Edward W. Said of Columbia University has obsessed over me for nearly two decades. Admittedly, I did very negatively review his Orientalism in January 1979, soon after its publication ("His flawed, shoddy, and deceptive project is a disgrace and deserves to be ignored"), but he has not let go.
His revenge began in 1985, when he devoted nearly a thousand words to my book, In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power (New York: Basic, 1983) in a screed titled "Orientalism Reconsidered." Here are some of the learned professor's choice insults:
- My expertise "is wholly at the service not of knowledge but of an aggressive and interventionary State - the U.S. - whose interests Pipes helps to define."
- "intellectually scandalous generalizing"
- "Pipes's book testifies, I think, to Orientalism's unique resilience, its insulation from intellectual developments everywhere else in the culture, and its antediluvian imperiousness as it makes its assertions and affirmations with little regard for logic or argument."
- "although Pipes pays his obeisance to imperialist Orientalism he masters neither its genuine learning nor its pretense at disinterestedness."
- "This [book], I submit, is neither science, nor knowledge, nor understanding: it is a statement of power and a claim for relatively absolute authority. It is constituted out of racism, and it is made comparatively acceptable to an audience prepared in advance to listen to its muscular truths.
- "Pipes obdurately and explicitly aligns himself with colonial Orientalists like Snouck Hurgronje and shamelessly pro-colonial renegades like V.S. Naipaul, so that from the eyrie of the State Department and the National Security Council he might survey and judge Islam at will."
Comments: (1) I never served at the National Security Council (as Said asserts in a section not quoted above); he confuses me with my father, Richard Pipes, who did work at the NSC in 1981-83.
(2) Said argues in Orientalism that European specialists on the Middle East de facto served their governments, that their studies were therefore tainted by imperialism. How amusing, then, to see this grand thesis applied in miniature against me: Because I worked at the State Department in early 1983 when In the Path of God appeared, therefore I must have offered in my book the U.S. government point of view. Or, in his colorful words, I was "wholly at the service ... of an aggressive and interventionary State."
Two little problems with this thesis, however: I was a Council on Foreign Relations fellow at the Department of State for a single year, not a State employee, in 1982-83, as part of a program for academics to get a feel for government; and that was my only stint in government other than teaching at a military institution and taking on some small assignments (such as serving as a delegate at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights). My career in the academy and in think tanks shows abundantly that I say and write what I think, regardless of official U.S. policy.
Second, while serving in the State Department, my views so clashed with those of my superiors that I on several occasions (notably, with regard to policy vis-à-vis Lebanon) went public with my analyses after they failed to win support within the building.
That Said blithely identifies me with the U.S. government shows both his blind subservience to a theory and his famously shoddy research.
A famous debate, "The Scholars, the Media, and the Middle East," took place at the Middle East Studies Association of North America meeting on November 22, 1986. It featured principals Bernard Lewis and Edward W. Said, with seconds Leon Wieseltier and Christopher Hitchens. In the course of the exchange, Said took a swipe at me as one of a group of unworthies who appear too often in the media:
the media can call on a substantial roster of experts who regularly represent the Middle East for the U.S. media and U.S. policy. Note - and here i's must be dotted - that this roster virtually - but not completely - excludes Muslims and Arabs - although many are available; it includes people whose political sympathies are clearly inscribed in what they write, although-and this is the pity of it - some of the scholars persist in characterizing what they do as impartial, or detached, or expert. This is the point, and it raises to me the profoundly interesting question of how these scholars continue to practise their art while remaining hostile, or at least antithetical to and substantially reserved, about its central object: the religion and culture of Islam. The roster I have in mind is responsible for what is essentially the entire gamut of media representation of the Middle East. It includes: Bernard Lewis, Elie Kedourie, Walter Laqueur, Ernest Gellner, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Martin Peretz, Norman Podhoretz, J. B. Kelley, Daniel Pipes - I could go on.
My response: What a great list to be included in, especially as I am a generation younger than the other unworthies.
In "Orientalism Revisited," Middle East Research and Information Project, July 1987, Said reprised his name-calling but this time with a back-handed compliment. Asked about the receptivity of Middle East specialists to his arguments, he replied:
Yes, I think we can see the beginnings of a new kind of scholarship which Orientalism was incapable of developing. The other thing is the rather more frank admission on the part of a lot of people in Middle Eastern studies that the field is highly political in nature and therefore the likely site of open contests. People take sides much more openly. People are known, in terms of their scholarly work in Middle Eastern studies, to be openly Zionist or anti-Zionist, or openly imperialist or anti-imperialist. The appearance of new apologists, such as Daniel Pipes and Barry Rubin, has made the debate more open and therefore more lively.
