The ascent of Hamas to power in January 2006 has brought sharply into relief the intransigent rejectionism at the heart of much Palestinian politics and the disingenuousness of those who argue for a “right of return” as if the concept did not entail the destruction of the existing state of Israel. One of the leading Western proponents of Palestinian extremism was the cultural theorist Edward Said, a professor at Columbia and the author of Orientalism, a study of the supposedly racist Western attitude toward Muslims as revealed in the branch of scholarly knowledge devoted to the understanding of Islam.
That Said wildly distorted and misrepresented European scholars and their work has been definitively documented in a recent book, Dangerous Knowledge, by the British historian Robert Irwin (reviewed by Martin Kramer in the March COMMENTARY). As Irwin points out, Said’s book, despite its blatant falsifications, helped destroy the once-rigorous and prestigious academic discipline of Orientalism. But it did far more. Under the banner of “anti-colonialism,” it created a respectable-sounding framework for leftist Western intellectuals seeking to excuse, defend, or endorse the bloodthirsty activities of the PLO in its drive for power and international validation. Said himself served as a close adviser to the PLO leader Yassir Arafat, breaking with him only when Arafat signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993.
Said’s own widely-vaunted moral authority derived in part from his status as himself an alleged victim of Jewish “imperialism”: he and his family, he wrote, had been uprooted from their home in Jerusalem by the armed forces of the nascent Israeli state. In 1999, Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published a lengthy article in COMMENTARY picking apart and unmasking this story of Said’s early years. “My Beautiful Old House and Other Fabrications by Edward Said” unleashed a flood of violent criticism and denunciation, which Weiner went on to answer point for point. This weekend we offer Weiner’s September 1999 article along with the voluminous letters it provoked and his thorough-going and devastating reply.