Irwin also makes the devastating critique — one that even Said’s defenders don’t really attempt to rebut — that Said ignored examples that don’t fit into his theoretical framework . One of the most glaring examples was his almost complete failure to engage with German Orientalists. Said peremptorily dismissed critics who raised this issue, saying their point was “superficial or trivial” and that there was “no point in even responding to them.” But if Orientalism is inseparably bound with political power, as Said posited, then German Orientalists should be of minimal importance, as Germany had no imperial stake in the Arab world. In fact, as Irwin points out, German Orientalists dominated the field for a long time. Similarly, Said completely ignored the Russian Orientalists, who in fact did serve an imperial empire in Muslim Asia. The reason is obvious: The German and Russian Orientalists didn’t support Said’s thesis. The most eminent of all the German scholars of the Arab world, and indeed a figure whom Irwin calls the “greatest of the Orientalists,” was a Hungarian Jew named Ignaz Goldziher. Shaped by “the overlapping worlds of the German and Jewish Enlightenment,” Goldziher rejected the racist essentialism of Renan, who had “previously generalized grandly on the intrinsic monotheism of the Semitic spirit and the incapacity of the Jews and Arabs to generate any kind of mythology. Goldziher considered all that to be racist nonsense: ‘There is no such thing as a psychology particular to a given race.’” Goldziher revolutionized Islamic studies, breaking major ground with his research on the hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) and exploring Islamic revivalist movements. “He believed in the future of Islam and its ability to revive itself from within. As has been noted, he was hostile to colonialism and the Westernization of the Near East. He had supported the Egyptian nationalist revolt of Arabi Pasha (in 1881-2). In 1920, he wrote a letter to a Christian Arab friend in Mosul: ‘I have lived for your nation and for my own. If you return to your homeland, tell this to your brothers.’ A year later Goldziher was dead.” The great scholar Albert Hourani, author of the magisterial “A History of the Arab Peoples,” said “Goldziher shaped our view of what Islam is more than anyone else.” Irwin writes that “a book on Middle Eastern and Islamic studies that gave no account of Goldziher’s work in the field would not be worth the paper it was printed on.” And what did Said have to say about this towering figure? He mentioned Goldziher twice in passing. The first comes in a list of other scholars; in his only slightly more substantive discussion, which consists of a single sentence, he wrote, “Yet Ignaz Goldziher’s appreciation of Islam’s tolerance toward other religions was undercut by his dislike of Muhammad’s anthropomorphisms and Islam’s too-exterior theology and jurisprudence.” Said concluded that the crucial fact about Goldziher’s work was his belief in Islam’s “latent inferiority.” For Said, it seemed axiomatic that merely to express negative opinions
You've reached the end of your free preview.
Want to read all 133 pages?
- Winter '16
- Jeff Hannan