To the Editor:

I am appalled by “Professor of Terror,” Edward Alexander’s diatribe against Edward Said [August]. To portray Said as a devotee of terrorist politics is a gross distortion of his life’s work as a scholar and militant. My main reaction to Mr. Alexander’s mean-spirited attack is more one of sadness than anger.

Of course, these are difficult times for Palestinians (and for compassionate Israelis as well). Recently an academic colleague from Hebrew University wrote to me about how difficult it had become for him to live in a country whose leadership condones the daily killing of Palestinian children at close range. Having been to Gaza and the West Bank during the course of the intifada, I can confirm that these are truly horrific times for the Palestinian people. I share Said’s insistence that this is not the time to recall the Holocaust or prior Jewish suffering. The burden of moral clarity is especially heavy on Jewish intellectuals, which helps account for Said’s fury over Robert J. Griffin’s scholarly hocus-pocus that has the evident intentions of shifting a reader’s sense of outrage to Palestinian misdeeds such as alleged violence against those Palestinians who have chosen to collaborate with Israeli occupation authorities. I would not deny that Said’s language of response to Griffin, in the Spring 1989 issue of Critical Inquiry, was in places intemperate, even excessive, but it hardly warrants Mr. Alexander’s overkill.

Said has been highly effective in expressing the Palestinian case to American and European audiences in recent years. He is widely respected in academic circles, and was one of two Palestinians called upon to meet with the United States Secretary of State a year ago. Despite the pain and anguish he experiences over the persisting torment of the Palestinian people, Said’s outlook continues to be anchored on his hopes for peace and reconciliation. In his important book, The Question of Palestine, Said writes toward the end, “Nothing that I have said . . . must be understood except as an acknowledgment of Palestinian and of Jewish history—in fierce conflict with each other for a period of time, but fundamentally reconcilable if both peoples make the attempt to see each other within a common historical perspective,” and again, “More Palestinians than ever speak in positive detail of what the future must bring for Jews and Arabs alike.” Such statements are even more impressive if it is realized that when made they were against the PLO/Palestinian current, preceding by several years Arafat’s more accommodating recent postures.

Casting a Palestinian humanist and moderate such as Edward Said in the role of inveterate terrorist is to disrupt Palestinian/Israeli dialogue at the very time when it should be nourished. In this regard, Mr. Alexander is the true terrorist, perpetrating linguistic acts of indiscriminate violence against a courageous and compassionate person whom many of us value especially because he has not let his Palestinian commitment become the basis of a politics of enmity.

Richard A. Falk
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey



To the Editor:

As Jews (two Israeli and one American) and as teachers of the humanities, we feel called upon not to let Edward Alexander’s “Professor of Terror” pass without comment. We would like to believe that the communities to which we belong, including the community of Jews and the community of humanists, are capable of civilized dialogue. Mr. Alexander claims to speak for both. But his needlessly ad hominem and indeed hysterically slanderous outpouring against Edward Said suggests that even minimal standards of truthfulness and civility have no place in his idea of civilization.

Though our political disagreements with Mr. Alexander are not the crucial issue, we cannot allow the murderous vacuity of his title to stand unopposed. We fail to understand how dropping bombs on villages and routinely blowing up families, or shooting a neighbor who merely pokes his head out the window during an armed abduction on foreign soil, does not count for him as “terrorism.” We fail to understand how Mr. Alexander can associate this term with Edward Said, who has put himself at considerable personal risk in championing positions of moderation and in condemning human-rights abuses throughout the Arab world, while he himself ignores the pile of corpses to which Israel’s occupying forces are adding every day.

On the more recent issue of collaborators—which, from the first sentence on, Mr. Alexander clearly offers as a diversion from the overwhelming and unbearable reality of daily murder by the Israeli army—we refer the reader to the parallel case of France under Nazi occupation. If the Nazis had won, we would have heard their historians complaining for decades, in just Mr. Alexander’s accents, about the terrible injustices committed by the Resistance, even against Frenchmen whose only crime was to aid the forces of the Reich.

Mr. Alexander’s article is dangerous above all in its attempt to suppress the dialogue that has already been engaged between moderate Israelis and Palestinians such as Edward Said. Is it possible that Mr. Alexander is more terrified at the prospect of peace than he is of unending warfare? If not, why would he so incoherently attack an intellectual who has consistently expressed sympathy for and comprehension of Jewish history and the Jewish perspective? In The Question of Palestine, Said writes:

I have been directly exposed to those aspects of Jewish history and experience that have mattered singularly for Jews and Western non-Jews reading and thinking about Jewish history. I know as well as any educated Western non-Jew can know, what anti-Semitism has meant for the Jews, especially in this century. Consequently I can understand the intertwined terror and exultation out of which Zionism has been nourished, and I think I can at least grasp the meaning of Israel for Jews, and even for the enlightened Western liberal.

Has Mr. Alexander ever made an equivalent gesture, ever expended the slightest energy toward understanding the Palestinian perspective? Or is he content with the Orientalist prejudice that all Palestinians are terrorists by definition, perhaps especially those who hide behind a Western mask?

It would be amusing, were it not so tragic, to contemplate the clear annoyance of a certain Jewish establishment at the emergence of Edward Said into academic and media prominence. That he is singled out for attack is symptomatic. There are many other legitimate Palestinian (and non-Palestinian, including Israeli) scholars and intellectuals who take a position similar to his. But Said is not academically confined to “Middle East Studies.” He is a celebrated authority on Western culture. In its worldliness his writing has much in common with the work of the so-called “New York (Jewish) intellectuals.” Is Mr. Alexander suggesting that no matter how intimate with Western culture Said might be, the mere fact of his Arab “blood” disqualifies his scholarship?

