Saturday, January 10, 2009

Edward Said and Noam Chomsky

None of us has time to study everything and I could, like most people, content myself with reading just those I know in advance that I agree with, but I have never been willing to do that. I usually content myself with reading the best authorities on subjects I am interested in. But occasionally some person representing a position I disagree with will draw my attention such that I feel obligated to examine his views with in more detail than hitherto. How do I form an opinion before reading the books? By articles, speeches, etc.

Edward Said was such a person. Back after 9/11 when I first began studying Islamism, etc. I resolved to read those scholars who predicted that Islamism was dangerous. I learned that Edward Said and John Esposito took the view that Islamism was not a danger. Inasmuch as they were obviously wrong, I crossed them off my list and read others. But their names, especially Said’s, came up so often I read his Orientalism. He didn’t favor Islamism, rather, he didn’t take it seriously. He was a Marxist at heart and treated Islamism as the sort of thing Frantz Fanon wrote of in The Wretched of the Earth.

Now in the case of Noam Chomsky, I have heard him speak on several occasions. I have also read some of his articles, but I have referred to him negatively so often, I felt a need to read at least one of his books. Since I have been reading about Leftism in the 60s, the Cold War and Vietnam, his At War with Asia seemed to serve the purpose. As I wrote, he was so clearly wrong in page after page that I checked to see if perchance he had repudiated this book. I discovered to the contrary that he had republished it.

At the time I was reading Edward Said, an acolyte of his was quite sure I had him wrong – much as the fellow did yesterday that thought I had Chomsky wrong. The Said fellow urged me to read more, more, more. I noticed he seemed unable, or perhaps unwilling, to put the ideas of his hero into his own words. I would argue against Said and his acolyte would say, “well how about this,” and quote something he had Googled. I would analyze what he sent me. The acolyte never argued back. He just offered new things for me to read. I have come to suspect this is a characteristic of Leftism, the inability to mount arguments. One is either on their partisan side or not. Evidence, arguments and logic do not enter in to the equation.

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