Saturday 23 September 2023

Brennan's Said

Jews have been vilified by various soi disant savants since the time of Josephus. By contrast, there was a Roman Emperor named Phillip the Arab whom the Church fathers later claimed as one of their own and thus on the side of the Angels. After Israel's 1967 victory, vilification of Jews, in the West, stopped because there is no point saying mean things about people who are very good at fighting. The problem with attacking vilification is that nobody is willing to listen to you till you show you can militarily attack and defeat at least some of those vilifiers. Sadly, though the Palestinians showed they could export crazy terrorists, they never showed they could militarily defeat anybody or, at the least, rise up collectively by making and selling useful stuff. 

Esmat Elhalaby has a well-written, well-researched, article in the Boston Review on Brennan's biography of Edward Said.

His argument is that Said was an Arab intellectual living in the West rather than a Western intellectual who became involved in the Palestinian cause at a time when it was fashionable for Professors to appear 'engaged'. Is Elhalaby's view credible? Let us see.

On February 2, 1977, Palestinian poet Rashid Hussein

who wrote in Arabic, not English. 

died in his New York apartment.

He was the PLO's correspondent at the UN. 

Hussein had been born forty-one years earlier in Musmus, a town not far from Nazareth. Politics for Hussein, Edward Said remembered, “lost its impersonality and its cruel demagogic spirit.”

Arafat wasn't a demagogue- right?  

Hussein, Said wrote of his dear friend, “simply asked that you remember the search for real answers, and never give it up, never be seduced by mere arrangements.”

What 'real answer' was the PLO searching for? I think it had to do with killing Jews or chasing them away from Palestine.  Said seems to have come to the conclusion that the two state solution was unviable. But a one state solution is also unviable if one community pays pensions to the families of those who kill innocent people of the other community. Also Palestinian leaders prefer killing each other to fighting elections. That's not good for the community. All you end up with is gangsterism.

Sharply critical of his own society and its rulers—he had a map of the Middle East on his wall with “thought forbidden here” scrawled across it in Arabic—Hussein was also a partisan of the Third World. “I am from Asia,” he pronounced in an early poem, “The land of fire / Forging furnace of freedom-fighters.”

This is silly. The fact is the Brits had kept the Arabs safe from the Jews. They had restricted Jewish immigration and were trying to figure out a way to get the Jews to subsidize the Arab portions of Palestine. The alternative was for Egypt and Jordan to take control over the Arab areas which is what in fact did happen till 1967. Still, the poet Hussein was better off remaining in Israel precisely because he was free to think for himself. 

At a later point in this essay, the author mentions a Pakistani intellectual who had to run away from India after Hindus killed his father. He also mentions Franz Fanon whose native country decided to remain part of France. The plain fact is that post-colonialism was worse for intellectuals than colonialism- at least, in many parts of Asia.  

Said’s influence was profound, but he was not alone. Any intellectual history must account for the multitude of emigres, exiles, and migrants from Africa and Asia who carried the pillars of anti-colonialism across the world.

This is crazy shit. People who emigrated after their countries became independent can't be pillars of opposition to colonialism for the simple reason that it no longer exists. 

Another of Hussein’s friends, Pakistani political scientist Eqbal Ahmad,

who had to run away from Bihar after the Brits left 

wrote that he lived in “New York City as though it were a Palestinian town.” Born in 1936, Hussein was nearly the same age as Said. Had the dislocations of his life not burdened his soul so heavily—he died alone in his apartment, a lit cigarette setting fire to the mattress as he slept—Hussein may very well have lived alongside Said in Manhattan for a few decades more.

The PLO was flush with funds back then. Hussein would have lived well.  

Though born in different milieux, Hussein and Said were drawn into close contact by the exigencies of the anti-colonial struggle in Palestine.

There was no anti-colonial struggle there. The battle was against immigrants of another faith who, sadly, tended to do sensible things whereas Palestinian leaders tended to do crazy shit- though they did get  richer than any Israeli politician.  

Indeed, it was precisely Said’s participation in a global political movement—his regular, public refusal to abide by the dictates of the United States’ imperial way of life—that drew the ire of so many during his lifetime.

What 'global political movement' are we talking about? Some Leftists pretended there was something called neo-colonialism. Not till you are ruled by a guy who takes his orders from the Kremlin can you call yourself a free country. The US was secretly ruled by Jewish homosexuals. Not till the Red Flag replaces the Stars and Stripes will the starving proletarians of America gain any real freedom.  

Before their recent reinvention, liberal journals such as the New Republic and Dissent regularly found column inches to attack Said’s thought and personage.

Because they thought the PLO was a terrorist organization which wanted to exterminate Jews. For some reason, Jewish readers disliked Arafat and his merry crew of cut-throats. 

But the bromides of Irving Howe and Leon Wesieltier

who were of Chinese Muslim origin- right?  

were never a match to Said, who embodied Frantz Fanon’s “final prayer” in Black Skins, White Masks (1952): “O my body, make of me always a man who questions!”

Fanon was a Doctor. He fell ill and died. His body could not be cured by the kind of drivel he had devoted himself to.  

And yet, many reviewers of Timothy Brennan’s new biography of Said, Places of Mind, have taken the opportunity to domesticate the late Palestinian writer.

This is because the guy refused to leave America and settle somewhere Arabic was spoken.  

Said is characterized as a representative of precisely those New York intellectuals who regularly derided him. In the London Review of Books, Adam Shatz goes to great lengths to argue that Said doesn’t “resemble Gramsci or Fanon so much as Susan Sontag.” The same Sontag who rebuffed Said’s (and many others) urgent appeals not to accept Israel’s Jerusalem Prize in 2001.

Which was odd. Normally Jews don't like visiting Jerusalem or getting an award from a country which produces much more than its fair share of intellectuals.  

