Discredited Orientalist Texts

Guesting at Crooked Timber, Kathy G argues that the world would be a better place is Edward Said’s discredited Orientalism was used as a standard text in our nation’s institutions of professional military education rather than Raphael Patai’s “racist tract” The Arab Mind.

Wouldn’t we be even better off if, instead, they used a book that hadn’t been widely discredited? Say, Bernard Lewis’ Islam and the West?

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Military Affairs,
James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Edward Said’s discredited Orientalism

    I’m not sure what you mean by saying Said’s book has been “discredited.”

    The book, of course, is basically a discussion of Western analytical traditions and the development of the Enlightenment.

  2. Bithead says:

    Certainly, Lewis being used would make the left happier. I’m not sure what other value accrues from that, however…

  3. Bithead, you’re funny. Lewis is a favorite of conservatives. Just because he is not outright contemptuous of Arabs does not mean he is a leftist.

    Patai’s book is not as bad as the linked post suggests. It is clearly outdated, but it is worth reading. As is Said’s… as is Lewis’. The problem isn’t any one book, it is the notion that we can possibly learn everything we need to learn by simply consulting one key text.

  4. John Burgess says:

    Triumph: While Said remains a darling of the left, he has been roundly discredited, most recently in Robert Irwin’s Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents.

    Said’s book is intellectually dishonest, from top to bottom. He cherry picks his ‘evils of Orientalism’ without context and completely ignores instances that do not support his thesis. Re-read his book and look for citations on Russian or German Orientalism. You won’t find any. That fact struck me when I first read it and he never made an attempt to fix the problem.

    I like Lewis, but find that he’s much better in dealing with the Ottomans than with the Islamic world as a whole. He seems to take Ottoman Sunnism and the Ottomans as the norms against which both Islam and Arabs are measured. Stephen Schwartz does a similar thing by assuming that Balkan Sufism is the touchstone.

    I cannot think of any one book that will make all things clear. Maybe a dozen or two would do it. And then what you’d come away with is that both Islam and the Arab world are incredibly complicated. Just about anything you could say about them is true, to some extent. It’s measuring the right extent that’s the hard part and, frankly, I don’t think it can come from books alone.

  5. Bithead says:

    Lewis is a favorite of conservatives. Just because he is not outright contemptuous of Arabs does not mean he is a leftist.

    Actually, Bernie, my judgment of Lewisis made based on books that had nothing to do whatsoever with Arabs.