Insight and Foresight

“So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.”

If you think that is a fairly accurate description of the US attitude toward the Arab world at the moment, consider that the late Edward W. Said wrote that passage more than twenty-four years ago, here, in The Nation. Said is, of course, inimitable and irreplaceable. Nevertheless, one could not have hoped for a better heir to his courageous erudition, his sharp insight, and his intellectual accessability than Rashid Khalidi. Professor Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, and his new book Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East is reviewed here in Foreign Affairs, and also here in the New York Times.