A further issue is the standard of debate to which Mr. Alexander sinks. Is it necessary to call a political opponent a liar? As it happens, when Mr. Alexander refers to Edward Said’s “habit of confidently reciting the most preposterous falsehoods”—a statement for which one might well take him to court—he himself is drowning the issue in falsehood upon falsehood. The United Nations Charter does not explicitly mention collaboration. (Edward Said never said it did.) But basing itself on that Charter, specifically Articles 1 and 55, the United Nations has repeatedly, in various declarations, condemned occupations and recognized the right of peoples to resist them. If Mr. Alexander had “searched” in a more scholarly spirit, he would have found more than “one word about resistance to foreign occupation,” and he would perhaps have hesitated before insinuating that his opponent is a liar.

This personal animus is sickening, especially to all those, like us, who know Edward Said as a dedicated, inspiring, and responsible teacher and scholar. And at the same time it is fascinating. For it reveals a fundamental desire not to recognize, to will into nonexistence, any human being who can stand up and defend, from within the Western humanist tradition, the Palestinian people and its desire for nationhood. Mr. Alexander’s attack on Edward Said is of a piece with his scorn for the concept of the intellectual, which is of a piece in turn with the Israeli policy of arresting and deporting from the occupied territories all Palestinians who speak up for their fellows. If you don’t want to listen, you say that representatives don’t exist, or you call those representatives liars. But it is time for the American Jewish community to recognize that there are Palestinian people who have to be talked to and listened to. The desperation of Mr. Alexander’s attack, and of COMMENTARY’s decision to print it, may perhaps be attributed to the growing majority of American Jews who agree. . . .

Yerach Gover
Jewish Theological Seminary
Bruce Robbins
Rutgers University
Ella Shohat
CUNY-Staten Island



To the Editor:

I am amazed that you would print such a masterpiece of obfuscation as Edward Alexander’s “Professor of Terror.” The very title announces its prejudiced collection of disinformation, and the article lives up to the title: sound and fury, signifying nothing except the author’s bias.

First Mr. Alexander presents a collection of gossip, totally unverified and unverifiable, designed to illustrate his proposition that the Palestinians are subhuman, and then he proposes his final solution: the silencing of the most eloquent proponent of peace in the Middle East, Edward Said, who has the temerity to suggest that a solution might be reached between Israel and Palestine based on rational negotiation.

The gist of Mr. Alexander’s attack on Edward Said, since he can find no concrete evidence, is the accusation that this professor must be a terrorist because he wrote about an author (Joseph Conrad) who, in turn, had written about a “Professor, whose thoughts ‘caressed the images of ruin and destruction.’” What clearer proof do we need? Bravo, Mr. Alexander. Adolf Eichmann would be proud of you: you’ve established guilt by association. . . .

Said, who is not a member of the PLO as Mr. Alexander’s article suggests, is a dedicated educator, the Parr Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia, respected nationally and internationally for his brilliant work in literary criticism and informative political works meant to contribute toward an understanding which can bring about peace in the Middle East. He is also a noted music critic, an accomplished pianist and dedicated family man, the last to deserve the libelous slanders of an Alexander.

Mr. Alexander concludes with an attack on the intellectual capacity of readers of Critical Inquiry: a fitting conclusion to his morass of misinformed verbiage. Instead of accusing innocents of terrorism, he should look at people like Yitzhak Shamir, a member of the Stern Gang and directly implicated in the assassination of the United Nations mediator Count Folke Bernadotte. Who is responsible for the bombing of Lebanon? And the kidnapping of Sheik Obeid?

Many of my friends and colleagues will be writing you with similar indignation at your printing such trash. Of course, you can consign us all to silence: eliminate the “other” by suppression. Eventually this may make your readership a very small club indeed.

Marianne McDonald
University of California
Irvine, California



To the Editor:

We are not surprised by your publication of Edward Alexander’s “Professor of Terror.” Mr. Alexander is the co-editor of a collection of essays drawn from a conference in Jerusalem (1985), the purpose of which, as stated in the editors’ introduction, is to found “an Institute for Advanced Strategic and Policy Studies.” The agenda for this Institute is to act as a “continuation” of what the editors see as “two extraordinary and powerful currents of Jewish non-liberalism.” One current is “Leo Strauss and two generations of his students”; the other, “on the policy side,” is none other than your magazine. Thus Mr. Alexander aligns himself with your publication, judging it to be, along with his Institute, a custodian of “Jewish non-liberalism” which will “resist ruin and defeat in the West.”

Critical Inquiry, on the other hand, seems to be part of such ruin and defeat, having been dismissed by Mr. Alexander as a journal which typically harbors “moldy futilities” (one assumes that here he is exempting his colleague and ally, Robert J. Griffin).

In his article, Mr. Alexander hallucinates on several counts, not the least of which is that Critical Inquiry somehow provides the answer to his question of how and by whose order the “killing of ‘collaborators’” occurs in Israel—either by local freelance operators or “on orders from the PLO abroad.” The answer, it seems, is the latter, and in the form of the spring issue of Critical Inquiry. This assumption would be libelous were it not demented.

It is curious that Mr. Alexander goes to such lengths to worry about what impression our futile pages make on our readers. How can they be expected to distinguish, as he wishes them to, between “tautology and absurdity,” how can they even be instructed, as Mr. Alexander wants them to be, “to encourage moral and humane understanding,” if their choice of intellectual stimulation is comprised of such useless drivel? One wonders, on the other hand, how futile our enterprise can finally be, since Mr. Alexander has accused us of sending high-level political policy abroad, with no small consequences.

We grieve to be reminded that figures like Edward Alexander inhabit American (or Israeli) universities. More importantly, however, we grieve that the representation of the Jewish people can lie in the hands of such reckless spokesmen who, in the guise of preserving “sweetness and light” in the “West,” succeed in producing a rhetoric of smear, misrepresentation, and pernicious innuendo.

Mr. Alexander is quick to use Joseph Conrad for his own ends, citing The Secret Agent in snippets. Let us amplify one of these snippets which, in its fullness, appropriately though unfortunately describes Mr. Alexander and his desperate agenda:

And the incorruptible Professor walked, too, averting his eyes from the odious multitude of mankind. He had no future. He disdained it. He was a force. His thoughts caressed the images of ruin and destruction. He walked frail, insignificant, shabby, miserable—and terrible in the simplicity of his idea calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world. Nobody looked at him. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men.



