I’ve long been puzzled by Edward Said’s book Orientalism. It attacks the most enlightened Europeans of the past couple centuries as though they were horrible people. He praises them not at all for taking the baby steps toward multiculturalism that allowed so many today to become much more enlightened multiculturalists. But Said talked as though they were nothing but Nazis. Think about the Spanish conquistadors. They killed a lot of Indians, enslaved some of them, destroyed their religions, and burned a lot of their books. That was pre-Enlightenment. When the European imperialists of the nineteenth century came along, they were much kinder by comparison (though a lot of us today wish they had destroyed Islam). And the artists and writers and scholars who took an interest in the Orient (which we call the Middle East) were quite enlightened by the standards of previous centuries. Presumably, they were also more enlightened than the average citizen of their countries, who probably had zero interest in the heathen lands. But none of this cuts any ice with Said. Why?
Let me give an analogy here. Say that you lived in England in about the year, say, 1700 and that everyone around you hated the French. You, on the contrary, rather liked them. You traveled to France, you learned French, you enjoyed meeting French people, you wanted to live in Paris, etc. For this, you were scorned by most other Englishmen. (A phrase invented later to describe their xenophobia is that “the wogs start at Calais.”) Now imagine that long after your death, some French writer decides that you were nothing but a terribly smug Englishman who did his best to ruin France. Furthermore, this writer does not talk about all the English people you knew who hated the French. Instead, he singles out you and others like you for his hatred. This is the perverse project that Said set himself, except that he talked about the Middle East rather than France. And I could never figure out why he was so upset at the Europeans who were the most enlightened of their era.
But now a glimmering of light has appeared in the form of this essay by Steve Sailer. There are plenty of interesting insights in this essay, but for me, its main value is in explaining why Said hated them so much. Sailer sees Said as basically a conservative – indeed, a redneck – whose catchword is, “Don’t come around here no more.” He resented the knowledge that the Orientalists had gathered about the Middle East, for he followed Michel Foucault in believing that knowledge is power. He believed that the knowledge of the Orientalists “made possible the Western political ascendancy over his homeland (which had culminated in the Zionist confiscation of his family’s house in Jerusalem).” He resented the fact that they made the Arab and Muslim worlds seem rather alluring so that they engaged in sexual escapades while traveling there. Accordingly, he did his best to make the West dumber about the Middle East so that they couldn’t dominate it. In that he probably succeeded. And of course he paid no attention to the actual racists in Europe because they had no real interest in it, in being a part of it, in participating in any sexual tourism, etc.
But Said also inadvertently offered advice to anyone who was paying attention, which is simply, “Don’t be a multiculturalist.” After all, why be a multiculturalist if someone a century from now, living in the area for which you are doing your best to show respect, is going to impugn your motives in the harshest possible terms? (It’s easy enough to imagine a Yazidi writing a book condemning today’s multiculturalists.) Better to stay home, to refrain from learning foreign languages, to squelch your curiosity about others, and so on. Because this is the way most people in the Middle East regard Europe: they have no curiosity about it (or so I’ve been told).
Of course, today’s multiculturalists think that a different lesson was to be learned from Said: be as sensitive as possible to people from the Middle East, don’t judge them by our standards, remember that they have been oppressed by us Westerners, never ask them to adhere to our mores but rather demand that we accommodate ourselves to them, etc. The damage done by this man (or rather by his legions of Western admirers) is already severe and will unfortunately continue to grow in the future.