Defending the WestDefending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism

This is the first systematic critique of Edward Said’s influential work, Orientalism, a book that for almost three decades has received wide acclaim, voluminous commentary, and translation into more than fifteen languages. Said’s main thesis was that the Western image of the East was heavily biased by colonialist attitudes, racism, and more than two centuries of political exploitation. Although Said’s critique was controversial, the impact of his ideas has been a pervasive rethinking of Western perceptions of Eastern cultures, plus a tendency to view all scholarship in Oriental Studies as tainted by considerations of power and prejudice.

In this thorough reconsideration of Said’s famous work, Ibn Warraq argues that Said’s case against the West is seriously flawed. Warraq accuses Said of not only willfully misinterpreting the work of many scholars, but also of systematically misrepresenting Western civilization as a whole. With example after example, he shows that ever since the Greeks Western civilization has always had a strand in its very makeup that has accepted non-Westerners with open arms and has ever been open to foreign ideas.

The author also criticizes Said for inadequate methodology, incoherent arguments, and a faulty historical understanding. He points out, not only Said’s tendentious interpretations, but historical howlers that would make a sophomore blush.

Warraq further looks at the destructive influence of Said’s study on the history of Western painting, especially of the 19th century, and shows how, once again, the epigones of Said have succeeded in relegating thousands of first-class paintings to the lofts and storage rooms of major museums.

An extended appendix reconsiders the value of 18th- and 19th-century Orientalist scholars and artists, whose work fell into disrepute as a result of Said’s work.

Review

“Ibn Warraq’s critique of Said’s thought and work is thorough and convincing, indeed devastating to anyone depending on Saidism. It should force the Saidists to acknowledge the sophistry of their false prophet.”
–                                      A.J. Caschetta, Middle East Quarterly.
 
“Ibn Warraq has written a brilliant and luminous book of cultural analysis and intellectual history. He reminds us of so many precious things in the West – and of it – that are worth upholding in the face of critics who enjoy Western liberties and denigrate them at the same time. This is more than a demolition of Edward Said’s Orientalism: In its own right, it is an exquisite inquiry into the great ideas at play in our world.”
  –                                     Fouad Ajami, Professor at The Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies Author of The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq.
 
“For decades Edward Said enjoyed the best that Western academic life had to offer – international celebrity, plaudits, honors and fame beyond the wildest dreams of most professors – while constantly bashing the history, values, and policies that have made this privileged existence possible. In Defending the West the eminent intellectual Ibn Warraq exposes with razor sharp precision the hypocrisy of Said’s writings as well as the perverted academic culture that has made his great success possible. With this important new book Ibn Warraq has once and for all dispatched Orientalism to the dustbin of history.”
–                                        Efraim Karsh, Head of Mediterranean Studies, University of London, Author of Empires of the Sand and Islamic Imperialism: A History.
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