The Editors of Critical Inquiry Chicago, Illinois



To the Editor:

By publishing Edward Alexander’s article, COMMENTARY shows once again how the pro-Israeli, Zionist forces contend for public opinion not by means of reason but invective and misrepresentation. Is it not exquisitely ironic that Mr. Alexander assaults Edward Said in the name of Arnold’s “sweetness and light,” just those values the great Englishman invoked to defend the exclusion of the powerless from the privileges of the powerful? Many of us who abhor Israeli violence against the Palestinians have tried for some time to show how hypocritical are the so-called “humanists” who appeal to the West’s supposed “highest values” as a mask for their violent assaults upon marginal peoples. Is it not also charmingly ironic that Mr. Alexander’s tactic is to tar Said with the brush of literary theory just as he hopes to tar theorists with the supposed guilt of Said’s putative “terrorism”?

Presumably Mr. Alexander would have it that we theorists admire Said because theory has addled our brains and we cannot ferret out a terrorist in our midst. Let me assure Mr. Alexander that he has mistaken the problem: we know a terrorist when we see one; we know when hired servants combine the cheapest rhetorical tactics with the narrowest prejudices to appeal to people’s worst emotions. Let him appeal to Arnold; Mr. Alexander’s own article indicates full well that he and his sponsors have abandoned reason, justice, and truth in their competition for political and cultural authority: this is why they slur Said to deny him and his people any cultural legitimacy. That having done so, he and his friends then have the nerve to accuse their enemies of their own nasty tricks—well, this is a tactic we all know from the worst moments in history.

One takes some humorous comfort in reading this article: Said’s analyses of the representation of Palestinians and of the use of “terrorism” in the Western press are once more proven correct. How shortsighted of Mr. Alexander to have developed his “critique” in the very terms that prove his enemy to have been right all along.

Paul A. Bove
Editor, boundary 2
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania



To the Editor:

Edward Alexander accuses Edward Said of “misrepresentation.” But his own piece is an exercise in innuendo. By force of suggestion. Said’s strongly worded essay in Critical Inquiry is supposed to be “giving orders for killing.” A televised shot of Said speaking to Arafat out of range of the microphone is supposed to prove that he is a terrorist. Said’s words for Palestinian solidarity are twisted out of context into an endorsement of violence.

Edward Said is a distinguished member of a profession to which Edward Alexander also belongs. Mr. Alexander suggests that Said’s professional distinction is undeserved. . . . This is as derisive as it is to call him a “Professor of Terror.” Said’s political analysis, like his critical writing, is, rather, informed by concern for the oppressed.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania



To the Editor:

Edward Alexander’s article was, at best, grossly caricaturing and misleading, and, at worst, highly offensive. His rather unsubtle design was to leave the following image in the minds of his readers: a cartoon caricature of Edward Said as a bloodthirsty monster, fangs bared and dripping with freshly drawn Jewish or collaborating Palestinian blood, with claws, horns, an exaggeratedly hooked nose, all in the best anti-Semitic tradition. . . .

Mr. Alexander . . . conjures up some sort of imaginary world, a hypothetical situation in which Palestinians (with Edward Said somehow at their head) rule the Jewish world, and are in a position to decide how Jews should be treated. The urgent moral question of the day is: in this make-believe situation, how might he/they treat Jews? Might they treat them the way they seem to justify treating Palestinian collaborators?

While Mr. Alexander ponders the moral questions of this imaginary situation, the actual and all-too-tangible reality is that Israeli Jews are at the present time in the real situation of ruling over a Palestinian population, and making daily decisions about how Palestinians are to be treated. There is no need to wonder how they might treat Palestinians. The daily decisions include such “non-issues” (in Mr. Alexander’s world) as: systematically breaking the bones . . . of men, women, and children; when to use rubber (sic) bullets, and when to use “live” bullets on unarmed civilians; demolishing homes; deportation; cutting off water and food supplies; shooting and/or beating to death—just to name a very few. Indulging in the hypothetical, while ignoring and thus denying such a reality is morally reprehensible. . . .

Carol Bardenstein
Dartmouth College
Hanover, New Hampshire



To the Editor:

Edward Alexander’s verbal savaging of Edward Said is an inept and intemperate attempt at character assassination. . . .

In the dogmatic domain of too many self-styled “defenders of Israel,” it is by definition metaphysically impossible to consider Israel capable of terror and atrocity. We are all aware of this theological impossibility for those who believe, as more than one rabbi has put it, that “It is forbidden to kill a Jew but not a Gentile.”

Even in the real world in America, though not in Europe or even Israel, the major mass media and most of the intellectual establishment have neither seriously considered the notion that Israel engages in terrorism, nor uttered the accusation of terrorism against Israel. . . . However, the myth of the purity of Israeli intentions and actions is becoming less and less credible. . . .

If the charge of terrorist can be made to stick to Edward Said because of his indignation at the one-sided rhetoric that has justified innumerable acts of terror against innocent Palestinians, then only the most prejudiced and obtuse can fail to identify as terrorist those who have poured oceans of ink to justify and falsify the history of atrocities heaped upon the Palestinian people during the twenty-two years of repressive occupation . . . and the past twenty months of beatings, curfews, detentions, deportations, demolition of homes, expulsions, killings, land expropriations, suppression of professional, social, and trade organizations, as well as other mayhem. . . .

The Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 1949, requires a country occupying a foreign territory to treat the population in the territory humanely. The United States contends that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to Israel and our own State Department’s “Country Reports Concerning Human-Rights Practices” listed a host of Israeli abuses. But, of course, Israel shrugs it off and its misguided apologists wink at the abuses of human rights and walk through the moral dung in their visits to the “promised land,” some holding their noses and others not, and some shaking their heads and others stoically indifferent to the phenomenon. . . .

It is distressing and saddening to watch so-called intellectuals employ invective with more concern for the appearances of truth than for its substance. The rhetorical distortions degrade rational debate just as immoral behavior degrades morality.

