The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Monday, May 12, 2008

Edward Said said wrong things

Today I finally acquired my copy of Ibn Warraq's Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism from I rarely buy new books, especially hardcovers, but I read Warraq's Why I am Not a Muslim (published years befre 9/11, in case you were wondering), and I appreciate his efforts, so I wished to support his latest enterprise financially, although I am, in the words of Falstaff "as poor as Job."

I admire Ibn Warraq because he tackles issues which are currently taboo. Thanks to Islamofascists (which are not all Muslims, just the ignorant and insane ones) and ignorant Western liberals, certain myths about Islam have been allowed to proliferate. Warraq's mission seems to be the undermining of these myths, for insance, that Islamic civilization and/or theology are sunshine and lollipops and beyond reproach.

In his latest monograph, Warraq points his gun on Edward Said's very influential Orientalism, which more or less founded the study of Post-Colonialism. It also set the tone for much of it, that is, the topos of East/Orient as victim of Western machinations. Warraq takes issue with many of Said's more theoretical/philosophical points, but he also demonstrates how Said made several historical gaffes. For instance, Said wrote that Islam first spread to Asia Minor and then Northern Africa. Of course, this is simply not true as Northern Africa was Islamicized as early as the 7th-8th centuries CE.

As his title suggests, Ibn Warraq wishes to defend the West from the rancour of such critics as Said. He demonstrates that the Orient (whatever that means) has been historically as bad as the West (slavery, empire, etc). For whatever reason, we in the West tend to this of ourselves as evil, whereas the Orient was simply unblemished. Warraq also wishes to demonstrate that Orientalism, as it was founded and developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, was not always inextricably bound with imperial interests (as an example, Warraq points out that Said completely ignores German and Hungarian orientalists of the period, and that neither of those nations had a vested interest in the Orient).

I'm expecting a very interesting and relatively quick read, as Warraq has a talent for providing a wealth of data and argument without giving the reader a headache. His prose is always very clear without a hint of pretension, which is a welcome relief (to be fair, Said himself is very readable, which is one reason why I do respect him).

Of course, given that Warraq's thesis and material is not politically correct (very little these days is, anyway), the academy will probably never hear of it. If, however, this is a subject that interests you, I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book. If you do, the next time you meet someone at a party who raves about Said, that person will have some powerful intellectual competition.


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