Ibn Warraq’s book was written as a response to Edward Said’s deeply flawed, but highly influential Orientalism from 1979. Said chastised Western countries for their supposed racist and stereotypical view of “the Other.” Ibn Warraq dubs Said’s methods “intellectual terrorism” and demonstrates the logical inconsistencies of his positions:
“To argue his case, Said very conveniently leaves out the important contributions of German Orientalists, for their inclusion would destroy — and their exclusion does indeed totally destroy — the central thesis of Orientalism, that all Orientalists produced knowledge that generated power, and that they colluded and helped imperialists found empires. As we shall see, German Orientalists were the greatest of all scholars of the Orient, but, of course, Germany was never an imperial power in any of the Oriental countries of North Africa or the Middle East. [Bernard] Lewis wrote, ‘[A]t no time before or after the imperial age did [the British and French] contribution, in range, depth, or standard, match the achievement of the great centers of Oriental studies in Germany and neighbouring countries. Indeed, any history or theory of Arabic studies in Europe without the Germans makes as much sense as would a history or theory of European music or philosophy with the same omission.’ Would it have made sense for German Orientalists to produce work that could help only England and France in their empire building?”
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Despite its many serious historical and logical shortcomings, Said’s thesis was eagerly embraced by many intellectuals:
“Post-World War II Western intellectuals and leftists were consumed by guilt for the West’s colonial past and continuing colonialist present, and they wholeheartedly embraced any theory or ideology that voiced or at least seemed to voice the putatively thwarted aspirations of the peoples of the third world. Orientalism came at the precise time when anti-Western rhetoric was at its most shrill and was already being taught at Western universities, and when third-worldism was at its most popular. Jean-Paul Sartre preached that all white men were complicit in the exploitation of the third world, and that violence against Westerners was a legitimate means for colonized men to re-acquire their manhood. Said went further: ‘It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.’ Not only, for Said, is every European a racist, but he must necessarily be so.”
Go over to Pamela’s place and read the whole thing.