Richard Gallo
East Islip, New York



To the Editor:

. . . Edward Alexander keeps saying one thing: don’t listen to English professors. They meddle in politics. They have odd and dangerous ideas, and produce the “moldy futilities” found in academic journals. But Mr. Alexander is himself an English professor who clearly meddles in politics. The logic of his article demands that we not listen to him.

Whatever one thinks of Edward Said, who happens to be highly respected in his field, it is obvious that he is not a self-hating intellectual like Mr. Alexander. However, I suspect Mr. Alexander considers himself first and last a champion of what he calls “humanistic values”—“humanistic” because they are his, though they also reflect a highly charged political tendency. To compare (as he does) the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza with the American occupation of postwar Germany and Japan—our occupation did not last twenty-plus years, nor did it produce civilian deaths by the hundreds—is outrageous.

Let’s at least be honest about it. Mr. Alexander is a man wielding a political hatchet. . . .

Stephen Menick
Washington, D.C.



To the Editor:

A colleague of mine recently called my attention to the article, “Professor of Terror,” in which Edward Alexander so scurrilously attacks Edward Said. . . .

Mr. Alexander’s exercise in invective was remarkable for its display of poor reading skills, incompetent scholarship, and a lack of critical acumen. I write to you as a professor of English myself, and a member of the U.S. academy, and I would remind you that Edward Said’s work has been of seminal significance for an entire generation of scholars and students of literature, critical theory, and cultural studies in this country and abroad. Given the importance of that work and Said’s exemplary contributions to such reputable journals as Critical Inquiry, where he has forthrightly engaged the political and historical responsibility of the academic, the continued intellectual irresponsibility of COMMENTARY in these matters, so egregiously exhibited in Mr. Alexander’s article, is particularly regrettable.

Barbara Harlow
University of Texas
Austin, Texas



To the Editor:

Edward Alexander’s “Professor of Terror” is a long overdue exposé of the most egregious poseur in American letters, Edward Said. Said’s unprincipled screed against Robert J. Griffin and the Boyarin brothers in the Spring 1989 issue of Critical Inquiry, which discovers new depths of the ad-hominem argument, is the latest installment in his increasingly shrill ideological assault upon what he calls “Israeli-Zionist brutality and inhumanity.” It is remarkable both for its unremitting savagery and its revealing glimpse into a mind that is (to quote the poet Shelley) “pinnacled dim in the intense inane.” Evidently Said (who, conveniently enough, sits on the editorial board of the journal he has transformed into his own envenomed jeremiad) has learned well one lesson of our time: trumpet your cause loudly, hysterically even, and soon enough a good many will listen, even if your message is one of hatred and bloodshed.

In his article Mr. Alexander highlights some of the inconsistencies of Said’s position and demolishes a great deal of the flimsy edifice supporting it, but I should like to add one or two observations to his. First, it is an irony unremarked even by Mr. Alexander (who correctly illuminates his subject’s own racism) that Said’s dual career, as intellectual hit-man for the PLO and Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, offers a striking example of precisely the sort of “antinomies” that Said himself has always been fond of pointing out in the work of the novelist Joseph Conrad. One of Said’s well-known arguments about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is that it embodies a series of dualities (darkness and light, savagery and civilization, etc.) which are unresolved, and within which cause can no longer be distinguished from effect. The surreal world of the African jungle becomes for Said the perfect metaphor to express Conrad’s world view: just as, in the depths of the jungle, day gradually and imperceptibly fades into night, so decency is transformed into plunder and murder, and rationality (in the character of Kurtz) into madness.

How fittingly this notion describes the course of Edward Said’s own schizophrenic career! For what else is one to say about a man who lectures of an afternoon to rows of bright, well-intentioned undergraduates, or boasts about his classical piano technique, and then, perhaps the very next day, attends a meeting of the Palestinian National Council which proceeds to reaffirm the murderous policy of reprisal against Palestinian “collaborators” (read: nonpolitical shopkeepers on the West Bank trying to feed their families by keeping open their shops)? And which Edward Said are we to believe—the teacher or the ideologue? Perhaps, like one of my students, Said has creatively misread Kurtz’s last words in Heart of Darkness (“The horror! The horror!”) as “Hooray! Hooray!”

But what is more likely (and more disturbing) is that Edward Said is entirely rational, that his advocacy of his cause even beyond the point of shamelessly embracing terror is a carefully and dispassionately adopted position. Otherwise, the unique juxtapositions one finds in his unreadable “theoretical” criticism are simply incomprehensible. Here, after all, is a critic who, within the covers of one book, has praised with equal avidity James Joyce, a brilliant writer dedicated to universal tolerance and an almost mystical principle of love, and Frantz Fanon, the African apostle of violence and author of The Wretched of the Earth whom Allan Bloom has rightly described as “a demonstrably inferior and derivative thinker” whose bloodthirsty fantasies Said has unequivocally endorsed. Only a mind incapable of perceiving (or unwilling to confront) such grotesqueries as Fanon’s for what they are could sincerely imply that Israel’s resistance to the intifada matches and even exceeds the barbarity of Nazi genocide.

Said’s treatment of Griffin in his broadside in Critical Inquiry suggests the inconsistencies that the devoted ideologue casually ignores. After the tirade of personal abuse against Griffin from which Mr. Alexander quotes, Said for the remainder of the piece refers to his victim as “‘Griffin.’” These quotation marks, throwing into doubt as they do the existence, the very humanity, of his adversary, are the deconstructive literary critic’s way of annihilating inconvenient realities. They demonstrate that Said (like all who have sold themselves to a cause) believes the world has no inherent meaning or significance—except, of course, whichever one he chooses to impose upon it. Truth, goodness, value, and all other such outmoded, “colonial-imperial” terms mean nothing—except what he declares them to mean. That staggering contradiction, that fanatical egotism are at the heart of the ideologue’s endeavor, and this is a truth no amount of incoherent burblings about cultural difference, affiliative theory, post-structuralist discourse, and all the other verbal paraphernalia of this fashion-bound, self-proclaimed “oppositional critic” can conceal.