In "The Middle East 'Peace Process': Misleading Images and Brutal Actualities," The Nation, October 16, 1995, Said included me in a list of people he disliked:
Much of what Oslo II prescribes so disadvantageously for Palestinians-- and, in the long run, for Israelis as well-was set in motion by Oslo I. You wouldn't know this from conventional "expert" opinion in the West. The prevailing belief underlying most analysis--from such dubious authorities as Bernard Lewis, Judith Miller, Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes, and others--has been that now the only serious obstacles to peace are Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. In this, the experts have followed the politicians.
In "A Devil Theory of Islam," The Nation, August 12, 1996, Said listed me as one of those "experts" (he used quotes) whose goal is to make sure that the Islamic
"threat" is kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror, despotism and violence, while assuring themselves profitable consultancies, frequent TV appearances and book contracts. The Islamic threat is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending support to the thesis (which is an interesting parallel to anti-Semitic paranoia) that there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every explosion.
Now, in a collection of interviews with Said called Culture and Resistance, he refers to Campus Watch on p. 177 as follows:
the situation on campuses has been further inflamed by the existence of a Web site which is designed specifically to report academics who criticize Israel or who seem to be proponents of the Palestinians. It's led by someone named Daniel Pipes, who is basically a second-rate, unemployed scholar.
Which rate scholar I am is a matter of opinion, but my being unemployed or employed is a matter of fact. As it is, I happen to be gainfully employed, with both a downtown 10th-floor corner office and a W-2 form to prove it. Thus, the University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University has gotten the facts wrong – hardly surprising, as biographical accuracy, even about his own life, has hardly been Edward Said's strong suit.
More to the point: think tanks (like the Middle East Forum) have emerged in the last couple of decades as leading actors in the making of public policy, much to the frustration of the academic thought police. University employees moan about our being "grossly misinformed" and call us unflattering names like "policy entrepreneurs," or even deny that we are employed. But we think tankers provide timely analysis and often sensible advice, so we are listened to.
Also, of course, Campus Watch is not about reporting "academics who criticize Israel or who seem to be proponents of the Palestinians." But asking Said to get this right would be too much to ask for. (June 20, 2003)
June 23, 2003 update: Writing today at "Dignity, Solidarity and the Penal Colony," Counterpunch (an excerpt from The Politics of Anti-Semitism, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair) Said discusses
the vicious media and government campaign against Arab society, culture, history and mentality that has been led by Neanderthal publicists and Orientalists like Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes has cowed far too many of us into believing that Arabs really are an underdeveloped, incompetent and doomed people, and that with all the failures in democracy and development, Arabs are alone in this world for being retarded, behind the times, unmodernized and deeply reactionary.
This phrase "Neanderthal publicists and Orientalists like Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes" elicits several responses:
(1) How much preferable this is to the "somebody named Daniel Pipes" formulation.
(2) How good to be paired with Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Middle East historians.
(3) How impressive to be called an Orientalist by the person who transformed this honorable old term into an insult.
(4) How complimentary to be called an Orientalist, putting me in the grand tradition of Silvestre de Sacy, Edward Lane, Ignaz Goldziher, and Max Müller.
(5) How satisfying to see that Said is reduced to writing for whacko-left website like Counterpunch.
Oct. 2, 2003 update: For a frighteningly awful eulogy of Said, see that by his much-titled colleague, Hamid Dabashi, which I excerpt today.
Mar. 1, 2007 update: Martin Kramer writes (in a review in Commentary of Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and its Discontents by Robert Irwin) that "there are no self-declared Orientalists today." I guess he missed this weblog entry.
Dec. 21, 2008 update: I was hardly alone in being insulted by Said. Efraim Karsh and Rory Miller provide a helpful listing:
Said launched ad hominem attacks on major intellectual figures with whose views about the Middle East he disagreed. To Said, Paul Johnson, the renowned British writer, was a "retrograde social and political polemist" while Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum and publisher of the Middle East Quarterly, was a "Neanderthal." Bernard Lewis, the eminent Princeton historian who challenged Said's Orientalism in the New York Review of Books, was guilty of "distorting truth" and had an "extraordinary capacity for getting nearly everything wrong." Said concluded that the polyglot historian "knows nothing" about the Arab world. Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, author of the influential Clash of Civilizations, Said wrote, "knows nothing about civilization, he knows nothing about history." Said wrote with similar vitriol toward social anthropologist Ernest Gellner and Middle East historian Elie Kedourie.
July 22, 2015 update: Edward Said's mention of me continues indirectly, for example in Imperialism Past and Present (Oxford University Press), a soon-to-appear book by Emanuele Saccarelli and Latha Varadarajan, two associate professors of political science at San Diego State University. For details, see "Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare – and Me."