Monday, October 16, 2006


If I wanted an honest assessment of Edward Said's legacy, you know who I wouldn't turn to? Martin Peretz.
Said's life as published by himself is made up of facts, half-truths, and irrefutable but meticulously constructed lies. Said rushed into print with a memoir called Out of Place, the name of the other reviewed film. And he rushed into print when Justin Reid Weiner had published a painstakingly precise, even obsessive, examination of Said's life in Commentary (September 1999). I confess it had been sent to me first, and I didn't run it. It was one of my greatest journalistic mistakes in then already a quarter-century of editing The New Republic. The sheer facts amounting to a great truth are so dispiriting, and one is led to the conclusion that Said--whatever his manic genius--was a fraud. No doubt about it. Please read this article. It is an eye-opener and a mind-sharpener.

Yes, please do read the article, which is indeed obsessive, is indeed an eye-opener, at least in regard to the straws at which hardcore revisionists will grasp in order to dismiss anyone who challenges their preferred Israel narrative.

The Commentary piece purported to discredit Said by showing that, wait for it, Said spent more of his youth in Cairo than he had let on, and that his aunt, not his father, actually owned the Said family home in Jerusalem. Not so much thin gruel as eating water with a spoon and calling it soup. For the committed revisionist like Peretz, however, this is more than enough to conclude that Said was a fraud, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian, and that the Zionist Irgun were freedom fighters, not terrorists like that stoopid Yasir Arafat.

As to Peretz's claim that he was offered the Weiner piece first, and turned it down, I have a hard time believing that Martin Peretz would turn down anything that would discredit Edward Said (contrary to Peretz's claim that Said was "obsessed" with him, the truth is quite the opposite). I suspect Peretz knew then, and probably knows now, that the article was incredibly weak, and didn't want to be the first one to publish it, though he's more than happy to reference it on his blog now that it has accrued some small measure of credibility simply by virtue of having been published elsewhere.

Interestingly, the Weiner article referred to Said as a "professional refugee," implying that there was something improper about basing his activism in his own family's exeriences in the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. Think about that for a minute. I'm sure you can imagine the spittle-flecked accusations of anti-Semitism that would issue from Peretz if anyone were to refer to Eli Weisel as a "professional Holocaust survivor". Oh, wait, you don't have to imagine, because here's Peretz labeling Norman Finkelstein not only an anti-Semite (Finkelstein is Jewish) but a Holocaust-denier (Finkelstein's parents are Holocaust survivors) because of Finkelstein's work claiming that some Jews have exploited the memory of the Holocaust, both for personal gain and to immunize Israel from criticism.

Regarding Peretz's claim that Said's "star in the academy is dimming," I imagine Peretz clicking his heels three times when he says this. Wish harder, Marty. In my experience, Said's influence in area studies is still very strong, if not dominant. This is both good and bad, and just briefly I'll say that I think the Saidian post-Orientalist discourse has, in many ways, become almost as constraining as the Orientalist one that Said described in his famous essay of that name. It's true that a lot of area studies scholars are completely enthralled by Said, and while I don't count myself among them, I think the post-Orientalist lens is an indispensable tool for studying the Middle East.

The bottom line, however, is that, whatever one thinks of his work, Edward Said was genuinely committed to facilitating a more informed debate about the Palestine-Israel conflict, and to achieving a just solution for both Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. Martin Peretz, on the other hand, remains a thug.

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