Rather than an honest reckoning with how Said’s commitment to the Palestinian cause and conscious affiliations with anti-imperialism world-wide

America pulled the plug on the British Raj. It intervened against Britain, France and Israel who had attacked Egypt in 1956. Still, Leftists thought its intervention in Lebanon was very evil- as was the Baghdad pact. Good Muslims should turn towards the Kremlin, not the Ka'ba, to pray. But Stalin had supported the creation of Israel and had forced Arab Communists to toe the party line. 

distinguished him from such thoroughly American figures, reviews have exhibited a resilient orientalism.

Very true. Said is depicted as incessantly riding a camel.  

Shatz, long familiar with Said’s vision and politics as one of his editors at the Nation, nevertheless lazily falls back on such tropes when he describes Said as someone who donned “Burberry suits, not keffiyehs.”

Only because Said's favourite camel was partial to such suits. Indeed, it may have been a Jewish camel.  

In the New Statesman, Thomas Meaney breathlessly ends his review by mentioning that “along with his well-stocked shelves and formidable collection of classical music records, the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities kept a map with the current positions of the Israeli Defense Forces.”

It was put there by his camel.  

It was precisely these kinds of efforts to juxtapose culture or refinement from the symbols and practices of political action that Said perennially opposed.

He would often harangue Arafat and his chums to stop living large and flying around the world in private jets. I'm kidding. He kept his mouth shut about the corruption in the ranks of the PLO.  

To account for Said’s life, one must acknowledge his involvement in a community of intellectuals, activists, and indeed martyrs, who found their commitment to Palestine and their commitment to ideas not only unironic, but essential.

One must acknowledge that he didn't write in Arabic, didn't move to an Arab university, and didn't participate in the armed struggle. Lots of people would hang out with free-spending Palestinians back then. The PLO was almost as cool as the Black Panthers. 

Throughout Places of Mind, Brennan is at his best when he deals directly with the themes, arguments, and circumstances of Said’s substantial oeuvre. He is sensitive to how political judgments long shaped Said’s work even before Palestine and the Third World became the causes for which he devoted most of his voice.

But, unlike his sister, Said never studied anything to do with the Arab world nor did he return there to teach or do anything else.  

Said’s 1975 book, Beginnings: Intention and Method, was widely feted in literary critical circles.

But, it was Eurocentric. The fact is the Western novel- in so far as it wasn't a revival of an ancient Greek and Latin form- owes much to contact with China and the Islamic world. But China and Japan were influenced by early Indian novels. However, the traveller's account of adventures in remote regions themselves were part and parcel of the beginning of the genre. 

The other problem with the book was that Said's premise- viz that 'beginnings' are secular while 'origins' are theological- was simply silly. There was a guy called Darwin who wrote a book called 'On the Origin of the Species'.  

 Said’s 1983 collection of essays, The World, the Text, and the Critic, which Brennan draws particular attention to, “was a teacher’s book in just this sense, but more sober and a good deal angrier.”

The trouble was that everybody had decided that peeps wot teech Litterchur are as stupid as shit. Said himself had given the game away when he complained that most Literature Professors didn't know a single foreign language. Students didn't read novels. They watched a video instead. The only way to confer academic credentials on these cretins was to get them to write utter gobbledegook of the sort Foucault and Said were writing. The good thing about this is you can say exactly the same thing about a Jane Austen novel or a Sanskrit play by Kalidasa or an advertisement for breakfast cereal.

In its essays, especially its central three on contemporary practices of literary and cultural criticism, Said mounts a lucid critique of the kinds of literary theory, like that of Jacques Derrida and J. Hillis Miller, which had overtaken humanities departments by the 1980s. For Said, embroiled as he was in the culture of the university and the struggle for Palestinian freedom, it was clear that “left” theory was “very far from playing a genuinely political role.”

Whereas whining about being an A-rab, or a Paki or a homo or not having a penis was stuff which was genuinely political because the University administration can be bullied into creating a Chair for Grievance Studies of the sort you specialize in. Also you get to call all your colleagues Fascist. 

“A visitor from another world,” Said wrote, “would surely be perplexed were he to overhear a so-called old critic calling the new critics dangerous. What, this visitor would ask, are they dangers to? The State? The mind? Authority?”

The danger was that non-STEM subjects would become adversely selective of drug addled cretins. You'd end up with Professors of English at Ivy League unable to write a grammatically correct sentence.  

How does a Palestinian end up in New York teaching literature in the first place?

Said was from Egypt and knew French. That gave him a leg up. I suppose he had a private income and thus was under no great pressure to make a ton of money in Business. The one perk of teaching is that you get to deflower co-eds. Well they claim to be virgins though they tend to steal your Rolex.  

The nakba—inaugurated in 1948 by the establishment of the State of Israel—continues to scatter Palestinians.

Other countries in the region also 'scatter' Palestinians. If your leaders do stupid shit, you pay the price. 

But inhabitants of the Eastern Mediterranean had been regularly migrating to the Americas since the nineteenth century,

because White Christian immigrants had massacred the indigenous people and grabbed their land. 

when capital’s forced entry into the Ottoman Empire

The Khedive borrowed money willingly enough. Then the Brits and France turned up to get their money back. The Ottomans were more powerful. 

precipitated a series of profound social and political transformations in the Middle East.

Contact with a more advanced culture can have that effect, unless- of course- it just wipes out the indigenous population and grabs its land. 

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were host to a period of intense intellectual ferment, often referred to as the nahda, or Arab renaissance.

Missionaries played a role in this. Arab Christians tended to be in the forefront in the Nahda though still subject to the occasional pogrom.  

Characterized by the explosion of the periodical press, the rapid translation and interpretation of European texts, and the emergence of new genres of writing, new modes of political assembly, and new visions of social order, the nahda bequeathed today’s Arab world with its primary institutional and intellectual foundations. Those Arabs who migrated remained indelibly linked to the nahdawi efforts of their compatriots in the Levant, publishing their own Arabic journals, like New York’s al-Funun (The Arts), host to writers such as Khalil Gibran and Amin al-Rihani.

It must be said that Egypt under the 'veiled protectorate' was an astonishingly cosmopolitan and economically vibrant place.  

