Edward Said on Those Who Dare to Criticise Islam
Despite everything Edward Said has written about Israel, the Jews and Judaism (as well as the existence of the thriving Edward Said Industry in Academic America) , and in spite of all the things Hezbollah, Hamas, the Left in Europe and the media generally, etc. have said about Israel, Jews and Judaism, Said still had the audacity to say that
‘it is still possible to say things about Islam that are simply unacceptable for Judaism.’ (148)
Yes, you read it correctly. Said actually believed that. What planet did he live on? His proposition is literally the exact opposite of the truth. When you criticise Islam, the Koran or Mohammed, the whole world seems to tumble down around you. Or, more specifically, people are killed, assassinated, riots ensue, places are bombed, etc. Worse that that: many academics (like Edward Said himself) come to the defence of Islam, the Koran or Mohammed. And they do so without question. Not only that: Western states, the EU, the UN, the courts, journalists, Leftist parties and councils get in on the act. They scream about ‘hate speech’, ‘Islamophobia’ and pass laws to stop people criticising Islam, the Koran or Mohammed.
How many bombs go off when someone criticises Israel, Judaism and Jews? How many riots are there? Does an ‘offence’ against the Israel or the Jews get fiercely debated in the UN or anywhere else for that matter? (No. Offences are made against Jews in the UN!) No to all these questions.
In fact, far from it being the case that criticism of Israel, Judaism or the Jews is ‘unacceptable’, it is in fact de rigeur in Leftist circles. You are often ostracised if you don’t criticise the Jews…. sorry, the Israelis and their religion of ‘the chosen people’ and their God as a ‘real estate agent’ (yet another popular Chomskyian meme). On the other hand, Islam is treated as if it’s the greatest and fluffiest religion going by people who only twenty years - or less - earlier had not given it a moment’s thought.
Edward Said was a fashionable “post-Marxist”, neo-Marxist, post-structuralist or post-whatever academic. So what really got his goat, obscurely enough, was that other academics had the audacity to write on
‘Islamic history and society… blithely [ignorant of] every major advance in interpretative theory since Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud’. (pg. 148)
So that’s what we are doing wrong. We aren't studying Islam correctly. In order to study Islam correctly we must read Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and the numerous post-Nietzscheans, post-Marxists and post-Freudians who titillated Edward Said. No wonder we are getting it all wrong. God knows what academics did before Marx. God knows what academics have been doing without Marx, Freud and the post-Marxists and post-Freudians. At least Edward Said told us through which prism he saw the Islamic world: the Marxist or "post-Marxist" prism.
Edward Said on the State of Israel
Edward Said disputes that Israel is “the Middle East’s only democracy”. He thinks that Israel has also “been used as a foil for Islam” (4). A state’s being “the only democracy in the Middle East” is a very good reason to use it as a “foil against Islam” or even a foil against Islamic states. Democracy is a very good thing to have when you are surrounded by Muslim countries which want to annihilate you and when you're the endless victim of countless Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah attacks and suicide bombs.
Did Edward Said say what he said because he believed that the Arabs in Israel aren’t full citizens or was it something else to do with Israel’s population of more than a million Arabs (plus many non-Jewish immigrants)? Or was it because Israel’s democracy is a capitalist liberal democracy therefore not a true democracy (when seen from a “post-Marxist” perspective)?
If that's the case it must be because Edward Said’s position was some kind of Leftist/Marxist or even Islamist position (or an Islamo-Leftist position!) which views capitalist liberal democracies as not real democracies. To a Leftist, capitalism can never deliver True Democracy. That is, capitalism does not deliver a “collectivist democracy” as established and ruled by a highly-centralised and totalitarian Leftist state.
Capitalist democracies, such as Israel, are, instead, examples of ‘class power’, ‘capitalist hegemony’, etc. (See other classic Marxist soundbites about Israel and capitalism here.)
In any case, the treatment of Israeli Arabs and its democracy tie in together into Edward Said’s account. In that case, Israel’s treatment of Israeli Arabs will no doubt be a consequence of capitalist, “neo-colonialist”, liberal democracy. Then again, the Arabs do have the vote; they can sit in the Knesset; form anti-Israeli political parties; publish books calling for the destruction of Israel (sometimes with Jewish publishers); etc. That's not enough, of course. To a Leftist or an Islamist, all that will never be enough. It is not enough because Israel is not a collectivist socialist state. As for the Islamists, it's simply being a state for Jews in Dar al Islam renders it an abomination.
The treatment of Israeli Arabs cannot in and of itself make Israel a bogus democracy. Even if Arabs have the vote, can sit in the Knesset, etc. that would still not make Israel’s democracy a real or genuine Marxist/Leftist democracy. And Said, being a Marxist of sorts, or a “post-Marxist”, was almost bound to take this position.