Edward Said will not rest until Israel degenerates into a chaotic inferno like present-day Lebanon. As we take every possible precaution to forestall it, we can only hope such a tragedy will not occur. Edward Alexander and the editors of COMMENTARY are determined that it shall not, and those to whom reason and progress remain more than useless abstractions, and to whom life itself signifies something more than flesh for cannon fodder, owe them a vote of thanks for publishing this article.

Arthur M. Newman
Chicago, Illinois



To the Editor:

It is difficult to understand what Edward Alexander wants from Edward Said. All Said is trying to do is make it up the corporate ladder of a six-billion-dollar multinational company by taking his cues from the higher-ups. His president, Yasir Arafat, an international celebrity who established the company twenty-five years ago, has repeatedly declared that he opposes terrorism and that he has never practiced it. He has also taken credit for hijacking and bombing civilian planes, and for eliminating children in schools, worshippers in synagogues, and civilians in buses, restaurants, and marketplaces.

Until 1976, Arafat denied that he had anything to do with the Black September organization. Then it was revealed that he was Black September’s supreme commander, and that in a telephone conversation (which was taped) he personally gave the order to execute two American diplomats (and one Belgian) who had been taken hostage by Black September in Khartoum.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Arafat announced that 600,000 refugees had escaped southern Lebanon, and that 10,000 civilians had been killed by the Israeli army. The total population of the area was 400,000 and the total number of civilian dead was around 400. Last year there was a disturbance around the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in which a few people, mostly Israeli policemen, were slightly injured. The same evening Arafat announced on Baghdad radio that 130 Muslim worshippers had been butchered by the Israeli military. Earlier this year Arafat announced in Geneva that the Palestinian Covenant, which calls for Israel’s destruction, was null and void. In the recent Fatah conference he declared its inviolability.

The number-two man in the company, Abu Iyad, tries hard to outdo his boss. A couple of weeks ago he denied that Black September existed at all, and said it was a figment of the Western media’s imagination. Which reminded those with memories that are longer than is currently fashionable that in 1972 a PLO executive said on the David Susskind television show that the Israeli athletes in Munich “were massacred by the Israelis and the Germans to make the Arabs look bad.”

Not to be outdone, number-three in the company, Farouk Kaddoumi, announced before the UN in November 1985 that Leon Klinghoffer was not murdered by the hijackers of the Achille Lauro but by Mrs. Klinghoffer.

Now really, Mr. Alexander, if you were an executive who aspired to reach the top in this company, would you jeopardize advancement by sullying your lips with the truth?

David Bar-Illan
Jerusalem, Israel



To the Editor:

Edward Said’s works . . . reflect his proclivity to bypass hard truths. . . . In Orientalism, Said expresses the view that Oriental studies are a mere Western-willed political enterprise. . . . Interestingly, some of Said’s Arab critics, like Sadiq Jalal al-‘Azm and Nadim al-Bitar, have recoiled from his gross generalizations concerning Orientalism and consider Said’s demonizing crusade unworthy of serious scholarship.

In The Question of Palestine, Said . . . pursues his vitriolic diatribes. . . . For Said, Zionism is merely “a European project in Palestine” and Israel is nothing but a “colonial settler-state.” . . . Moreover, Said is brazen in brandishing the audacious notion that “the Palestinian mission is a mission of peace.” Ask the thousands of Jewish, Lebanese, Palestinian, American, and other victims of PLO terrorism for their opinion of this assertion. . . . The PLO exercises—with Said’s full concurrence—coercive rule through terror. It is not a new Palestinian mode: from 1936 to 1939 in particular, rival Arab gangs fought one another, assassination and anarchy were rampant, as the appetite for plunder and the passion for jihad combined to set Arab against Arab in Palestine—and always with the cry of collaboration wailing in the wind. So now—oblivious of mumblings about Palestinian democracy, equality, rights, tolerance, and coexistence about to flourish in the state of Palestine (itself just a word, not a reality)—the gun, the axe, and the knife wield their horrific ways . . . as the PLO publicly assumes responsibility for the deaths of at least 125 “collaborators.”. . .

Edward Alexander has done a great service in exposing the professorial façade of Edward Said. . . . The article is a monument of truth in a cynical age.

Mordechai Nlsan
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel



To the Editor:

Edward Alexander refers to Edward Said’s “longstanding habit of confidently reciting the most preposterous falsehoods.” Anyone who doubts the accuracy of this statement should read the interview with Said that appeared last year in the radical journal Red Bass (#12), which contains the following:

  • Asked about the absence of free speech in Arab countries, Said insists that “There isn’t a lack of free speech everywhere [in the Arab world].”
  • Referring to the killings at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, Said claims that fatalities may have numbered in the “thousands”—in reality, the number was 460.
  • Said complains that while “the Israelis have a superpower totally supporting them,” the PLO has “never had anything equivalent”—neglecting to mention the massive support given the PLO by the Soviet Union, Communist China, and the entire Arab League.
  • Said even asserts that there is “democracy” in the Palestinian refugee camps when anyone who has read a newspaper in the past two years knows that PLO supporters deal with Arabs whom they dislike by, among other things, hanging them from electricity poles or silencing them with meat cleavers.

Mr. Alexander and COMMENTARY deserve thanks for stating the obvious about Edward Said, especially since few others today are prepared to do so.

Bertram Korn, Jr.
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



To the Editor:

. . . Despite his disdain for the impartial search for the truth, his uncontrollable antagonism toward the West, and his blatant anti-Americanism, Edward Said is treated with great respect by the American media and the American government—for example, his meeting with the American Secretary of State. And why is there no concern with the fact that his book, Covering Islam, viciously attacked a broad range of American institutions and professions—the universities and their scholars, businessmen, journalists, those in the government, and so forth? . . .