During World War I, some of the migrants heading toward the United States were doing so to dodge the Ottoman draft. Among them was Edward’s father, Wadie,

a Christian. The Turks killed plenty of Armenian Christians.  

who would end up in the U.S. Army, fighting the Germans in France. His wartime service earned him and his family U.S. citizenship and inculcated Wadie with a profound Americophilia. “On the Fourth of July,” Wadie’s daughter Jean Said Makdisi recounted in her 1990 memoir Beirut Fragments: A War Memoir, “we went to the picnics at the American Embassy, where we ate hot dogs and Crackerjacks and watched the square dancing.”

Christians eat pork. Still, if you have an Embassy in a predominantly Muslim country, maybe you should substitute burgers for hot dogs. 

Born in Jerusalem in 1935, Edward Said grew up between British Egypt and British Palestine. Brennan, drawing on Said’s private papers and more than a hundred interviews with his friends and family, paints a detailed picture of the rich literary and musical life Said encountered as a young man in Cairo, a world Said describes in his 1999 memoir Out of Place. Had he been born a generation earlier, Said may very well have been an important member of the nahda’s last generation, caught up in the furies of empire and the modernity of Arabic.

Only if he actually remained in an Arab country. Erasmus couldn't have been part of the European Renaissance if he'd fucked off to Tibet.  

Also at the American University of Beirut was Syrian-born and Princeton-trained historian Constantine Zurayk. Best known for his 1948 book Ma’na al-Nakba (The Meaning of Catastrophe), which sought to account for the loss of Palestine with regard to its Arab past and future, Zurayk was also a key advocate for the development of modern methods of teaching and research in his administrative roles at AUB, as historian Hana Sleiman has recently documented. Zurayk was a close family friend of Said’s wife, Mariam. In his regular visits to Beirut after their marriage, and especially during the 1972–73 academic year which he spent there, Said regularly consulted with Zurayk. Brennan argues that Zurayk became Said’s “chief influence” at this time.

The problem with this view is that, by then, Zurayk was considered a nutter. If you think Islam is essential for Arab flourishing, why not convert to it? 

The wider problem with the Arab or sub-continental intellectual was the complete failure to understand that Imperialism was about the forcible export of 'public goods'- Defence, Law and Order, protection of minorities etc. The way for a nation to become strong was by making money and spending it wisely. In practice this means buy stuff which will make you richer so that you'll have more money to buy that sort of stuff. Protesting against 'materialism' or the money power of the Jews and the Europeans won't do any good. Both the Jews and the Europeans may fuck off leaving your country to turn into a shit-hole. 

Armies cost money. They may prefer to take over the country and get rich rather than fight the enemy. But Universities too cost money. If you pay people to teach worthless shit, you will have more and more unemployable cretins demanding jobs as Professors of worthless shit. 

But soon Said was drawn to a new generation of Arab intellectuals who largely disavowed the reformist politics and patrician style of Zurayk and his ilk.

 What fucking 'reformist politics' could you find in Assad's Syria?  

These Arab writers—in Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s taxonomy, “the rebels, the committed, and the others”—were by no means monolithic in their attitudes and politics.

They were useless shitheads. It was obvious that what the Arabs needed to do was make money and get rich. True, if your son is a cretin you can send him to a fancy skool so he can end up as pedagogue of useless shit. 

In journals such as Al-Adab, Al-Tariq, Shi’r, Hiwar, and Mawaqif, Arab intellectuals revolted against the scripts of liberal political action

there was no such thing in the Arab world. To be fair, the Brits in Egypt had no interest in fostering any such thing. Still, Jordan turned out all right.  

that had been nourished by the nahda and against the formal conventions of Arabic literature, especially in poetry. Said would begin reading and corresponding with many of these thinkers, including the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and Syrian philosopher Sadiq Al-Azm.

Who was admired by secular Leftists in Iran and India because they couldn't actually read his books. Still 'prominent Syrian philosopher' is like 'renowned cellist who is also a cat'. Obviously, I exclude theological or hermeneutic works in which Syrians have always excelled.  

It was in the 1970s, in midst of his deepening involvement with the political and literary revolutions of the Arab world, that Said’s intellectual and political energies were poured into the critique of imperial knowledge, culminating with the 1978 publication of Orientalism, his best known work. In that book, essentially a work of intellectual history, 
Said described and critiqued what he referred to as “the system of ideological fictions” that had until that point been uncontroversially known as Orientalism.

Said didn't understand that Colonialism was about making money. It wasn't about telling stories. Still, it is true that one particular tribe of Patagonians conquered Spain by saying mean things about that country.  

Drawing on the field’s major scholarly and literary works produced from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth in imperial France, Britain, and the United States, Said argued that Orientalism became an armature of those empires’ political and economic conquests.

No. There was a market for books about far off places where lots of money was being made. True, in one or two places- e.g. Hanover when it was ruled by an English King- academics could make a little money by learning Sanskrit and Persian and Arabic. Then the thing became a fashion. Herman Grassman, remembered today as a mathematician, was better known in his own lifetime as a translator of the Rg Veda.  

Orientalism’s publication generated furious debate. Among its harshest critics was Al-Azm, with whom Said engaged in an acrimonious exchange.

Al-Azm was an expert on German philosophy. He knew that the Germans were big on Orientalism though they never had an Empire. The English were perfectly content to outsource their Oriental scholarship to penniless Prussian pedagogues.  

To Arab Studies Quarterly, a journal Said coedited, Al-Azm submitted a sharply critical—and rather lengthy—review of Orientalism. In response, Said wrote to its author, “I am a skeptic and in many ways an anarchist who doesn’t believe as you do, in laws, or systems, or any of the other claptrap that inhibits your thought and constricts your writing.” “For you Marx is what Khomeini is to his followers,” he continued, “you are in fact a Khomeini of the Left which is one thing my heroes, Gramsci and Lukacs, could never have been.”

This is illiterate nonsense. Gramsci would loved to have been the Lenin of Italy. Lukacs was a Commissar under Bela Kun and had some of his own people shot. Perhaps that's why Stalin didn't kill him.  

Al-Azm responded in kind, requesting that his review be published as is or not at all. Perturbed, Said nevertheless agreed to publish the forty-page review on the condition that his response be printed as well.

