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The Bertrand Russell of Islam

Michael Weiss has a review of Ibn Warraq's Defending The West in The New York Sun:

As of last April, the late Edward Said's "Orientalism," originally published in 1978, was no. 2 on the best-seller list in Cairo. No. 1was a book arguing that Saddam Hussein hadn't really been executed — all cell phone video evidence to the contrary, the writer argued, was a fabrication of the CIA.

Ibn Warraq, a scholar of Islam and the author of the recently released "Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism," pointed out this macabre fact to me over the phone as a sign of what went wrong with postcolonial studies — the academic field more or less founded by Said, which, in an effort to examine the relationship of conqueror to conquered, placed a dime-store psychology of empire at the center of every discussion of "East meets West." Not only did the British and French colonize and expropriate the East, according to Said, their imperial prejudice clouded their understanding of those they conquered. More than that, they "invented" an entire sham epistemology, Said and his followers contend, with which every Western observer has since approached the East and used to his advantage in further colonizing and expropriating it. Said's legacy, however, accomplished exactly what anyone professing sympathy with the Islamic world should have wished to avoid, Mr. Warraq believes. That is, in defending the virtue of traditional cultures, it gave that world a high-minded rationalization for a persisting status quo of medievalism and intellectual poverty throughout the Middle East.

"'Orientalism,'" Mr. Warraq writes, "taught an entire generation of Arabs the art of self-pity … encouraged the Islamic fundamentalist generation of the 1980s, and bludgeoned into silence any criticism of Islam." Though it's Mr. Warraq's plaint that the book "stopped dead the research of eminent Islamologists who felt their findings might offend Muslims' sensibilities," it is not merely an abstract charge, but personally felt. "Ibn Warraq" is an Arabic pseudonym, meaning "son of a stationer, book-seller, paper-seller," which this Indian-born writer assumed after witnessing the critical reception Islamists gave Salman Rushdie, all the while claiming themselves as victims.

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