Edward Said Now Irrelevant: Official
In my naïveté I thought that praising a multicultural, Islamic civilization – this Islamic civilisation of Spain – might be seen by everyone as relevant and interesting.
One academic, however, accused me of “Orientalism”. I immediately recognised this jargon as coming from the song sheet of the American literary critic, Edward Said, exalted in universities as a quasi-divinity.
Very welcome, therefore, to see David Burchell in today’s Australian perform a deft piece of revisionism on Said’s vastly over-inflated reputation.
He writes Said presented a political perspective of “almost child-like simplicity”. In Said’s view, all the problems of the Arab world are due to America and Israel. Any Arabs who seek reform, said Said in 2003, are just repeating “tired American formulas” about democracy and freedom.
Burchell makes a point (that I don’t think has been made in Britain or America) that Said had nothing to say in support of democracy or womens’ rights in Arab countries. Instead, he remained wedded to a romantic view of the Arab world, a “shimmering ideal about which he knew so little and spoke so much”. Said wanted the Arab world “pre-modern, atavistic, romantic – a figure of his own fervid imaginings”, according to Burchell.
The brave young demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and elsewhere have simply passed Said by. He didn’t inspire them, had not called for them, had not predicted them. Worse, as Burchell reminds us, he wrote for a state-sponsored newspaper in Egypt and never once criticised those sponsors or the repressive dictatorship of Gaddafi.
Edward Said is irrelevant.
Except in Western universities where he will be invoked and quoted and analysed favourably for another 20 years until the academics basing careers on his writings get retired or die off.