UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXXIV 2010, 7:00 p.m.

May 24,

Edward W. Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, revised and updated edition (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, March 1997). Original hardcover edition published January 1981. [Thesis. "[C]overing Islam from the United States, the last superpower, is not interpretation in the genuine sense but an assertion of power" (150).] Introduction to the Vintage Edition [dated 1996]. Since Covering Islam was published, the spread of negative images of Islam has intensified (xi-xii). Granted, there have been many "provocations and troubling incidents" like the bombing of Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, plane hijackings and the 1988 explosion of Pan Am Flight 109 over Lockerbie, Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the emergence of the Taliban, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and the rise of militant Islamism, while Muslims have been attacked by Westerners in Bosnia, Palestine, and Chechnya (xii-xv). "To most Americans, Islam was nothing but trouble" (xv). But this generalization is "unacceptable" and "irresponsible" (xvi). Islam is often assimilated to fundamentalism, which is then assimilated to fascism or communism or totalitarianism and purveyed in mass media (xvi-xx). This image has been put at the service of Israel (xxi-xxii). Martin Peretz's The New Republic and Morton Zuckerman's The Atlantic have promoted the negative image of Islam (xxii-xxiv). The same hostility and reductionism is to be found in other media (xxiv-xxvii). Alternative interpretations, emphasizing the importance of secularism in the Muslim world, are ignored (xxvii-xxix). Bernard Lewis, "[o]ne of the worst offenders," produces "crude polemics" (xxix; xxxii; xxix-xxxiii). These ideas "have come to a kind of apotheosis in the work of journalists like Judith Miller," dedicated to advancing Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations diatribe" (xxxiv-xliii). Analysis of a radio exchange between Serge Schmemann of the New York Times and Robert Fisk of the London Independent demonstrate how these "can actually affect daily reporting" (xliii-xlvii). Their role has been "very well analyzed" by Noam Chomsky; Said hopes this book "will serve as an antidote" (xlviii). Introduction [October 1980]. Covering Islam completes a trilogy that began with Orientalism (1978) and The Question of Palestine (1979). Its subject is "Western and specifically American responses to an Islamic world perceived, since the early seventies, as being immensely relevant and yet antipathetically troubled and problematic" (l). The title puns on journalist coverage and covering up the truth (l-lii). Islam represents a special case of a general Western predicament: coming to grips with the postcolonial world (lii-liii). Western élites are nostalgic for lost hegemony (liii-lv). In the West there is an anti-Islamic consensus (lv). "This book describes the uses of 'Islam' for the West" (lv-lvi). All Western discourse on Islam is saturated with politics (though specialists usually deny it) and the sources of statements must always be taken into account (lvilx). Postscript [Feb. 9, 1981]. Criticism of media coverage in the aftermath of the release by Iran of the 52 American hostages on Jan. 20, 1981 (lxlxv). Carter's insistence that the hostages were "innocent" is "extraordinarily symptomatic" (lxv-lxvi). The essentialism in Bruce Laingen's

analysis of a timeless irrational "Persian psyche" in an Aug. 13, 1979, cable to U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, to the neglect of the actual historical experience of Iranians (lxvi-lxx). Said advocates respect for experience, and compassion (lxx). Ch. 1: Islam as News. I. Islam and the West. Orientalism identifies Islam as an essentially different other viewed with hostility and fear (3-5). Beginning in 1978 with the Iranian revolution, Islam has more and more been viewed through this prism (5-9). As a term, "Islam" denotes, but it also connotes (9-11), as an article by John Kifner of the New York Times demonstrates (11-12). Unlike Europeans, Americans had had little direct contact with or interest in Islam (13-16). Prior to 1978 most American scholarship on Islam was mostly antiquarian (16-19). Those involved with the contemporary world are inevitably drawn into the orbit of power—a longstanding problem, which is the point of Said's notion of "Orientalism" (19-25). Orientalism involves a pretense of coolly superior rationality combined with imperial interests (25-28). Through the optics of modernization theory, Iran was viewed as exemplary; the view that the religious revolution was regarded as atavistic was purveyed, often with Israeli mediation, by policymakers, academics, and journalists (29-35). II. Communities of Interpretation. Islam burst on the journalistic scene with OPEC in 1974 (36-41). Michael Walzer (41-42), Flora Lewis (42), and Samuel P. Huntington (42-43) critiqued. No one can speak objectively about Islam, only about "communities of interpretation," for "[n]o one lives in direct contact either with truth or with reality. Each of us lives in a world actually made by human beings . . . Not that truth and reality do not exist. . . . But . . . we tend to disregard or minimize the extent to which we depend for our sense of reality . . . on interpretations and

meanings . . . we receive" (45-46, emphasis in original). C. Wright Mills (4647). Western sources of meanings and interpretations (47-49). The culture of American mass media and its pressure toward a consensus that American power is good (49-57). Maxine Rodinson on the complexity of "Islam" (57-59). Albert Hourani on the difficulty of generalizing about "Islamic history" (60-61). Social and political complexities (62-65). Islam is rich in "interpretive energy" but like America is too focused on the conflict between "'Islam'" and "'the West'" (6668). III. The Princess Episode in Context. PBS's "Death of a Princess," broadcast on May 12, 1980—its context and aftermath (69-76). PBS's "Jihad in America" (1995) (76-79). Ch. 2: The Iran Story. I. Holy War. The Iran hostage crisis is a good case for analyzing Islam in American media (8183). U.S. was portrayed as at bay, on the defensive (83-86). Islam, and Shia Islam, were often implicitly essentialized even as ignorance of Islam was demonstrated by an inability to pronounce names (8688). Coverage in the New York Times (88-94). II. The Loss of Iran. The "strangely unsatisfying" character of PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer Report (95-97). Praise for an article by I.F. Stone, astute and refreshingly free of simplistic notions (97-98). Joseph Kraft's paean to U.S. power in the Washington Post (98-99). The actual struggle for power in Iran, which does not fit with the notion that Islam is monolithic and unchanging, was scarcely reported while it was happening (100-01). Exceptions (101-02). But vapidness in reporting was the rule (10309). III. Unexamined and Hidden Assumptions. Arrogance, aggressive hyperbole, euphemism, neglect of historical context (110-22). IV. Another Country. Eric Rouleau's reporting for Le Monde was vastly superior to anything in the U.S. (123-33).

