‘Get off your cross and take a look at the world’

Norm highlighted this ages ago but Efraim Karsh and Rory Miller’s essay on Edward Said is still well worth reading.

In it the authors contrast Said’s self-publicised reputation as a persecuted rebel with his massive celebrity and critical success and his influence on Western governments.  The article makes grimly amusing reading.

For decades, he characterized scholarly and public criticism over his stance on Zionism and Israel as ‘the worst sort of Stalinist bullying’ and, even as his books became bestsellers and were assigned in classrooms across the country, he argued that the ‘severest opprobrium’ made his views ‘no longer acceptable’ in the United States.

Said’s protestation that involvement in the issue of ‘Palestine … brings no rewards,’ was risible. In 1979, he published The Question of Palestine and was invited to Paris to attend a seminar on peace in the Middle East with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in the apartment of Michel Foucault.

His contrarianism and rejectionism ironically augmented his authenticity among policymakers. In 1993, U.S. Central Command invited Said, one of the most outspoken critics of the U.S. military and its role in the 1991 Kuwait war, to address 500 officers. Following his appearance, CENTCOM asked him to act as a consultant on the region, an invitation he declined. In the same year, despite his virulent opposition to the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Clinton administration invited him to the White House signing ceremony of the Oslo accords, an invitation he also declined.

Plaudits and rewards increased alongside his rejectionism. In 1993, the British Broadcasting Corporation invited Said to give the Reith Lecture, its prestigious annual address. The following year, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded him its Picasso Medal. In 1997, he gave the inaugural set of William Empson Lectures at Cambridge University, as well as the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Lecture in Delhi and the Netaji Centenary Oration at the Netaji Institute in Calcutta. The following year, he served as distinguished lecturer at the Collège de France, the premier institute of learning in that country. Again in 1998, the BBC commissioned him to write and present a documentary film, In Search of Palestine. While very few professors get such opportunities, Said chose to use it as evidence of his persecution, noting that after being shown on the BBC it ‘more or less disappeared.’

Karsh and Miller note that while Said loved to cast himself as a lone maverick speaking out against oppression, his attitude to actual and threatened dissidents was much different:

He reserved special venom for Arab academics in the United States who did not agree with him. He attacked dissident Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya, who brought Saddam’s brutality to international attention in his books Cruelty and Silence and Republic of Fear, as an ‘intellectual who serves power unquestioningly; the greater the power, the fewer doubts he has. He is a man of vanity who has no compassion, no demonstrable awareness of human suffering. With no stable principles or values.’

And most damningly of all:

Nor did Said see any irony in condemning the Mubarak regime’s show-trial imprisonment of Egyptian sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim while continuing his relationship with the regime’s newspaper, Al-Ahram, and accepting that regime’s felicitations. He became such an important presence on the Egyptian cultural scene that following his death, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture dedicated a conference to his memory. There, Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim refused to accept a £10,000 Egyptian (US $1,750) prize because it was ‘awarded by a government that in my view lacks [the] credibility that would make this award worth receiving.’ Other novelists and literary figures refused to make the moral comprises which Said, in his desire to revel in the powerful’s plaudits, would make.

And while sanctimonious opportunists like Edward Said scramble upon the cross of self-martyrdom, real-life independent writers, journalists and activists – the people who really do speak truth to power – are silenced and ignored.

manufacturingconsent1

(Image copyright the fantastic Postmodern Haircut)

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