In a speech to the 1980 convention of Arab-American University Graduates, Said criticized the Middle East oil countries for not taking advantage of the financial difficulties of Random House, the Nation, and the London Times by buying them and using them to disseminate pro-Arab material in the West. Again, his affinities and priorities were revealed, but he was never attacked for them. . . .

But in Europe, where there is widespread support among intellectuals for Said’s anti-Israel political agenda, there has always been some awareness that he is no scholar. In the London Times Literary Supplement M. E. Yapp, author of several scholarly books on the Middle East, wrote that a major feature of Said’s Orientalism is “straightforward misrepresentation.” Regarding Covering Islam, widely used in American undergraduate courses, Yapp noted that Said’s interpretation is “. . . a complete distortion” and attacked Said’s “cavalier approach to evidence.” “One is not surprised,” Yapp concluded, “that he should be so hostile to the idea of objective knowledge.” . . .

Stephen Karetzky
Clifton, New Jersey



To the Editor:

When the cultural history of our era is written, we are confident that Edward Alexander will find an honored place among those scholars who fought hard to arrest the regressive slide of our universities toward a medieval, repressive intolerance, in which the fashions of the Left threatened to harden into ecclesiastical dogma. In the 70’s and early 80’s the true believers of the Left were embraced by the academy and encouraged to disseminate their views. . . . While Jeane J. Kirkpatrick was unwelcome, the podiums in our elite colleges and graduate schools belonged to the likes of Billie Boggs and Edward Said. Those who ventured to observe after her appearance at Harvard that Billie Boggs was not a sociologist but a psychotic were met with derision, while those who noticed that Edward Said was not a humane scholar but an apologist for terrorists were shouted down. No doubt Mr. Alexander will have to endure a similar response, but he can take satisfaction from being in the vanguard of those . . . working to reverse the tide and restore a balanced view of reality to the university. . . .

Stephen M. Rittenberg
Herbert M. Wyman

New York City



To the Editor:

With all of Israel’s current problems, it is tempting to believe that better times might be around the corner. Peace can be made, we are told, if only Israel would knock off the paranoia and be reasonable. Nothing, however, arrests the leftward slide across the political spectrum like an encounter with the spokesman for the new PLO and a closer look at moderation, PLO-style. Enter Edward Said.

Surely here is a man with whom differences can be discussed: Oxford-educated, Columbia University professor of literature, author, teacher, passionate advocate of the Palestinian cause. He will appreciate that security is our bottom line, we will convince him of our intention to go to the wall for Palestinian rights, and together there will be an exchange of views. . . .

Instead, we discover Arafat in tweed. We learn from Edward Alexander’s piece that Said supports the Zionism-as-racism slander, and that he has trouble staying moderate when challenged even about that. Writing in the scholarly pages of Critical Inquiry, Said blasts away at his brother-in-letters, Robert J. Griffin of Tel Aviv University, for having taken issue with him. Said advises readers that Griffin’s views are so indecent that he must either be a “political invention” (presumably he means a Mossad plant) or just a nobody who has never published anything about Palestine. Said writes that Griffin should “atone for the crimes he defends” or shut up. . . . Mr. Alexander recounts briefly other statements from Said demonstrating his grasp of Jewish history . . . , such as how early Zionists wished to emulate the Nazis in Palestine and how Israel today practices Nazi methods, including concentration camps.

If Said talks this way to Griffin—Yale Ph.D. and Tel Aviv University literature professor— . . . just imagine what he would say to the rest of us about our anxiety over giving up land for peace. As another nobody who lives in Israel and remembers Said as a Columbia teacher, I cannot believe that the PLO spokesman and insider is on the level with all this. . . . I would prefer to explain it away as vintage 1960’s, bash-the-establishment stuff taken literally only by those whose consciousness-raising has worn off. But there it is, and even those predisposed to find . . . something (anything!) positive to prove that there is a new spirit of realism in the Palestinian camp are having their heads handed to them by moderates the likes of Said. . . .

Israel today is in a war of siege . . . and Messrs. Griffin and Alexander deserve praise for calling attention to the dangers of wanting to believe too soon that the siege is winding down. Said and others, however, are failing in a role one would like to see intellectuals fulfill: to think sensibly, to articulate . . . their positions so as to engage the empathy, if not necessarily the agreement, of opposing camps, and to lead their constituency in a similar leap of empathy. Part of the justice of Israel’s cause today is the fact that Israel and the Jewish world give prominence to such intellectuals—and part of the ongoing tragedy is that they have only Said et al. to talk to.

Michael Scher
Ra’anana, Israel



To the Editor:

The situation so accurately described in Edward Alexander’s article is particularly painful to an Israeli, and even more so to an Israeli academic. Mr. Alexander has captured the frustration and anger that have overtaken us in the face of the overwhelming consensus that now reigns among our colleagues throughout the world, and particularly in the United States—a consensus of condemnation. Every attempt on our part to enlist understanding for the cause of preserving Israel from annihilation and/or Finlandization is rejected, seen as contemptible, and treated with the utmost suspicion. Whereas once we were the apple of the eye of those who sympathized with just causes and the defense of democracy, now our successful stand against the attempts of our Arab neighbors . . . to overrun and destroy us is execrated by the international academic community. We are now incapable of doing right. . . . Not unless we allow, without protest and with all good grace, the creation of what cannot be other than a hostile Palestinian state within our borders will we be allowed (perhaps) a place at the table of the “morally acceptable.”

Edward Said is well-known to us as a self-acknowledged opponent, a member of the Palestinian National Council, which has declared publicly that all of Israel should be emptied of Jews and given to the Palestinians. Whatever the legitimacy of Said’s political views, . . . they have no place in any scholarly journal not devoted to the arguing of political opinion. As William Phillips pointed out in Partisan Review, Said’s “rough attacks on Israel and on three professors who argued with him . . . sounded more like the work of a street fighter than a scholar.” Phillips went on to suggest that Said’s vituperative attacks indicate that “he [Said] is high on a sense of power, because his viewpoint has had such wide acceptance.”