Ch. 3: Knowledge and Power. I. The Politics of Interpreting Islam: Orthodox and Antithetical Knowledge. Orientalists have been and continue to be, as a passage by Bernard Lewis shows, naively confident that they could achieve "knowledge" of Islam (13540). A team of experts commissioned by the Middle East Studies Association in 1973 reached a very different conclusion: that area studies have political motives (141-43). In America and Europe, "negative images of Islam" prevail (144). Seminars held at Princeton from 1971 to 1978 show how politically interested is this discipline in the West (144-49). For scholars venturing into the public eye, Islam becomes "in a sense a commodity" (150). Methodological self-consciousness and noncoercive contact, the preconditions of "knowing another culture," have been lacking (150). In the U.S., scholars have formed an "old-boy corporation-government-university network dominating the whole enterprise" of studying Islam in a way that did not occur in Britain and France (150-54). The structure of the production of orthodox knowledge of Islam and the politics, pressures, and markets that influence it explain how it is that academic experts on Islam reinforce rather than challenge vulgar media stereotypes (154-57). But there also exists an antithetical knowledge of Islam produced by (1) younger scholars who are "more honest politically" (158), (2) dissident older scholars like Hamid Alger and Nikki Keddie on Iran (158-59), and (3) radicals (159-61). II. Knowledge and Interpretation. All writing about human society "rests on judgment and interpretation"; to attain the status of knowledge it must derive from noncoercive contact and methodological reflection (162-65). Some interest is always involved (165). Contemporary study of Islam glosses over this problem (165-68). For reasons this book has investigated, orthodox coverage of Islam has been "more diffused, has seemed

more persuasive and influential, in the West than any other 'coverage' or interpretation" (169, emphasis in original). Intellectual specialization is inevitable, but it is also subject to "common sense and critical assessment" (170). The "first act of interpretation today" is to decide "whether to put intellect at the service of power or at the service of criticism, community, dialogue, and moral sense" (172). Unless the latter choice is made, "protracted tensions and perhaps even war" for the West as well as, for the Muslim world, "the prospect of many wars, unimaginable suffering, and disastrous upheavals, not the least of which would be the victory of an 'Islam' fully ready to play the role prepared for it by reaction, orthodoxy, and desperation" (173). Notes. 13 pp. Though the text has been updated, no new sources appear in the notes. Index. 12 pp. Like the notes, the index appears not to have been updated. [Acknowledgments.] 2 pp. About the Author. Edward Said was born in Jerusalem. His B.A. is from Princeton and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. He taught at Harvard and Johns Hopkins but spent most of his academic career at Columbia. He died in 2003. [Additional information. Edward Said was born on Nov. 1, 1935. His father was a U.S. citizen; his mother was born in Nazareth; both came from Protestant backgrounds. He wrote some twenty books, of which Orientalism (1978; new edition 2003) has been the most influential. He taught for forty years at Columbia from 1963 until his death on Sept. 25, 2003, at the age of 67).] [Critique. Said's powerful critique has, alas, proved prophetic; his 1996 preface

predicted wars and upheavals that have since occurred. Covering Islam is fueled by a passionate resentment, and Said's prose often smolders covertly. The longtime Columbia professor relished the haughty genre of academic polemic, of which this is an example. But Covering Islam (1981) is not as effective as was the better-researched Orientalism (1978) in demonstrating the deep-seated interestedness and bias of Western studies of Islam. By comparison it is impressionistic in its approach. — Occasionally Said seems evasive, never mentioning, for example, the widespread resistance by Islamic authorities to the study of the Koran with techniques of critical-historical analysis. Of his own background, he says only that "I myself am neither religious nor of an Islamic background" (45), despite his emphasis on the importance of perspective. — At the level of syntax, a tic of Said's style is to be oversubtle: for example, in the space of four lines on page 135 things are not "flawed," they are "believed to be flawed"; they are not "inaugurated," they are "considered to be inaugurated";

Francis Bacon does not "doubt," he "in effect expresses all sorts of doubts." — Said often disguises his passions behind a pose of Olympian calm that is curiously patrician for so radical a thinker. For example, the fact that he engaged in a furious polemical exchange with Bernard Lewis in the New York Review of Books after the publication in 1978 of Orientalism is never mentioned here, but in Covering Islam Said takes revenge by insulting Lewis snidely (137) (in his 1996 preface Said is more direct in his criticism of Lewis [xxix-xxxiii]). — Said downplays the role of specifically religious (Christian and Biblical) interests in driving Middle Eastern Studies, preferring to highlight Western state interests (which were, granted, intertwined). — Said's updating of the text did not extend to notes and index; thus the attribution of the origin to the notion of a "clash of civilizations" to Bernard Lewis, an important point, is not sourced. On this subject see Alain Gresh's article "À l'origine d'un concept" in the September 2004 number of Le Monde Diplomatique (http://www.ufppc.org/us-aworld-news-mainmenu-35/1265/).]

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