Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism
by H. Aram Veeser
New York: Routledge, 2010. 260 pp. $39.95.
Reviewed by Reut R. Cohen
Los Angeles, Calif.
Middle East Quarterly
In this hagiography of the late Edward Said, Veeser, of the English department at City College of New York, purports to present the man behind the myth, a devotee of Savile Row tailors who, at the same time, allegedly chastised the West and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) with equal gusto.
To his credit, Veeser unmasks several contradictions within the character of his icon, acknowledging, for example, that despite his wish to "preserve a distance" from the PLO, Said eventually supported it. The author sees this somehow as a "political error" in which Said stole "victory from youthful fighters" and, by cooperating with the PLO, mistakenly handed it to "corrupt old men." Never mind that these "youthful fighters" were financially and morally supported in their butchery of Israeli civilians by the "old men"; Said's change of heart was a "tragic irony" that came a "decade too late."
Veeser dilates upon Said's magnum opus, Orientalism, but critical examination is absent. Throughout his life's work, Said substituted one stereotype for another. Indeed, European influence in the Middle East and North Africa did exist for a few hundred years, but before, during, and, to some degree, after the influence of Europeans began to be felt, it was the Ottoman Empire, another active and aggressive colonial power, which had the greatest influence in the region.
Thus Said's true legacy is one of defending Islamic imperialism and indulging in politicized rhetoric heavy with accusations and resentment, an appraisal not shared by Veeser. Said's work was intellectually shallow and several of his assertions about his background are apparently fraudulent. One is never quite sure whether his support for Arab violence was due to tribalism, insecurity about his origins, or to his undoubted capacity for self-pity, an unattractive characteristic not rendered invisible by the cut of a Savile Row suit.
 Justus Reid Weiner, "'My Beautiful Old House' and other Fabrications by Edward Said," Commentary, Sept. 1999.
Related Topics: Academia, Middle East studies | Spring 2011 MEQ
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