In the end, Al-Azm published his review in the 1981 issue of Khamsin, the London journal of a collective of radical Israeli intellectuals.

I recall them. I was asked by an elderly Jewish lady if I could lay my hands on some of my fellow darkies to attend some function associated with those nutters. Apparently, they were fighting for our liberation.  I should explain, at that time, I thought it funny to wear a dhoti and carry a placard up and down Aldwych demanding Dominion Status for India. 

In the review, Al-Azm accused Said of unfairly maligning Marx, as would other Marxist critics including Aijaz Ahmad and Mahdi Amel. More significantly, Al-Azm argued that Said was practicing what he called “Orientalism in reverse,” essentializing the West in the same way the orientalists who were his targets essentialized the East.

 But Said was making money from his book. That's what counted- essentially speaking. 

In the wake of 1979’s Iranian Revolution, Al-Azm feared Said’s critique of Orientalism made room for the further entrenchment of the idea that Islam was inherently opposed to Western ideas, images, and institutions

Meanwhile Saddam had invaded Iran. That didn't end well. Damascus is now a client of Teheran. It turned out that sectarian divisions alone matter. Ideology- even 'Nationalism'- doesn't at all.  

Orientalism was only the latest example in a tradition of the oppressed defending themselves from the slanders which accompanied land robbery, labor exploitation, and political domination. Indeed, the critique of orientalism is as old as orientalism itself.

Very true. People who are being robbed and raped have traditionally written pseudo-intellectual shite about their assailants.  

Said was not the only target of Al-Azm’s critique, however. He also took aim at other Arab intellectuals, including Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber) and Elias Khoury, whom he accused of being too open in their embrace of revolutionary “islamanics,” as he called those partisans of Islamic revival in the Middle East.

After Al-Azm published his review, he and Said never spoke again, according to Brennan. At the end of the decade, Al-Azm would attack the entire Palestinian intellectual and political class, including Said again, in an essay provocatively titled “Palestinian Zionism,” for the German journal of Islamic studies Die Welt des Islams. He would compare Said to early Zionist ideologues like Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Leon Pinsker. Said’s “Palestinian idea,” Al-Azm argues in that later essay, bore clear Hegelian affinities with the “Zionist idea.” To that end, Al-Azm concludes, Yasser Arafat was Chaim Weizmann, George Habash was the mirror image of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and Naif Hawatmeh, the Palestinian Ben-Gurion.

But the Jews mentioned achieved much. The Palestinians made things worse for their own people.  

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Arab intellectuals who traveled and studied in Europe, including Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq

an impressive novelist. If only it had been translated into Urdu! I suppose the thing was written before his conversion to Islam.  

and Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, criticized, corrected, and even satirized the writings of prominent orientalists like Silvestre de Sacy.

 Who had made genuine discoveries. 

In the 1880s, Jamal al-din al-Afghani, an influential and peripatetic West Asian intellectual, offered a powerful riposte to French philologist Ernest Renan’s scurrilous if typical pronouncement that Islam was inimical to scientific progress.

 There is only way to counter this argument- viz. point to the superior scientific discoveries being made by one's own people.

Intellectuals across the Ottoman Empire—indeed across Africa and Asia—would regularly denounce imperial knowledge and its political implications throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century’s anti-colonial revolutions, rebellions, and intifadas.

But those 'intellectuals' were considered crack-pots by their own people unless they were making a lot of money or gaining a lot of power and influence by doing so.  The fact is Imperialism was about making money and was prepared to spend a little money to gain factual knowledge of a type which might enable profits to increase. 

For the colonized, the critique of colonial knowledge was fundamental. “For me,” Indian social theorist Partha Chatterjee recounted, “child of a successful anti-colonial struggle,

which succeeded in turning Calcutta from 'a city of Palaces' and 'the second City' of the biggest Empire the world has ever seen into the veritable anus of the Turd World.  

Orientalism was a book which talked of things I felt I had known all along but had never found the language to formulate with clarity. . . . [I]t seemed to say for the first time what one had always wanted to say.”

Partha was being silly. The Mahacrackpot had shat very thoroughly on the West some 40 years before he was born. There was little point in Indians denouncing 'Orientalism' when they had contributed to, and pretty much taken over, the entire project. Anyway, it was Indian origin people- like Niradh Chaudhuri and VS Naipaul who had taken over a job previously done by the likes of the American Katherine Mayo. 

Edward Said was in a class apart because he could argue that his people were the victims of European colonists. Moreover, there was plenty of petro-dollars available for their cause. Nixon and 'the Rodgers plan' (which permitted Egypt to gain militarily over Israel) had sent the signal that the US could tilt away from Israel. But for Habash provoking 'Black September' which then lead to 'Black September' attacking Israeli athletes in Munich, and the crazy antics of the Japanese and German terrorist outfits, the Palestinians could have gained something substantial after the OPEC oil shock. The plain fact is their leaders did stupid shit. It is remarkable that an intelligent, hard working, decent people have had such terrible leaders.  

As Said himself acknowledged, in the decades leading up to 1978, Arab intellectuals publishing in the West had attacked orientalism’s edifice with increasing ferocity and clarity, as imperial structures and attitudes proved resilient even in the wake of political decolonization.

In other words, countries- like Israel and India- which were fortunate enough to inherit British institutions- e.g. an independent Judiciary and regular Parliamentary elections- weren't foolish enough to scrap them.

Socialism, it is true, failed. This was because Socialists didn't get that only making  money can make things make better, not passing stupid laws or protesting against injustice.  

For example, the prolific Palestinian historian Abdu Latif Tibawi, who received his PhD from the University of London in 1948 and who would work and teach in England for the rest of his life, published a short but perceptive study in 1964, English-speaking Orientalists: A Critique of Their Approach to Islam and Arab Nationalism.

