Has a single man ever done as much damage to an academic field as Edward Said did? Said strikes me as a postmodern academic variant of the eighteenth-century fraud George Psalmanazar (above). Nobody ever thought to set Psalmanazar up at Oxford and invite him to establish an academic field, though he did lecture to the Royal Society. Psalmanazar’s popular An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa had no lasting impact. Psalmanzar confessed his fraud during his life.
The influence of Said and his work unfortunately survives Said’s death. Indeed, it is virtually institutionalized in university departments of Middle East studies. The pseudonymous Ibn Warraq challenges Said’s work in the recently published Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Michael Weiss interviews Warraq and discusses the book in “The Bertrand Russell of Islam.”
At NRO’s Corner Michael Rubin writes:
Edward Said remains the subject of hero-worship throughout much of the academy. He is often quoted approvingly by students and professors whether they have read him or not. Most everyone that cites Said’s Orientalism is unaware of his methodology or his cherry-picked sample (he ignored Russian and German work, even though Russian and German scholars account for perhaps 90-percent of Orientalist scholarship in the time periods he examined). Fabricating facts and plagiarism are only one part of Said’s legacy, however.