The Flaws of Edward Said’s Orientalism2:01 PMSummed up, it is obvious that Mr. Said was a grossly dishonest writer with a poor grasp of history. His book is so deeply flawed both in its fundamental premise and in its execution as to be practically worthless as a serious historical work. What surprised me when reading it for a second time is not that it is distilled ideological propaganda; that I already knew. What struck me the most was that it’s not very good even if judged purely as a piece of propaganda.
I can think of a number of writers, for instance the Communist author Bertolt Brecht, who supported ideas that I disagree with or even actively dislike, but who I will grudgingly admit had some linguistic talent. I cannot honestly say that about Edward Said, though. Not only was he a poor thinker; he was also a pretty poor writer. He does not know how to hide his ideological shortcomings or seduce his audience with clever anecdotes, witty remarks, linguistic elegance, personal charm or a sense of humor. He possessed few of these qualities.
What I see when reading Orientalism is the unattractive self-pity of a privileged man claiming to be underprivileged, a man with many harsh words for the alleged evils of Western imperialism but hardly a single critical comment for the Arab and Muslim one, possibly the most brutal of all imperialisms if you believe V. S. Naipaul, which has already wiped out numerous nations and is currently very close to eradicating Said’s people, too. If somebody paid me a lot of money and I ignored any moral scruples, I am fairly confident that I could have written as better work of anti-Western propaganda myself, based on real events such as the Opium Wars or the transatlantic slave trade. The Middle East must really be thirsting for anti-Western propaganda if Edward Said’s Orientalism was the best they could come up with.