Yes, in the face of the overwhelming sympathy for the Arab cause, anything goes, including the lies that Mr. Alexander pointed out, and the unscholarly behavior noted by Phillips, not to mention the declared ambition of the Palestinians to destroy us, the continuing, shocking . . . suicide missions directed against helpless Israel civilians, . . . and the slaughter of Arabs by Arabs all around us, in Israel and in Lebanon. And what can we say about the senseless burning just recently of thousands of acres of the only extensive natural forest in the country? . . .

Robert J. Griffin, known here as a liberal rather sympathetic to Arab claims, wrote in the article attacked . . . by Said that the acceptance without protest or response of Said’s original article by Critical Inquiry “carries special significance. It signals, or can be read as signaling, that the literary and critical establishment has reached a consensus and that liberal supporters of Israel in our discipline have retreated from the field.” Not only in your field, Mr. Griffin. . . .

Let me close by saying that we in Israel have not forgotten the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia, and that for us the Holocaust is more than a questionable description of history. We will resist the creation of an armed and hostile state in our midst. Yes, we rue the loss of sympathy, but not so much as to become suicidal.

Robert Werman
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel



Edward Alexander writes:

People who complain that good causes attract bad advocates should be comforted by the evidence so abundantly provided by Edward Said’s acolytes that bad causes attract even worse ones. For many months, hardly a single issue of the New York Times has been without an item about the gruesome torture and murder of Palestinian Arab “collaborators” by PLO agents. Arafat himself has announced that “Ten are the bullets of the Revolution. Nine of them are for the collaborators and one for the Zionists.” On September 10, after a flurry of killings not “approved” by the underground tribunal, a leaflet from the intifada leadership itself said the killing was getting out of hand and urged that “all cadres of the hit teams and popular committees must use control so that we don’t lose our discipline because this would allow the enemy to use this phenomenon both in the field and in the media.” Nevertheless for Richard A. Falk the whole business is only “alleged violence,” and for Marianne McDonald it is “a collection of gossip.” Said’s explicit call for “dealing severely with” and “punishing” collaborators is for Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak “words for Palestinian solidarity” and, for Paul A. Bové (Miss Spivak’s colleague at Pittsburgh) “putative ‘terrorism.’”

Carol Bardenstein, still worse off in rural New Hampshire, does not seem to have seen the Times in twenty-five years, since she thinks the allegation of a certain lack of charity by the PLO in the Jewish direction entirely a matter of “hypothetical” conjecture about an “imaginary world.” Apparently she has never heard about the Munich massacre of 1972, or the 1974 attacks on the schoolchildren of Ma’alot and the mothers and babies of Kiryat Shemona, or the 1978 massacre of 35 passengers on a Haifa-Tel Aviv bus, or, in this decade, the shootings at the Rome and Vienna airports, or the attack on 50 Jewish teenage campers in Brussels, or the massacres at synagogues in Antwerp, Brussels, Rome, and Istanbul, or the countless other manifestations, right up to the present, of the PLO definition of every Jewish civilian everywhere as a legitimate target of PLO bombs and bullets. Or perhaps she did hear of these little unpleasantnesses attending the daily life of Jews in Israel and elsewhere, but viewed them as instances of what Said calls “the microscopic grasp that Arafat has of politics, not as grand strategy, in the pompous Kissingerian sense, but as daily, even hourly movement of people and attitudes, in the Gramscian or Foucauldian sense.” Brave readers of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization will recall that he said he wanted his books to be “Molotov cocktails.” Evidently, through the agency of Edward Said, the Frenchman’s wish is being posthumously realized.

Said’s chivalrous defenders call to mind Cicero’s saying that there is no absurdity human beings will not resort to in order to defend another absurdity. But the absurdities in these letters are less striking than their tone and tenor. On the one hand we have windy panegyrics for this “dedicated family man” (McDonald), this “courageous and compassionate person whom many of us value” (Falk), this “champion . . . of moderation” (Gover et al.). But the counterpoint to these eulogies is a violence of language suggesting precisely the moral disorder that permeates Said’s own piece in Critical Inquiry. Richard Gallo finds himself awash in “moral dung”; Miss McDonald pronounces me to be the pride of Adolf Eichmann; for Mr. Bové I am a “hired servant” of “Zionist forces”; Stephen Menick discovers that I am “a self-hating intellectual”; the grieving diagnosticians of Critical Inquiry call me “demented”; the Israeli/American-Jewish trio of Yerach Gover, Bruce Robbins, and Ella Shohat allege that I “disqualify” Said’s scholarship because of his Arab “blood”; and Miss Bardenstein, with an imagination still more lurid and sanguinary, finds in my remarks on Said’s claim of a legal right to murder an “anti-Semitic” caricature of “a bloodthirsty monster, fangs bared and dripping with freshly drawn Jewish or collaborating Palestinian blood.” Beautiful and touching words, fit tribute to a writer who in the essay in question dismissed one opponent as a subhuman criminal and the writing of another as a “piece of filth,” and whose rude, slanging, head-shaking, filibustering TV performances have made him the scourge of adversaries still burdened with vestiges of civility.

Readers of these letters by Said’s apologists will have noticed something more than the usual amount of professorial preening and flaunting of “credentials,” as when Barbara Harlow tells us that “I write to you as a professor of English myself,” or the Gover-Robbins-Shohat trinity announce themselves “teachers of the humanities.” This is probably not an accident. On August 21, not long after my article appeared, Abdeen Jabara, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, sent an urgent letter to academic sympathizers, urging them to respond to my “unconscionable piece.” The organization, whose national advisory committee includes, among others, Said himself, Richard A. Falk, Mohammad Ali, Noam Chomsky, and Jesse Jackson, told recipients of the letter: “We were outraged by this attack against Dr. Edward Said and feel that the most effective response is to ensure that individuals with professional credentials such as yours respond directly to the magazine.” This may explain the peculiar warning from the blustery (but insecure) Miss McDonald that “many of my f) tends and colleagues will be writing you with similar indignation.” Similar indignation, similar sycophancy, and similar prostitution of “professional credentials.” It is not a pretty picture.

