February 20, 2007


East is East: a review of Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Robert Irwin (Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Monthly)

Of what book and author was the following sentence written, and by whom?

Rarely has an Oriental servant of a white-identified,
imperial design managed to pack so many services to
imperial hubris abroad and racist elitism at home --
all in one act.

This was the quasi-articulate attack recently leveled, by a professor
of comparative literature at Columbia University, on Reading Lolita
in Tehran, Azar Nafisi's account of private seminars on Nabokov
for young women in Iran. The professor described Nafisi's work
as resembling "the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British
in India," and its author as the moral equivalent of a sadistic
torturer at Abu Ghraib. "To me there is no difference between
Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi," Hamid Dabashi, who is himself
of Iranian origin and believes that Nafisi's book is a conscious
part of the softening-up for an American bombing campaign in Iran,
has said.

I cannot imagine my late friend Edward Said, who was a professor
of English and comparative literature at Columbia, either saying
or believing anything so vulgar. And I know from experience that
he was often dismayed by the views of people claiming to be his
acolytes. But if there is a faction in the academy that now regards
the acquisition of knowledge about "the East" as an essentially
imperialist project, amounting to an "appropriation" and "subordination"
of another culture, then it must be conceded that Said's 1978
book, Orientalism, was highly influential in forming this cast
of mind. [...]

Though this book is an extraordinarily attractive short introduction
to the different national schools of Orientalism, and to the various
scholars who labored to make Eastern philology and philosophy
more accessible, its chief interest to the lay reader lies in
its consideration of Orientalism as a study of Islam. Irwin shows
us the early Christian attempts to translate and understand the
Koran, most of which were preoccupied with showing its heretical
character. These make especially absorbing reading in the light
of the pope's recent lecture at Regensburg University, and his
revival of the medieval critique of the teachings of Muhammad.
That tradition extends quite far into the modern epoch, with the
consecrated work of Father Henri Lammens, a Belgian Jesuit who
taught in Beirut in the early part of the twentieth century and
made himself master of the suras and hadiths. Lammens's intention
was to show that, to the extent that Muhammad could be said to
have existed, the prophet was a sex-crazed brigand whose preachments
were either plagiarized or falsified. The greatest Orientalist
of them all, the Hungarian genius Ignaz Goldziher, asked ironically,
"What would remain of the Gospels if [Lammens] applied to them
the same methods he applies to the Qur'an?"

The Gospels would be unchanged, but Lammens would have his own column at Front Page.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 20, 2007 8:07 AM

Of course the Gospels have been subjected to such criticism again and again. When that other publication is given similar scrutiny it appears as fantastical as something by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Joseph Smith. The Hitchens review does well to cite a 19th Century source, David Margoliouth, for this connection.

Likewise the above articles remend us that we are dealing with a profound disorder. Just as we must carefully guard our speech around the seriously mentally ill, lest we throw them into crisis by expressing doubts about the CIA origins of their refridgerator magnets, so we are cautioned to guard our words concerning a certain RICO posing as a would religion.

The suggestion of forbidden knowledge should trouble us all. Hitchens' mention of the unavailablity of the Lammens work is a fire-bell in the night. This is what the Holy Father was warning us about at Regensburg.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 20, 2007 4:19 PM

That my moderate, restrained and diplomatic comment heretofore exhibited under the foregoing articles should have been deleted is strong proof that Hitchens, Pope Benedict and I are correct concerning the danger the spiritual jailhouse poses to reason and truth.

If a statement be in error, let it be refuted. If we suppress it, we suggest that it is a truth which cannot be handled.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 21, 2007 4:30 AM

There are plenty of places on line where you can call religions criminal conspiracies. Try some of the neo-Nazi sites--it's a regular trope about Judaism. Or try any of the Lefty sites, they claim the same about the Catholic Church.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 7:53 AM