He was a colonial civil servant whom the Brits kept on because they still had a big presence in parts of the Arab world. It was noticeable that British professors wrote in a sympathetic manner even of countries which had turned against Britain- e.g. Iraq. One reason Niradh Chaudhuri was important in England was because he highlighted the importance of racist comments made in the European press in fuelling the Independence movement. The Brits had encouraged Katherine Mayo to write her scurrilous book but this had united the Indians against them. The approach of the 'Orientalists' in Lahore, however, had paid dividends. Britain needed to present itself as a God fearing Monarchy which was keen to sell munitions and train the Armies of newly independent Arab countries. Also, Suez had been a fucking disaster.  

A year earlier, Egyptian Marxist Anour Abdel-Malek published a long essay, “Orientalism in Crisis,” from his exile in Paris.

He had been co-opted by the French who were pretending they weren't Capitalist Imperialists in order to continue to squeeze their former colonies.  

Abdel-Malek primarily took to task the “neo-orientalism” of Europe and the United States, as well as the “europeocentrism” of the social sciences and humanities in general.

France wanted them to Franco-centric.  It still rankled that England had gotten the nicer colonies. 

Indeed, Said’s specific critique of orientalism cannot be separated from the general assault on the established institutions and protocols of knowledge production that accompanied the mass movements of the 1960s and ’70s globally.

Those assaults failed. They simply proved that non-STEM subjects are useless though, no doubt, an MBA or a law degree from Ivy League have a 'signalling' function.  

Campuses erupted into the streets as the practical implications of imperial science became ever-apparent in the midst of endless war and underdevelopment.

 Then De Gaulle got re-elected while America voted for Nixon. There was no such thing as 'imperialist science' or 'anti-imperialist science'. On the other hand there was a Feminist version of Queer Bio-Political Subaltern Students focusing narrowly on Patagonian penguins illegally occupying Gazza's football strip. 

The editors of the short-lived but influential Review of Middle East Studies would acknowledge this fact in 1978: “it is our opinion that much of what is wrong with Middle Eastern studies is also wrong both with other social science writing and also with work on other regions of the world.”

But this opinion was wrong because the people holding it were cretins. The only thing wrong with Middle Eastern studies was that it wasn't making those who did it as rich as fuck. Indeed, that was also what was wrong with other sorts of studies of the sort which attracted paranoid nutters or virtue signalling cretins.  

They acknowledged their debt to groups such as the Committee of Concerned Asian scholars, which would lead its own revolt against Cold War Asian studies in the United States in the midst of the Vietnam War.

Americans didn't want to pay for that shit. That's why they surrendered.  

Said would mention these efforts of “decolonializing” knowledge with appreciation in the final chapter of Orientalism.

Nobody read that far. The one question which puzzled us was why the guy had beef with Massignon- an admirer of the Mahatma. I suppose, Said as a Christian didn't understand the appeal of al-Hallaj. Imam Khomeini wrote poems in his praise and the Sufis have spread his fame far and wide. 

Although vestiges of its imperial designs remain today, the study of the Orient, as it were, shifted dramatically after Said’s dissection.

Nobody bothered with it. The Left realized that Tudeh in Iran, or the Khalqis in Afghanistan would merely pave the way for Islamists. True a regime could become stable by creating a 'Welfare State'- however rudimentary- but oil prices are intrinsically unpredictable. Make sure the secret police are recruited from your own clan. Ideology can go fuck itself. 

Middle East studies, as a field constituted principally in the crucible of the Cold War, would become increasingly critical of its own institutions and origins.

But, by 1968, it was obvious that a 'Manhattan Project' for the Social Sciences was simply a waste of money. So what if some far off shithole became 'Socialist'? They'd still need to sell us stuff and as Stalin showed in the early Thirties, Dictators can pay cash on the nail because they don't care if millions of their people starve to death.  

The impact of Said’s book on the academy also went far beyond the field he specifically targeted. “We feminists read Orientalism by Braille,” Sondra Hale would write in her 2005 essay “Edward Said—Accidental Feminist.”

Sondra Hale is a hugely important figure in....nothing at all. Apparently she thinks women are using Islam to advance their own agenda in North Sudan.  

An anthropologist of the Sudan and one of the founding editors of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, Hale would register the profound impact of Said’s book on gender studies of the Middle East.

But such studies have had no impact whatsoever. There is no point impacting stuff which is utterly useless.  

Like Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Orientalism was largely absent of women, yet it raised a critique that would become foundational in future writing about the use of Middle Eastern women in imperial justifications for war as scholars like Lila Abu-Lughod, Laura Nader, and Suad Joseph have since elaborated.

That's a point which might have been made about America's war in Afghanistan. Then, it turned out, Americans don't give a fuck about sand-niggers with or without dicks.  

“It is now time for us together to expose and destroy the whole system of confinement, dispossession, exploitation, and oppression that still holds us down and denies us inalienable rights as human beings. It is our job to create a genuine world culture of brotherhood and common cause.”

Very true. We are sick and tired of a fake world culture of brotherhood and common cause.  Still, it is good to know that academics want to destroy the whole system of exploitation which employs them.

Said never saw his book simply in academic terms, however. In a letter to British historian Roger Owen, the editor alongside Talal Asad of the Review of Middle East Studies, Said made clear what he saw as his project’s political stakes: “I find the work on Orientalism to be a contribution to the struggle against imperialism.”

There was no imperialism any where. Said had beef with Israel- a post colonial country just like Pakistan.  

In addition to his participation in Beirut’s intellectual scene, Said was increasingly involved in the political struggles being organized by Arabs who, like himself, resided in the United States. Indeed, the first draft of the argument Said would put forward in Orientalism was commissioned by his close friend, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, in 1968 for a volume responding to the disastrous Arab–Israeli War of 1967. The book was published by the Association of Arab American University Graduates (AAUG), which was founded in 1967 by a formidable group of Arab intellectuals including philologist Muhsin Mahdi, radical lawyer Abdeen Jabra, and Abu-Lughod himself. A political scientist, Abu-Lughod and Said first met when they were both at Princeton, Said in his final year of college and Abu-Lughod doing his PhD.

Abu-Lughod had Jewish students who learnt a lot from him. This helped Israel.  

