Edward Said’s Double Standards?

I was thinking about a talk I had yesterday with a friend concerning what he noticed in the introduction of Covering Islam: the apparent double standard employed by Said in his treatment of Rodman and Karabell. The question: Shouldn’t Karabell be criticised on pg. xxvi as Rodman is on pg. xviii? Both make seemingly gross generalizations regarding groups; Rodman concerning the Muslims and Islam, Karabell concerning American college students. Said jumps all over one, but seemingly passes the other by without even a peep. But did he really ignore the “generalization” made by Karabell? Was Karabell’s statement really a generalisation, as it initially seems?

Rodman’s statements that come under Said’s wrath:

Yet now the West finds itself challenged from the outside by a militant, atavistic force driven by hatred of all Western political thought, harking back to age-old grievences against Christendom.

Much of the Islamic world is rent by social divisions, frustrted by its material inferiority to the West, bitter at Western cultural influences, and driven by its resentments (what Bernard Lewis calls the ‘politics of rage’). Its virulent anti-Westernism does not look like just a tactic.

Karabell’s apparent generalisation, which Said seems to accept:

Ask American college students, in the elite universities or elsewhere, what they think of when the word ‘Muslim’ is mentioned. The response is inevitably the same: gun-toting, bearded, fanatic terrorists hellbent on destroying the great enemy, the United States.

Now, I could be totally wrong here. I could be just looking for an excuse for Said. I don’t know. But, for me, the word “inevitably” in Karabell’s statement is something we should look at and keep in mind. Inevitable can mean eventual, in time, in the end. So to me, at least, it gives room for other responses, at least initially. Even if Karabell did not intend this meaning from it, it is quite possible that Said understood it in this manner.

Another thing to look at is how Said proceeded after quoting these statements from the two. With Rodman, Said makes the assertion that Rodman’s statements (particularly the first one quoted above) have an “absence of qualifiers,” a “liberal use of sweeping, impossible-to-verify generalities.” Said also states, “Rodman provides no evidence for the allegations of Islamic inferiority, resentments and rage,” (pgs. xvii and xviii).

With Karabell’s statement, the generality isn’t so “impossible-to-verify”. Many American readers can go to many American colleges and universities and ask the students this question. This is more of a possibility than going around and verifying Rodman’s assertions with the 1 billion or so Muslims around the world. Also, if I’m correct about the use of the word inevitably, this is the qualifier that is missing from Rodman’s statements. If it is being used in the sense I think it may be, then he is making an exception for those students who may not give this response; he is basically saying, if I’ve interpreted it correctly, “Go and ask them, and although you won’t get this reply off the bat, eventually, this will be the common response.” Said also mentions some points that Karabell uses as support for his assertion; ABC’s 20/20’s broadcasts of segments discussing Islam as a crusading religion, the stories concerning the Middle East in print media often being accompanied by pictures of masaajid and Muslims praying. So according to Said, Karabell’s statement isn’t completely without grounds.

Anyhow, this is what I thought of … .

About Rasheed Gonzales
My name is Rasheed Gonzales. I’m a Muslim convert of Filipino descent. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, I was guided to Islam through one of my younger brothers and a couple of friends, all of whom had converted to Islam sometime before me (may Allah reward them greatly). I am married with four children (and the praise is Allah’s) and also a volunteer for the Qur'an & Sunnah Society of Canada, based in Toronto.

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