist outlook why not through a global, historical outlook?

    1) Large-scale transfer/expulsion of populations is an unfortunate event, but also a fact of life. We can debate who gets second place as far as ethnic/racial group hosed by history over the past 100 or so years, but my nominee would be the Armenians between the Turkish genocide and the ongoing expulsion from ancestral homelands in Nagorno-Karabakh. Nobody paid much heed to the genocide, a fact noted by Hitler, and nobody is paying much attention to what the Azeris are doing to the Armenians

    2) Question…. how many Arabs became refugees because of the 1948 war vs. Jews who were expelled from various Arab countries? Another question, how many Arabs became refugees after the 1948 war? The immediate comparison that comes to mind was the large-scale expulsion of Germans from the Sudetenland and Prussia, where they too had lived for centuries, because of their role in Hitler’s aggression. FAFO. Maybe the Arabs shouldn’t have tried so hard to destroy Israel, but it’s not like the Israelis have been busy expelling Arabs like say the Muslim Azeris are with Armenians.

    3) The one constant with the Palestinians over the past 75 years has been their status, both claimed and bestowed, as victims. Claiming victimhood, as we see with today’s Woke society, is an effective tactic but poor long-term strategy because it by definition places your destiny in the hands of others and robs you of agency. The surrounding Arab countries have refused to integrate or otherwise substantially help the refugees of 1948, keeping them in “refugee” camps with now 4th-generation inhabitants (see Germans above), using the Palestinians as a tool. The Soviets did likewise with their support of the PLO, the Iranians and the various jihadist organizations are using them as well for their larger geopolitical goals. In fact given the Abraham Accords and genial frustration of the Gulf States with the Palestinians, the whole Palestinian conflict can only be understood as a tool of Iranian foreign policy

    4) The maximalist demands of the Palestinians have come back to bite them. The best chance for the Palestinians to gain their own state was in their 1990s when the Israeli Labor party was in power. The implosion of Labor combined with shifting demographics that favor a much more conservative Israeli stance toward the Palestinians going forward means the idea of Palestinian statehood is pretty much closed.

    Said tried to re-frame Palestine in a non-Western way. Really the better framework (I will not use the word discourse) is in global/historical view of how rival claims on land are adjudicated. The Palestinians have made a 75-year long decision of how to approach Israel, choosing maximalist strategies and enlisting external allies who do not have their best interests at heart. They are simply cannon fodder for larger geopolitical conflicts. All those protests last Saturday for the Palestinians? Nobody cries for the Armenians or the Tutsis… it’s just the Palestinians have better press agents

    You want your own country? Don’t lose wars and watch your demographics.

  9. “The implosion of Labor”

    The Israeli Labor Party imploded in large part because their repeated attempts to accommodate the Palestinians failed spectacularly. The Laborites kept doubling down and eventually the Israeli voting public had had enough.

    The Palestinians would indeed have done best to take one of the deals they were offered after Oslo and stick to it. The tragedy is that the Palestinian leadership have always been gangsters and/or ideologues who benefited personally from keeping the conflict and the power and money flows going. So here we are.

  10. Does anyone know with confidence that the “Palestinian” [then emerging under that name] leaders between 1949-67 never asked for a state in the WB and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, from Jordan and Egypt? I mean, I know to not think those countries had any interest in granting that, but did the Palestinians ever compel them to directly refuse?

    I mean, if WB + Gaza + EJ, the Pals’ capital and then some demand of today, was ever realistic, that was the time. That trifecta ceased to be possible after the 6 day war, forever.

    After that, they could probably have had WB + Gaza, losing only East Jerusalem, if they’d offered Israel recognition and peace by June 15 1967 or so.

    Any territory beyond those scenarios was lost forever in 1949, and with it the opportunity to have about an equal share of the former mandate between the river and the sea with the Israelis, and the idea that Palestinian Arabs would ever by themselves be able to stand militarily equal with them [they should have been capable of that then, as opposed to relying on the Arab powers and their useless armies].

    The idea they should have a GREATER share was lost in 1937, when they rejected the Peel plan.

    If they ever wanted the whole thing, then the Palestinian Arabs should have rebelled and driven out the huge Ottoman armies themselves in 1917. Even then the Brits would have moved in, but the Pals would have a real claim to point to and something to blame the Brits for with justice.

    What actually happened was the “Palestinians” didn’t do anything at all to drive out the Turks, nor necessarily wished to, the Arab Revolt was comprised of Hejazis and Bedouins who got their rewards and was a sideshow anyway, and huge British and Australian and other Imperial forces actually defeated the Turks in the Levant.

    In the end, the Palestinians really have to harness their impressive physics education capabilities, invent time travel, and go back a century, to be anything but a gaggle of degraded no-hopers.

  11. random observer

    Does anyone know with confidence that the “Palestinian” [then emerging under that name] leaders between 1949-67 never asked for a state in the WB and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, from Jordan and Egypt? I mean, I know to not think those countries had any interest in granting that, but did the Palestinians ever compel them to directly refuse?

    I mean, if WB + Gaza + EJ, the Pals’ capital and then some demand of today, was ever realistic, that was the time. That trifecta ceased to be possible after the 6 day war, forever

    Before 1967, any Arab living in Israel or WB/Gaza/East Jerusalem who would have openly supported a state in the WB with Gaza and East Jerusalem would have been putting his life at risk.

    When I was in high school, before and after the Six Day War, I knew a Palestinian Christian attending university in the US. I did not discuss Middle Eastern politics with him. My mother told me that before the Six Day War, he didn’t agree with the NO (negotiations/recognition) stance of the Arabs towards Israel. Reading between the lines, it is possible that before the Six Day War he would have supported some sort of WB/Gaza/East Jerusalem state. That would decidedly have been the minority view among the Arabs living there.

    The Six Day War came, and he wanted victory for his side. Which isn’t how it turned out.

    My understanding is that his father in the West Bank, an employee of the Jordanian civil service, was similarly not as uncompromising as the average Arab with regard to Israel. He also had some Jewish friends, according to a grandson.

    Unfortunately for the father, King Hussein didn’t sit on the sidelines during the Six Day War. Suffice it to say that the father didn’t like the Israelis ruling over him, and I heard him say so in the decade after the war.

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