Across the Bay

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Bitter Broken Record

The Washington Post had a review of Rashid Khalidi's latest book. The review quotes a few statements by Khalidi, and I decided to comment on them due to their pathetic nature. They basically (predictably) recycle the ideology of Edward Said, whose chair Khalidi now occupies at Columbia (if you lose one Palestinian-American academic, make sure to replace him with another Palestinian-American academic!), and by that I mean Said's disdain for academia that's close to power. So Khalidi condescendingly attacks all the supposed academic sponsors of the Iraq war. The funny thing however is that he laments the fact that his type of academics are not influencing decisions or being consulted! This has been an issue since 9/11 as it became clear that those types of academics (Khalidi's ilk) basically drew such a warped picture of the Middle East, one that was a decided delusion and a complete failure. Now Khalidi wants those people back as the experts on the "real" picture of the ME.

I have discussed this business of the "authentic image" of the ME in relation to Said earlier on this blog. My contention with Said is that while he critiqued the Orientalist reductionist, and thus fake, image of the Middle East, his own image of that Middle East is equally fake and reductionist, and ideologically driven, because it is Arabist. In a recent piece in the Jerusalem Post, Shlomo Avineri addressed this basic problem with the Arabist ideology and its view of the "Arab East," which, as he noted, is equally problematic as "Near East" is as far as nomenclature goes, since it reduces the mosaic of the region into an exclusive Arab picture.

But let me give another example of those academics that Khalidi wants back in charge of filtering through an image of the ME. It will come as no surprise that the academic, Joseph Masaad, teaches at Columbia! It is equally predictable that his argument runs the exhausted route of ranting on Western Orientalism, racism, imperialism, and the rest of that familiar broken record. Masaad wrote his piece for the notoriously bad Al-Ahram paper. And, as I told my friend who forwarded it to me, it shows from reading the piece how bad the editorial staff there really is! The piece is so horrendous: it's logically flawed, ideologically bankrupt, derivative, hypocritical, terrible at using sources and so biased in the way it presents them. It connects dots in a very questionable manner. I might add that were it done to Islam and Arabs, Masaad would have cried "racism"!

The piece basically mirrors the terrible pieces of garbage penned by Fisk and Raban, on which I recently commented. In fact, Masaad makes reference to Fisk (most likely the same piece I posted). Masaad draws the same hypocritical conclusions about Western culture that Fisk did with regard to Abu Ghraib. Similar to Raban, he also invoked the feminization of the enemy and the use of sexual imagery as classic elements of the Orientalist repertoire. Supposedly these are all embedded in the Western culture and drive it in its relation to the East, not only in the 19th c. but today!!! Of course there is zero evidence for this, and Masaad doesn't provide any anyway!! To him it goes without saying! Furthermore, Masaad doesn't mention the fact that the intersection of sexual and war imagery is in fact found in Islamic culture! For instance, take the word Fateh, which should be familiar to readers from Yaser Arafat's infamous organization, the Fatah. The word is sexually charged, and is a technical term for "military conquest." In Arabic, the literal meaning is "opening," and I leave the rest for your imagination! This term is used for the Islamic imperial conquests of the Levant. Yet Masaad uniquely attributes this to Western Orientalist discourse!

I will not even bother to critique his section on women! I'll just refer you to Kanan Makiya's analysis in his Cruelty and Silence (pp. 287-300), a book that I highly recommend. I'll quote his translation of Mai Ghosoub, a Lebanese feminist:

"It has been all too easy to conflate the imperialist and the infidel, and to mobilize the masses to avenge the humiliations inflicted by Western civilization on Islamic identity. ... In this setting of 'internal' conformism for purposes of 'external' confrontation, there is no better symbol of cultural continuity in the Islamic world than the veiling of the woman, refuge par excellence of traditional values. ... The rigidity of the stature of women in the Arab family has been and continues to be the innermost asylum of Arabo-Muslim identity." (p. 298)

Of course Masaad doesn't mention the status of women in the Arab world, or any malignancy of the Arabs. Instead, he condescendingly ridicules Westerners for their concern over "honor killings." This type of misrepresentation and embellishment is the hallmark of these academics that Khalidi wants to be the only "native informants." (right back at you!)

To complete the circle, Masaad has to throw in something on Israel and Zionism, and surely enough, his entire description of Western culture relies on conflating that culture (which by itself is clearly a reductionism if there ever was one) with Zionism!!! That's partly what I meant about the poor quality of this paper. Like I said to my friend, if this was a paper from one of my undergraduate students, it would have received a C, and that's on a good day!

It is instances like this that make you almost see the point of people like Martin Kramer and his hilarious "Bir Zeit on the Hudson" jab! Khalidi's lamentations and condescending remarks notwithstanding, this nonsense no longer stands to scrutiny. This position is not only out-dated, but it is also a marked failure, just like Arab nationalism is.