Thus Edward Said preferred various Arab states to the Israeli state. After all, many Western Leftists once preferred the communist Soviet Union and Mao's China to the US or UK. That's partly why Said preferred Egyptian or even Pakistani 'democracy' to Israel’s democracy. In fact one likely candidate for a better regime, and even a better democracy (though not a "capitalist democracy") for Edward Said was Iran in the early days of the revolutionary regime (perhaps also later). He preferred Iran’s system to Israel’s when writing this (in 1982 and 1996). Noam Chomsky, for example, thinks that the US is a ‘Nazi state’ which needs to be ‘denazified’. It is not therefore surprising, then, that Edward Said thought that Israel is a Nazi state which needs "denazifying".
Which system or state did Edward Said actually prefer? Come to think of it, I can ask the same question about Chomsky. Since Chomsky rejected the UK, US and European systems of democracy, which did he prefer, if not completely endorse? Well, he praised Maoist China, the Soviet Union, Cuba and even Pol Pot’s .... (And to think that anarchists admire Chomsky!)
Which states floated Edward Said’s boat or see as being superior to Israel (even if he was not completely happy with any non-Israeli regime)?
He wasn’t completely happy with Arab Muslim states either. That had nothing to do with their lack of democracy. Like Islamists and Islamic terrorists today (as with many 'revolutionaries' in the 'spring Revolutions' of 2012), he thought that most Arab regimes were “American stooges”. (Islamists today think Arab states are not Islamic enough. This position has nothing to do with their lack of democracy. It is because these states are far too secular and haven’t implemented full sharia law across the board.)
But surely a purportedly non-religious ‘post-Marxist’ like Edward Said himself didn't think what the Islamists think! Yes he did! Just as Chomsky preferred Maoist China and even Cambodia to the system of the US, then it is very likely that Said preferred, say, Iran, the Sudan or Pakistan to Israel or even to the USA! As I said, Chomsky still believed this even though he modestly admitted that Mao’s China, Pol Pot's Cambodia, etc. were not perfect.
Edward Said also admitted to the failings of Muslim Arab states. Yet he still preferred them to Israel.
Such extreme positions do indeed exist. There were many Leftists who once supported the Soviet Union, Maoist China and even North Korea. The Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (UK) once stated that it would support Iran in a nuclear war with the West. Thus Said preferred the Iranian and Egyptian systems to that of Israel. But how could a purportedly non-religious “post-Marxist” even cope in a totalitarian Islamic state?
These are the possibilities or realities we have to understand if we are to make sense of Edward Said’s extreme position on Israel; as well as his positions on “Western capitalist states”. This must be an important component of any explanation of Said’s attitude to Israel vis-à-vis Iran, Palestine and all Arab and/or Muslim states.
Said could of course have rejected every system or state on the planet and thus his expectation that Israel should be perfect would have made at least some sense. Yet he didn’t out-rightly reject all states (even if he did criticise them). He preferred and supported particular Islamic or Arabic regimes against the US and the West. Trotskyist groups also argue than no state is ‘a true socialist or communist state’. But they too take sides in wars or ideological confrontations (as I just said in the case of the SWP supporting Iran against the West). Said also took sides. He obviously took the sides of the Arab nations against the West. He even supported Saddam Hussein in the Second Gulf War and the Iraqi regime's attempts to nuke Israel in the 1990s.
Edward Said, Covering Islam, 1982/97, Vintage Books, London
1) What's surprising, or perhaps not, about Edward Said is how many time he's on record as having lied. I'm not talking about academic mistakes here. I'm talking about outright lies. Said even lied about where he was born and where he was brought up. He lied about historical facts too (e.g., that Jews had never lived in Hebron prior to 1947/8). (Noam Chomsky is also a well-known and well-documented liar.) This isn't surprising because Leftists are always “lying for Justice”. And if you fuse that with Islamic taqiyya, then you have Edward Said: the man who “spoke truth to power”.
You see it's very easy to convince yourself that because the cause you are fighting for is so righteous and important, then what do a few (or many) small (or big) lies matter? The trouble is, Edward Said, just like Trotskyists/progressives today, repeatedly lied for Justice. Almost every paragraph in much Leftist literature contain some known lie. And all is done for a good cause, of course.
2) Edward Said was basically a Marxist who read a lot of literature. But like the Marxist Slavoj Žižek and other hip philosophers, Said had also been influenced by Freud, literary theory, post-structuralism, structuralism, etc. But none of that airy-fairy stuff provided him with any political ammunition to mount his attack on Israel, capitalism and the West - his Occidentalism. So although his prose is quite academic and theoretical, with references to all sorts of fashionable philosophers and not-so-hip novelists, the basic political positions and analyses are Marxist. The other thinkers' works Edward Said cites are hardly applicable to the more broadly political and global issues he is now well-known for.