A review in the Financial Times, by anti-Zionist ‘historian’ Avi Shlaim, of a book about the late post-colonial theorist and celebrated academic Edward Said, was fawning in its characterisation of his ‘intellectual contributions’ to the Israel-Palestine debate.
The piece (“Places of Mind by Timothy Brennan — Edward Said, humanist champion”, April 13) also included claims clearly contradicted by the evidence, such as the assertion that Said, who opposed the Oslo Accords and supported a one-state solution, upheld “the three central values of Judaism — truth, justice and peace“.
First, leaving aside the baffling contention that Said promoted “Jewish values”, it’s odd that Shlaim would suggest Said upheld the notion of “truth” when, in the article, he also writes that “the impact of [Said’s highly influential book] Orientalism was profound: it became the founding text of postcolonial studies“.
Postcolonial Theory in fact rejects objective truth or historical knowledge in favour of the idea that “what we think of commonly refer to as ‘truth’ is “constructed from systems of power and privilege that determine what can be known”. In other words, the ‘narratives’ of the historically oppressed groups – a category which, interestingly, doesn’t seem to include Jews – takes precedence over serious historical inquiry.
Central to Mr. Said’s post-colonialist argument in Orientalism, the New York Times wrote in their obituary for him in 2003, “was the notion that there was in essence no objective, neutral [Western] scholarship on…the Arab world”. And, presaging our own era of identity politics, intersectionality and Critical Race Theory, Said wrote “Since the time of Homer, every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”
But, even more deceptive is Shlaim’s claim that Said upheld the value of “peace”. Edward Alexander, the Jewish scholar and author who passed away last year, penned an article in 1989 – during the First Intifada – titled ‘Professor of Terror’ which dispels the notion that Said promoted non-violence.
Tellingly, Shlaim, evidently anticipating that many would cite Alexander’s article to refute his contention, includes this in his review:
The most notorious attack [on Said] came in 1989 in the Jewish-American monthly Commentary in an article entitled “Professor of Terror”. Here and elsewhere, Said’s call for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Palestinians was twisted to depict him as a violent anti-Semitic fanatic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Said may have excelled in combat mode, but there could be no question about his underlying humanism.
However, Shlaim didn’t attempt to undermine the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Said in the Commentary article. As Alexander noted, to put Said’s stated views on the First Intifada in context, the number Arabs killed for political and other reasons by Palestinian death squads during those years is said to have exceeded the number killed in clashes with Israeli troops.
Here are comments by Said, per the Commentary article, concerning the torture and murder of Palestinians by other Palestinian groups during the intifada – brutal extrajudicial killings which were encouraged by Yassar Arafat:
When Farouk Kaddoumi or Abu Iyad say that collaborators would be shot or that “our people in the interior recognize their responsibilities”…surely [we] must be aware that the UN Charter and every other known document or protocol entitles a people under foreign occupation not only to resist but also by extension to deal severely with collaborators. Why is it somehow OK for white people . . . to punish collaborators during periods of military occupation, and not OK for Palestinians to do the same?
Alexander notes that the UN Charter, of course, includes not one word about resistance to foreign occupation or killing “collaborators.”
Said, in a 1986 book review, wrote that Palestinian “armed struggle”, which he characterised as “acts of desperation”, derives “from the right of resistance accorded universally to all peoples suffering national oppression”, and claimed that even the most horrific acts of Palestinian terror were merely “political” rather than “moral” errors.
Said, who was a member of the Palestine National Council and leading spokesman for the PLO in the US news media at the time, also dabbled in antisemitism. He alleged that Zionists “were in touch with the Nazis in the hope of emulating their Reich in Palestine”, and that Israeli “soldiers and politicians . . . are now engaged in visiting upon non-Jews many of the same evil practices anti-Semites waged against Holocaust victims” – morally grotesque Holocaust inversions violently at odds with the “humanism” and “Jewish values” ascribed to Said by the Financial Times contributor.