The Jewel of Medina
To the Editor:
I greatly enjoyed Robert Spencer's analysis of Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina ("Muhammad and Aisha, a Love Story," Winter 2009), and I agree that Jones attempted to depict Muhammad as a man of character. To me, it is impossible not to perceive the Qur'anic Muhammad as a cunning and lascivious man who would stop at nothing in order to get the woman he wanted, even receiving a timely "divine" revelation that allowed him to marry his own daughter-in-law.
I find, nonetheless, a lapse in Mr. Spencer's analysis: Jewel is written from a Sunni perspective, which can be understood because Aisha's father was not related to Muhammad by blood ties, but Jones does not state that in the book. The founding parents of Shi'ism, Fatima and Ali, are shown as two vulgar people, hungry for power, envious and dangerous, usually acting behind the scenes.
This has the potential to be used to inflame the Shi'a and keep them busy burning American and Israeli flags and attacking Christian churches, embassies, and consulates, especially in Iran where the masses are feeling the consequences of falling oil prices and the rising costs of a nuclear buildup.
It did not take much for radicals to turn the Danish cartoons into an international crisis. It would not be surprising to see the Iranian government and their proxy groups depict The Jewel of Medina as an anti-Shi'i plot. Hopefully this will not happen but, if it does, I do hope that Western governments will stand stronger in defense of free speech and intellectual freedom than some did in the wake of the Danish cartoon crisis.
Prof. Sonia Bloomfield (ret.)
Universidade de Brasília
To the Editor:
I was disappointed in Efraim Karsh and Rory Miller's recent essay, "Did Edward Said Really Speak Truth to Power?" (Winter 2008). I, too, am dismayed by the fame and influence of Said, given his pernicious politics and poor scholarship about the Middle East, but that is why it is important that all criticism of him be fastidiously accurate and unassailable. Unfortunately, this article fell short for several reasons:
- It is misleading to say only that Said was a U.S. citizen by birth. This is true, but he was born in Jerusalem.
- The "Plagiarist?" section is weak. A few examples among a huge corpus of literature are not enough to make the case.
- While Orientalism made Said famous, he was a well-regarded literary critic before that. To cite Hamid Dabashi as being unaware of Said's pre-Orientalism work is not persuasive, especially as Dabashi was of a younger generation and received his Ph.D. only six years after Orientalism was first published.
- Nor is mention of Said's Egyptian accent a devastating criticism. Would it not be better to explore how well he knew Arabic (or, at least, written Arabic), since there seems to be some doubt about that?
Given the many errors and distortions in Said's writings about history and culture, it should not have been too difficult to criticize Said's work.
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
 Robert Irwin, "Edward Said's Shadowy Legacy," The Times Literary Supplement (London), May 7, 2008.