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January 13, 2003

Islamic Studies' Young Turks

An "intellectual and moral disaster," he called it, an "ideological portrait of 'Islam' and the Arabs" suited to "dominant pro-imperial and pro-Zionist strands in U.S. foreign policy." He objected to Mr. Lewis's argument, widely cited since September 11, that the Islamic world has become "poor, weak, and ignorant," ruled by a "string of shabby tyrannies" whose principal opponents are theocratic revivalists even more hostile to modernity than the despots who oppress them.

The very problem Mr. Lewis posits -- that something has gone terribly wrong in the "lands of Islam," and that Muslims have tended to blame others for it -- is, in Mr. Said's words, "fabricated."

Disagreement between Mr. Lewis, an emeritus professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, and Mr. Said, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, has framed much of the scholarship on Islam and the Middle East since the publication of Mr. Said's seminal Orientalism (Pantheon Books) in 1978. But the landscape is now changing as an emerging group of Muslim scholars shifts the terms of the debate.
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