Not one of the professed belleslettrists among Said’s defenders seems capable of understanding my statement that Said’s “double career as literary scholar and ideologue of terrorism is a potent argument against those who believe in the corrective power of humanistic values.” Mr. Menick construes this to mean “don’t listen to English professors.” Miss McDonald takes it to be an assertion that Said “must be a terrorist because he wrote about . . . Joseph Conrad.” Miss Spivak, who has been so successful in her struggles against “culture-centrism,” “ethnocentrism,” and “gender-centrism” that she now wanders through the world of ideas without compass or guide, believes that my confession of waning faith in literature as a means of encouraging humane understanding is an attack on Said’s “professional distinction.” Miss Shohat and her colleagues, who to problems that demand surgical precision bring the instruments of butchers, allege that I am a sort of Hesperidean dragon guarding the treasures of the wisdom of the West against Arab intruders. Since I have done so poor a job of making myself understood by these humanists, let me quote a more articulate writer on the very same subject. In 1980, Cynthia Ozick wrote: “If, years ago when I was in graduate school, someone had told me that it was possible to be steeped in Joseph Conrad and at the same time be a member of the ‘National Council’ of a worldwide terror organization I would have doubted this with all the passion for civilization and humane letters that a naive and literature-besotted young person can evidence. I know better now. Professor Said has read Heart of Darkness, and it has not educated his heart.”

In my essay I gave grudging credit to Said for having passed beyond the commonplace, formulaic analogy between Israelis and Nazis, Arabs and Jews, to plumb new depths of licentious originality by alleging Israel’s “occupation” to be even worse than that of the Nazis. His imitators have not caught up with the master. Miss Bardenstein, Miss McDonald, and the Israeli-Jewish triad are still mired in the old inversions, turning Said into a Jew whose critics are “anti-Semitic,” and ritually sprinkling the word Nazi, like some popular seasoning, over every mention of Israel.

Propagandists for the PLO have long been consumed by resentment that the Jews should be allowed to monopolize all that beautiful Holocaust suffering which it would be so pleasant, ex post facto, to share. Those who spread this disease of Holocaust-envy do not see that the compulsive desire of many Palestinian Arabs to appropriate the history and symbols of the Jews is powerful evidence of just how contrived and artificial is the Palestinian sense of national identity. A movement that can conceive of itself only as a mirror image of its enemy is an anti-nation, deriving its main purpose and meaning from the desire to destroy a living nation.

From their letters, I suspect that few of Said’s defenders took the trouble to read through his Critical Inquiry essay of the spring. A possible exception is Richard Falk, who is a bit nervous about Said’s “intemperate, even excessive” language, and whose deep silence on Said’s fakery with respect to the UN Charter is, from a scholar of international law, more eloquent than speech. Said claimed that “the UN Charter and every other known document or protocol [!] entitles a people under foreign occupation not only to resist but also by extension to deal severely with collaborators.” Yet Gover and Company brazenly declare that Said “never said” that the UN Charter mentions collaboration, and then go on to argue that the United Nations, basing itself on Articles 1 and 55 of the Charter (which say exactly nothing on the topic), has conferred upon people under occupation the right to murder collaborators. This maneuver, very similar to Arafat’s trick of periodically declaring that he accepts Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 (neither of which refers to Palestinians or the Palestinian question), “in the context of all UN resolutions relevant to the Palestinian question,” puts one in mind of Swift’s statement: “I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.” Do Mr. Gover and his friends really suppose that the readers of COMMENTARY do not know the difference between a legal document such as the UN Charter and the hodgepodge of General Assembly resolutions (neither binding on the Security Council nor capable of altering the Charter), pushed through by the automatic Arab-Communist-Third World majority, that condemn Zionism as racism and blame Israel for every evil on the globe?

Neither the UN Charter nor any other legal document authorizes civilians to murder for political or any other reasons except self-defense. The Charter, which Said explicitly invokes in Critical Inquiry as the PLO’s license for ideological murder, deals only with the international use of official force, which it forbids except in the exercise of a state’s right to self-defense, or uses authorized by the Security Council. Article 1 of the Charter lists four broad purposes of the UN: to maintain peace among nations; to develop friendly relations among nations “based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”; to achieve international cooperation in solving economic and social problems; and to serve as a forum for harmonizing the action of nations in the attainment of these ends. The Charter of the UN has nothing to say about domestic civil wars or insurrections against the recognized governmental authorities of a nation or region. There is no way, even for the disciples of a (reconstructed) deconstructionist like Edward Said, to convert the Charter, which is designed to achieve and protect the peace, into a document authorizing aggressive war.

Israeli and American Jews making the case for the PLO remind one of Dr. Johnson’s proverbial dog walking on his hind legs: it is not done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all. Said, of course, thinks otherwise, and has awarded high marks to Ella Shohat for her pseudo-scholarly acrobatics. Indeed, he ranks her study of “Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims” (1988) on a par with the works of his other “good” Jews: Noam Chomsky and Israel Shahak. Perhaps this (well-deserved) tribute explains Miss Shohat’s beggarlike gratitude for the miserable bones of condescension thrown to hungry Jews in Said’s scandalous book The Question of Palestine. Nine years ago, in the pages of this magazine, Hillel Halkin wrote of the lines quoted by Miss Shohat and her colleagues that four brief passages like this in a book of 265 pages that excoriates Zionism and ridicules the Jews as a people without a history, a culture, a religion, a language, are not exactly convincing proof of Said’s sympathetic understanding of Jews or Zionism. The rapturous embrace of Said’s book by certain Jews shows the truth of Ruth R. Wisse’s observation that “simple self-respect . . . has been eluding the Jews collectively since the dawn of modernity.”

Messrs. Gover and Robbins and Miss Shohat are also a bit confused in locating the source of “the Orientalist prejudice that all Palestinians are terrorists by definition,” since it was Said, not I, who wrote that “there are no divisions in the Palestinian population of four million. We all support the PLO.” Nowhere in the letters by Said’s supporters do I find an

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