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June 11, 2003

Against the Green

Ibn Warraq, the world's only professional ex-Muslim (that I know of), has an article out debunking Edward Said [1]. A much shorter version is also there for those who aren't footnote hounds (thanks G Factor). I read Orientalism and found it rather uninteresting (and yes, there are obvious errors about Muslim history that makes you wonder what kind of expert this dude is-he's an English professor actually!). Yeah, Orientalists did serve Imperialism and Racism and all that, and perhaps Bernard Lewis still does in some way, but that doesn't mean that all they say is incorrect. I frankly don't trust Arabs to report objectively on their societies at this point-though non-Arab Muslims might be a good compromise. To also be equal opportunity I've got to ask, what went wrong with Bernard Lewis? His last two books, What Went Wrong & Crisis of Islam seem to be nothing more than compilations of his ramblings on the Charlie Rose Show [2]. His earlier books, like The Middle East, are much more dense and pre-date his ubiquitous appearences on late night PBS talk-shows, they show how orientalism should be done.

[1] Folks like Salman Rushdie weren't very Islamic to begin with and their books deal in broader topics than Islam. Also, Warraq has a new book out titled Leaving Islam.

[2] Charlie Rose is to Bernard Lewis what Larry King is to Marlon Brando, the guy needs to chill on his platonic crush big time.

Posted by razib at 11:11 PM

Is there anyone Rose doesn't suck up to? His bootlicking is gross.

I liked Orientalism. I'm sure in the late-seventies, it was quite innovative. An old story now, but that's how things work.

I agree that Lewis ought not to be discarded (he's a good Ottoman historian). I think Said, if he hadn't gotten into a personal flamewar with Lewis, would have said the same.

But he did get into a flamewar (on magazine pages instead of on the net -- but it was the same thing). As did Lewis (and his partisans in Commentary). And when people get emotional like that, good sense goes out the window.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at June 12, 2003 09:02 AM

"what went wrong with Bernard Lewis? His last two books, What Went Wrong & Crisis of Islam seem to be nothing more than compilations of his ramblings on the Charlie Rose Show."

I think he got old. Lewis is something like 85. He's doing awfully good for that age, but that's old.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at June 12, 2003 12:39 PM

I too came away somewhat disappointed with "What went wrong"... the same point was harped over and over again...

However, it did give me a good appreciation of how a decline in critical reasoning caused the decline of the Islamic empire...

And today when I see third world socialist countries not willing to heed to criticism of their systems... i can understand the ascendancy of the West ...

And this should also be a warning to the USA.. there is much evidence (for example in our treatment of academic disparities, affirmative action etc..) that the USA is losing its ability to engage in critical reasoning..

Posted by: marinara at June 13, 2003 03:39 AM

"Is there anyone Rose doesn't suck up to? ...." Yes. Gerry Adams. Rose was quite firm with him, discarded the "you're ok your're ok" approach, and even mentioned the body count. But about the Orientalists ... were they not looking just for a carnival of "Others" but for their own Origins? and not only religious. Comte de Gobineau (famous for his Persian observations in the mid-19th c.) was even digging for some sort of racial root. Thus Spake Zarathustra rumbled not long after and hasn't stopped since.

Posted by: MaryClaire at June 13, 2003 05:15 PM