After Princeton, both Palestinians spent time in Cairo, where their relationship would deepen. “The older Abu-Lughod,” Brennan writes, “tutored the French-identified Said in third-world political insurgency, especially the events then unfolding in Algeria.” Said became deeply involved in the AAUG, and would cofound with Abu-Lughod the Arab Studies Quarterly in 1979, which was published under the group’s auspices. While the 1967 war had emboldened American supporters of Israel, it was also the occasion of the increased political mobilization of Palestinians internationally, often in defiance of Arab governments as well as Israel’s supporters in the West.

Political mobilization is fine. Crazy terrorist atrocities are counter-productive. People weren't saying 'wow! Palestinians are brave!' They were saying 'Palestinians are cowards. They prefer killing unarmed civilians.' 

There were and are plenty of very smart Palestinians. Yet, when considering whether the Academy should boycott Israel we have to admit that that tiny country is producing better research than the entire Muslim world- Turkey included- is producing. If you set  aside the Nobel prizes for Peace and Literature, we find there are 3 Muslim laureates, all of whom were located in the West and one of whom was declared a non-Muslim by his own country. Israel has 9 (though 3 are in Econ) and they work, at least some of the time, in their own country. 

It is shameful for me, as a Tamil and an Indian, to admit that the best scholars in two or three Indological fields in which I am interested are based, at least partially, in Israel. I'm not saying they aren't ignorant of India, but our Indian scholars have worked harder at becoming more ignorant. 

Said, his colleagues in the AAUG, and Arab Americans in general were increasingly subject to surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by the U.S. government and Zionist groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Defense League.

Whereas Arafat would simply have had their throats slit.  

By the mid-1970s, Said, whilst being recruited by Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Harvard, was considering a departure from the United States altogether. In 1974 he would write to Zurayk inquiring about a permanent position for himself in Beirut: “Whatever knowledge of the Middle East I now possess is being pressured into the service of the American Empire, and why not put it to our service?”

Because, thanks to the Palestinians, Beirut was going to turn to shit. To be fair, Maronite Christians were even crazier. Still they weren't roaming around the world killing athletes or elderly guys in wheelchairs.  

Although Said did not in the end take the job as research director of the Institute for Palestine Studies

Say what you like the guy knew when he was well off. Being Arafat's pal meant Assad might have him killed. 

which he was offered, his involvement with the Third World continued apace. In addition to Abu-Lughod, whom he called his “guru,” Said became close with prominent anti-war intellectuals in the United States, like Noam Chomsky and Eqbal Ahmad.

a former Pakistani army officer wounded in their first war against India. 

And increasingly, the great theorists of anti-colonialism, especially Frantz Fanon

whose country wisely chose to remain French territory 

and Aimé Césaire,

a prominent politician in French Martinique  

would become touchstones of his thought, alongside the Arab humanists and European Marxists he had long drawn from. Said’s writing would leave little room for confusion as to where his thought was aimed.

The guy liked France. They make great cheese. Sadly, their wine is greatly inferior to Coca Cola.  Anyway, America pays its celebrity Professors a lot more money.

For the memorial service following Said’s death in 2003, Brennan wrote that Said’s “words so often expressed my thoughts that I found it hard over time to remember what I knew before I met him—what I had said and believed before knowing him, and what (by contrast) I had taken entirely from him.” A catalog of Brennan’s principal interests over the last four decades—from humanism, philology, and empire to Giambattista Vico, Erich Auerbach, and C. L. R. James—betray Said’s mark.

The betray great stupidity.  

Like Said, Brennan’s efforts have often been extra-literary and meta-critical in character, the grammar of global politics and the life of ideas the subjects of much of his work.

Fuck would Brennan know about either? Global politics is about who is producing how much of what. That's economics with a bit of military geography thrown in. 

And Brennan, too, has not shied from political activity. As a graduate student at Columbia during the Reagan years, Brennan was among those who protested U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.

Is he protesting Ortega's authoritarianism now?  

Imperialism is Brennan’s primary object of critique. A close second, however, is the increasingly marginalized field of postcolonial studies, which he characterizes—and sometimes caricatures—as a post-structuralist effort to obfuscate the social and political effects of imperialism and to deny the anti-imperialist criticism that preceded it. In a long chapter on Said in his 2006 book Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right, Brennan argued that those who take Said to be the progenitor of the academic field known as “postcolonial studies” are gravely mistaken. Postcolonialism’s methods and motives departed significantly from Said’s own efforts to understand and critique imperialism in Orientalism and elsewhere, according to Brennan. “A good deal of postcolonial studies drew on Orientalism without being true to it,” Brennan writes. “The book’s theory traveled, and it did not travel well.”

The point about 'post-colonial' studies was that if you were really really stupid, you might be able to use it to travel and settle on a nice Western campus where you could pretend to be battling the ghosts of Dead White Peeps who remain busy buggering the brains out of one's own sub-species of benighted darkies.  

Under Said’s tutelage, Brennan would produce a study of Salman Rushdie’s life and work, publishing his first book Salman Rushdie and the Third World in 1989 just as Rushdie was catapulted into public consciousness with the controversy over his novel The Satanic Verses. The Rushdie Affair, as it became known, occasioned a flurry of writing. A decade of rigorous thinking about secularism, liberalism, imperialism, and literature was put to the test as an Indian Muslim writer in London

Rushdie was British Pakistani. His parents had left India permanently when he was a child.  

was attacked for blasphemy by coreligionists. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Agha Shahid Ali, Talal Asad, and many other formidable thinkers all jumped into the fray to clarify their positions on the uses and abuses of Rushdie’s writing.

But they had no following anywhere. Rushdie should have played the Kashmir card. He was too stupid or deracinated to do so.  

Said had a nuanced view of postcolonial studies, appreciating that a leading motif of it “has been the consistent critique of Eurocentrism and patriarchy.”

Boo to Whitey! Boo to Penises! Double Boo to White Penises!  

In the pages of the academic Marxist journal Social Text, Brennan would spar with another of Said’s students, Aamir Mufti, over the interpretation and reception of Rushdie’s novel.

