Recently, Edward Said spoke at a seminar at the University of Washington. He criticized American policy in general, and in particular the Iraq war. One would think from the speech that academia is in full swing. The UW Online reported on the event:
Before a capacity audience in Kane Hall last night, Edward Said, an outspoken supporter for Palestinian nationalism and a renowned scholarly critic, accused the United States of "imperialistic arrogance" and "inhumane" policies in the Middle East.
An author of more than 15 books and formerly a supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Said's life is as full of accomplishment as it is controversy.
He said the American media offers "prepackaged cliches." He labeled claims by President Bush "rubbish." He likened the United States to an oversized, overpriced sport-utility vehicle.
In response, Said received cheers and a standing ovation.
"Who assigned us, the U.S., the role of bringing democracy to Iraq?" asked Said. "Every American needs to ask that question."
We are pleased that the same UW publication ran this story written by several professors at the school. I haven't felt so pleased about academics in some time. Good work, Professors.
Only two forms of bigotry are still tolerated on U.S. campuses: anti-Semitism, and its new alter ego, anti-Americanism. It therefore seems especially fitting that the UW Graduate School should have conferred upon Edward Said the honor of a Walker-Ames Lectureship this week. Said is the perfect representative of those academics who would be rendered virtually speechless if deprived of the epithet "racist." He has denounced scores of people — among them "every European since the time of Homer" who has written about "the Orient" as well as modern Middle East scholars like Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis — as "racists" for their alleged stereotyping of Arabs. He said the same in 1997 regarding "speculations about the latest conspiracy to blow up buildings [and] sabotage commercial airliners." He became an academic celebrity by denouncing the English novel as an imperialistic instrument of oppression and discovering "racism" in country-house novels by Jane Austen.
But here is Said doing some stereotyping of his own: "There are no divisions in the Palestinian population of 4 million. We all support the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Operation)." Of course, this was written before Said stopped supporting the PLO because, at the time of the Oslo Accords, it seemed to him insufficiently devoted to reducing Israel to sandy wastes. (He is currently enraged by reports that a new Iraqi government may make peace with Israel.) Nor did that supposedly monolithic uniformity of Palestinian Arabs prevent Said from calling for the murder of Arab "collaborators" with Israel.
Said's remarks about Jews, Judaism, and Jew hatred would embarrass an ordinarily attentive sixth grader. The Jews, he claims, are not a people at all because Moses was an Egyptian and Jewish identity is a function of persecution. The Holocaust (which destroyed most potential citizens of a Jewish polity) served to "protect" Palestinian Jews "with the world's compassion," prior to 1948 "the historical duration of a Jewish state ... was a 60-year period." (It was 1,000 years.) Recent upsurges of anti-Semitism — the burning of synagogues in France, the "Mort aux Juifs" chants at pro-Palestinian rallies — are to Said, "criticism of Israeli policy."
Said's lifelong commitment to the erasure of both Israel and Jewish identity has now merged with his fierce hostility to the United States. He calls Operation Iraqi Freedom the crusade of "an avenging Judeo-Christian god of war," fitting into the pattern of the United States "reducing whole peoples, countries and even continents to ruin by nothing short of holocaust." The Jews may not have a legitimate existence, but in Said's febrile imagination they are omnipresent and omnipotent. "The Perles and Wolfowitzes of this country" have led the United States into a war "planned by a docile professionalized staff in Washington and Tel Aviv"' and publicly defended by "Ari Fleischer (who I believe is an Israeli citizen)." Showing his usual scrupulousness with facts, Said got this "belief" about Fleischer from a neo-Nazi Web site.
Perhaps one cannot expect UW administrators to grapple with such embarrassments as Said's past membership in a terrorist organization or his widely publicized stone-throwing at Israelis from the Lebanese border (the existential realization of his intellectual violence) or his falsification of his autobiography to fit the myth of Palestinian dispossession. But one might expect an institution publicly committed to slaying the dragon of bigotry to refrain from feeding it.
Edward Alexander is a professor of English. Marc Lange is a professor of philosophy. Nikolai Popov is a senior lecturer of English.