In this article in World Affairs, Prof. Muravchik examines the intellectual influence that Professor Edward Said has had on the discussion surrounding the Israel-Arab conflict.
Columbia University’s English Department may seem a surprising place from which to move the world, but this is what Professor Edward Said accomplished. He not only transformed the West’s perception of the Israel-Arab conflict, he also led the way toward a new, post-socialist life for leftism in which the proletariat was replaced by “people of color” as the redeemers of humankind. During the ten years that have passed since his death there have been no signs that his extraordinary influence is diminishing.
According to a 2005 search on the utility “Syllabus finder,” Said’s books were assigned as reading in eight hundred and sixty-eight courses in American colleges and universities (counting only courses whose syllabi were available online). These ranged across literary criticism, politics, anthropology, Middle East studies, and other disciplines including postcolonial studies, a field widely credited with having grown out of Said’s work. More than forty books have been published about him, including even a few critical ones, but mostly adulatory, such as The Cambridge Introduction to Edward Said, published seven years after his death of leukemia in 2003. Georgetown University, UCLA, and other schools offer courses about him. A 2001 review for the Guardian called him “arguably the most influential intellectual of our time.”
The book that made Edward Said famous was Orientalism, published in 1978 when he was forty-three. Said’s objective was to expose the worm at the core of Western civilization, namely, its inability to define itself except over and against an imagined “other.” That “other” was the Oriental, a figure “to be feared . . . or to be controlled.” Ergo, Said claimed that “every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was . . . a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.” Elsewhere in the text he made clear that what was true for Europeans held equally for Americans.