When Said was an adolescent, the new state of Israel expropriated a house in Jerusalem that had been owned by his extended family. The neoconservative magazine Commentary devoted much effort in the 1990s to proving that the building hadn”t been the property of Said’s father. Instead, Commentary triumphantly but anticlimactically trumpeted, the house had belonged to…his aunt.
That Commentary article was a moment when I began to feel severe doubts about neoconservatism. The story just made me feel sorry for Said. I”d be sore too, I realized, if my aunt had lost a nice house in the 1940s in Southern California to, say, Japanese invaders. Said must have felt toward the Israelis rather like a South Carolinian whose plantation had been burned down by General Sherman felt toward the damn Yankees.
Despite his many talents, Said was not made head boy of his school. In fact, he hated the head boy, future screen idol Omar Sharif. He was eventually booted out for rebellious mischief and his family sent him to a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts.
But Said was even more homesick and alienated in America, which had backed the Zionists who had dispossessed his family.
Said may have been a Bart Simpson type who battles authority not because he’s against authority in general, but because he isn”t the authority.
In the most notorious incident of Said’s last decade, the 64-year-old man of letters was photographed celebrating the Israeli army’s withdrawal from Arab Lebanon by heaving a stone across the border at an Israeli guardhouse. Throwing a rock at the rival gang is a classic juvenile-delinquent gesture. But I have to admire the boyish energy that the aged and ailing professor displayed in his lowbrow attack on his people’s hereditary enemy.
It didn”t help Said become reconciled to Western supremacy that perhaps the greatest movie of his young manhood, Lawrence of Arabia, was about how the Arabs had needed a weird gay English Orientalist named T.E. Lawrence to teach them enough about nationalism to throw off the Ottoman Yoke. It especially couldn”t have improved Said’s mood to watch the famously stunning scene that catapulted his boyhood archenemy Omar Sharif to global stardom, which concludes with Peter O”Toole telling Sharif (and all Arabs):
So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people”greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.
For these insults to his Arab pride, Said took his vengeance cold. In 1978 he published Orientalism, which launched Post-Colonial Studies.
Said intensely resented that some Western scholars, writers, and artists had devoted so much attention to what he called the “Arab-Muslim world.” He pejoratively labeled these Western intellectuals as “Orientalists” and blamed them for assembling the vast amounts of knowledge that made possible the Western political ascendancy over his homeland (which had culminated in the Zionist confiscation of his family’s house in Jerusalem).
My suspicion is that, shocking as it may sound to his fans, Said had normal, masculine, conservative affections for his blood and soil.
In particular, Said complained about Western Orientalists depicting the Middle East as feminine and alluring.
This was not just a literary metaphor for Said. For many years, adventurous European artists and writers like Flaubert had engaged in sex tourism in Muslim lands and come back to whip up spicy works for the European market.
Just as the men of Europe are finally starting to object to the sex tourism hegira now running from the Middle East to the blonder lands, Said, as a racial loyalist, resented men of a different ancestry defiling his people’s womenfolk…and, perhaps especially, his people’s boyfolk.
The cover illustration of Orientalism, which was chosen to highlight the evils of Westerners taking any interest in the Middle East, is the vaguely sinister 1879 painting The Snake Charmer by Jean-LÃ©on GÃ©rÃ´me of a naked boy posing with a snake before a group of staring men in a Muslim palace. The painting is basically high-gloss pedophilic gay porn. It gets across the disgust Said felt for boy-bothering Orientalists.
Ironically, Said had the IQ and cultural sophistication to devise complex-sounding and thus hugely influential justifications for his basically redneck and wholesome emotion: Don”t come around here no more.
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