This was hilarious. Mufti insisted that Brennan was very very wonderful but that Brennan hadn't understood that Mufti was brown and thus as stupid as shit. The joke here was that Mufti, like Rushdie, didn't know shit about India because he knew nothing about Hinduism and India is a Hindu country. They didn't get that nobody can have the name 'Jamshed Joshi' because all Joshis are Hindu, not Zoroastrian.  

For the uninitiated, the language of the debate may appear obscure. Both Mufti and Brennan opposed the cooption of Rushdie’s plight in the name of purportedly Western values against the Muslim horde in Europe and the United States.

They were wrong to do so. Rushdie renounced Islam and settled in America where the Jews liked him.  

For Brennan, however, Rushdie—as a metropolitan subject writing in English and publishing in London—was himself participating principally in a Western conversation.

He was participating in the British publishing industry. Indeed, he raised the prestige of the English novel because people thought he actually knew about India.  

Against that reading, Mufti argued that Rushdie was part of “the struggle over Islamic culture in the late twentieth century.”

This was foolish. You actually have to be Muslim or living in an Islamic culture to participate in such a struggle.  

Brennan, Mufti argued, was obscuring the nature of this global fight under the guise of anti-imperialism.

This was true. In Karachi many rickshaw drivers felt that Brennan was obscuring the nature of the global fight against the establishment of universal Khilafat. 

Brennan in turn, accused Mufti (and others, like Sara Suleri), of summoning “high theory” and the language of the Western academy to make arguments about “ethnic collectivities” and contemporary imperialism that simply did not hold. “London literary celebrities,” Brennan concluded, “do not speak for Bradford factory workers.”

Nor did Bradford factory workers. This is because they didn't want to be factory workers. Also there were too many darkies in Bradford. They wanted to move somewhere which didn't stink of curry. At least this is what I was told on my brief visit there. Mirpuris can be terribly colour conscious you know.  

Despite Brennan’s disdain for postcolonial studies in general, there is no doubt that the brief enthusiasm for work that fits below postcolonialism’s very large umbrella was crucial to making Brennan’s career. His exasperated response to Mufti, detailing the breadth of his expertise in the Islamic elements of Rushdie’s work, and his own role in first delineating them, speaks precisely to the ironies of postcolonial studies’ rapid rise and fall in literature departments. Postcolonialism, after all, never in reality congealed into any kind of doctrine, but more often simply denoted an interest on the part of its practitioners in colonialism’s myriad effects, which is more than can be said about prevailing approaches to the humanities or social sciences in general. However deficient postcolonialism may be for tackling the material realities of our colonial present,

Material realities involve getting money and spending it wisely. Postcolonialism may get you an ill-paid job as a glorified child minder. We want our kids to study stuff which makes them money.  

the field’s gradual disappearance and replacement in U.S. universities with geographical idioms totally untethered from the language of power and domination—whether world literature, global history, or “the global Anglophone”—can only be seen as a loss.

But US universities are axing entire Departments because they attract only imbeciles and can't generate profitable intellectual property.  

In contrast to Brennan’s judgment, Said himself had a much more nuanced appreciation of postcolonial studies, tempered always by his suspicion of purely academic endeavors in general.

Said died before the internet really took off. Still, he could see that non-STEM subjects had turned to shit. The day was long gone when somebody at the Pentagon or the CIA would want to talk to a Professor of Arabric or Hindu or whatever.  

In a university that was at the time—even more than it is today—overwhelming white and male (like Brennan himself), Said

whose daddy was allowed to become American because he looked white enough 

identified with appreciation that a “leading motif” of postcolonial studies “has been the consistent critique of Eurocentrism and patriarchy.” At the same time, however, Said was increasingly frustrated with the literary criticism and theory that was being practiced and celebrated in U.S. literature departments and humanities journals like Critical Inquiry and Diacritics.

Said could actually read French. His complaint was that many of his colleagues hadn't even read Shakespeare, forget about Racine.  

In a 1992 interview, he admitted to not reading “lit. crit.” anymore: “It seems to me that whereas, say, ten years ago I might eagerly look forward to a new book by somebody at Cornell on literary theory and semiotics, now I’m much more likely to be interested in work emerging out of concern with African history.”

Like what? Martin Bernal's 'Black Athena'? But Bernal and those who influenced him were White and his own interest in Africa arose out of his interest in his Jewish 'roots'.  

Said nevertheless found work to praise. In the afterword to a new edition of Orientalism in 1994, he singled out Ammiel Alcalay’s After Arabs and Jews: Remaking Levantine Culture (1992), Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), and Moira Ferguson’s Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670–1834 (1992) for “rethinking and re-formulating historical experiences which had once been based on the geographical separation of peoples.”

But, by then darkies the world over were trying to get rich. Nothing less would do.  

Said’s own work was characterized by a patent refusal of separation. He refused to separate the literary from the historical, the material from the cultural, and, indeed, the personal from the political.

But he was making money as a person from his politics. That made him a success. True, he wasn't a billionaire like Arafat but then he hadn't actually killed anybody. Lukacs would have looked down on him.  

Said dedicated his eloquent 1979 book The Question of Palestine

the answer to which was 'Palestinians be kray kray'.  

to his late friends Rashid Hussein and Farid Haddad, a Palestinian communist and physician tortured to death in an Egyptian jail in 1959.

No question, Nasser was a great man- though he sucked at killing Jews.  

To those two, one could add Kamal Nassir, a brilliant Palestinian lawyer and writer killed by Israeli agents in Lebanon in April 1973.

Revenge for Munich. Palestinians decided it was safer to kill Arabs so as to extort money though, no doubt, killing school-children might be a great proof of valour.  

Said had dinner with him the night before his assassination.

Why did the Israelis not think it worthwhile to kill Said? Is it because he was useless or because he annoyed the fuck out of the small number of area specialists whom Governments listened to?

That list could be expanded still, by adding Hanna Mikhail, an accomplished Arabist with a PhD from Harvard who abandoned a comfortable career at the University of Washington to join the Palestine Liberation Organization in Jordan and Lebanon,

both of which had to kill and expel a lot of Palestinians

where he would come to be known as Abu Omar. He would die at sea in 1976, on an ill-fated mission from Beirut to Tripoli with eleven others. “Abu Omar,” Said would write of his friend in 1994, “embodied the prevailingly generous and unconventional principles of the Palestinian revolution.”

Sadly, those principles made it impossible for anyone to live with any sizable group of them. Only Gaddafi wanted them but he'd get angry because they weren't killing enough innocent people. Arafat was actually quite cautious but he was the face of a movement almost as rabid as Libya's ruler.

This was Said’s world.

He often rode his camel from Manhattan to Mecca stopping off to slaughter innocent school children from time to time. 

In New York but not of it, Said’s life cannot be contained by the cliches of campus novels and parochialism of the U.S. literary establishment.

Because he and his camel were actually terrorists- right? 

Endlessly caricatured, ridiculed, and disdained, Said never wavered in his commitment to the Palestinian people, even—and especially—when they were abandoned by their own leadership.

Said and his camel were constantly darting into refugee camps in Lebanon to give leadership to the abandoned Palestinians. 

Endlessly caricatured, ridiculed, and disdained, his arguments regularly misconstrued and disfigured by his critics and opponents, Said never wavered in his commitment to the Palestinian people (to whom, it should perhaps be noted, Brennan dedicates Places of Mind). Even—and especially—when Palestinians were abandoned by their own leadership, Said refused to acquiesce to the status quo, or celebrate half-measures.

Sadly, nobody had asked him to acquiesce to anything. 

He surrounded himself with people who respected his cause and he admired them in turn.

A bunch of losers teaching stupid shit had a mutual admiration society. How sweet! 

On the occasion of Eqbal Ahmad’s retirement from Hampshire College,

which is in Pakistan- right? 

Said—while holding back tears—offered this tribute:

I want . . . to take this opportunity, to say on their behalf—I have no right to speak on their behalf, but I’ll try—to say on behalf of the many refugees, camp dwellers, wretched of the earth, who have been forgotten by their own leaders, and by their fellow Arabs and Muslims,

like the Biharis in Bangladesh? Eqbal Ahmed was born in Bihar. 

that Eqbal has been one of their guiding lights, and for that no Palestinian can ever thank him enough.

Eqbal, unlike General Zia, had not helped the Jordanians bomb Palestinians during 'Black September'. Palestinians should be grateful for this. On the other hand, the fool suggested kidnapping Kissinger at a time when Nixon was tilting away from Israel. 

Said’s world is certainly different from ours. Palestinian institutions have been turned inside out. Unlike the PLO of Said’s 1970s, today’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank serves not as a place where Palestinians from around the world can work for their liberation, but rather serves to administer Israel’s occupation itself.

Why not simply call the Authority a bunch of corrupt, senile, thugs? 

The U.S. university, too, has been transformed. Most who teach at universities today, even at Columbia, are insecure in their jobs, housing, and health care. While genuinely left-wing positions remain rare in the university, more and more intellectuals on the margins—many of them young and in the streets—are articulating their opposition to the U.S. policy of endless warfare at home and abroad, to use the imperial locution.

Biden ended that. The next President is likely to be even more isolationist. The plain fact is Imperialism is only cool if it makes a profit. 

Some things, however, continue unchanged. Israel remains belligerent in its zeal to dispossess Palestinians from Haifa to Jerusalem to Gaza.

But the Saudis want the Palestinians to shut the fuck up. The true enemy of the Arab is the Iranian and maybe the Turk.  Jews are fellow Semites.

“Seventy years, but actually longer,” Palestinian anthropologist Khaled Furani observed in 2018, “of not only wanting more land but also less and less Palestinians.”

Nobody in the region wants more Palestinians.  

On a daily basis, home by home, sometimes neighborhood by neighborhood, Palestinians continue to be killed outright or killed slowly, expelled from their lands, stripped of their livelihoods and communities. What also remains is the Palestinian will to rebel.

Provided pensions are paid to the families of those who kill a couple of innocent civilians. 

“The greater the Palestinian insistence, the deeper the Zionist denial,” Said wrote in The Question of Palestine.

Aamir Mufti liked comparing Pakistan with Israel. Both were created at around the same time. Suppose a United Arab Republic had been created, would Palestinians have become citizens of it? No. They were welcome to die trying to kill Jews but nobody wanted them as equal citizens- though, it must be said, Jordan was initially quiet hospitable. Then the Palestinians tried to take over. Their politics was always that of the gangster or blood thirsty clan chieftain. The Arabs made a mistake by boycotting the 1923 elections held by the Brits. Israel took the trouble to hold regular elections. The Palestinians tried it once or twice then stopped bothering with the thing. Mafias don't have elections. Their job is killing and extorting money. 

While defenders of Israel appear increasingly desperate to everyone watching, public support of the Palestinian people still draws the ire of university administrators and the professional political class in the United States.

The thing is a nuisance. Israel is a knowledge economy. Palestine can't even export terrorism because ISIS is better at the rough stuff.  

Said’s work and example, then—attuned as he was to the shape of Palestinian freedom to come—remains as instructive as ever.

To be fair, Said gave up on a two state solution because he could see the Palestinian political class was too thuggish while its 'intellectuals' were too stupid and paranoid to enable the community to rise up. Still, by opposing the Oslo agreement he had made himself irrelevant. No doubt, he was right that the PLO would fuck up but the alternative to the PLO was some other bunch of nutters fucking up. But there was no point saying that the solution was for Israel to stop being Israeli and for Pakistan to stop being Muslim and for Americans to stop being so fucking American and just become Chinese already.

Currently, it looks as though, if the Palestine problem really matters, China will broker a deal. But Palestinians- especially those who are Israeli citizens- don't matter and ought not matter in a part of the globe where many Syrians and Lebanese people are far worse off. The truth is, if Palestinians have a chance to work hard and get rich, then it will become worth their while to elect people to spend their tax money in sensible ways. If they don't have that opportunity, some bunch of thugs can always pay them to go around slaughtering innocents. But that is counter-productive. They take lives, but lose land. 


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