The Postcolonial Rot Spreads Beyond Middle East Studies

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

middle-east-scholarshipsIn theory, Middle East Studies programs are a good idea. One of the biggest impediments to countering modern jihadism has been the lack of historical knowledge about the region and Islam. But even the attention and urgency that followed the terrorist attacks on 9/11 have not led to such knowledge. The result has been policies pursued both by Republicans and Democrats that are doomed to fail, as the current chaos in the region attests.

Rather than enlightening citizens and policy-makers, Middle Eastern Studies programs have darkened our understanding. As Martin Kramer documented in his important 2002 study Ivory Towers on Sand [3], most programs have become purveyors not of knowledge but of ideology. Under the influence of literary critic Edward Said’s historically challenged book Orientalism––“a work,” historian Robert Irwin has written [4], “of malignant charlatanry, in which it is hard to distinguish honest mistakes from willful misrepresentations”­­––Middle East Studies programs, Kramer writes, “came under a take-no-prisoners assault, which rejected the idea of objective standards, disguised the vice of politicization as the virtue of commitment, and replaced proficiency with ideology.” The ideology, of course, comprised the old Marxist narrative of Western colonial and imperial crimes, a Third Worldism that idealizes the dark-skinned, innocent “other” victimized by Western depredations, and the juvenile romance of revolutionary violence.

Yet Said’s baleful influence has not been limited to Middle East Studies programs, one of which has been created at my campus of the California State University, replete with theproblems [5] Kramer catalogues. It has insidiously corrupted much of the humanities and social sciences, operating under the innocuous rubric of “postcolonial” studies, which to the unwary suggests a historical rather than an ideological category. Through General Education courses that serve students across the university, and in departments like English that train primary and secondary school teachers, Saidian postcolonial ideology has been shaping the attitudes and presumed knowledge of Islam and the Middle East far beyond the reach of Middle East Studies programs.

Said’s dubious argument in Orientalism is that the work of Western scholars on the Middle East embodied “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient,” thus creating the intellectual infrastructure for justifying colonialism and imperialism. As such, every European scholar perforce was “a racist, an imperialist, and totally ethnocentric.” For social science and humanities departments committed totally to the multiculturalist melodrama of white racism and oppression of the dark-skinned “other,” Said’s work seemingly provides scholarly bona fides to ideas that are in fact expressive of illiberal grievance politics.

English departments have been particularly vulnerable to Said’s work, for he overlaid his bad history with watered down Foucauldian ideas about the relationship of power to discourse. Thus English professors seduced by the poststructuralist theory ascendant in 1978 when Orientalism was published found in that book a seemingly sophisticated theoretical paradigm that shared both poststructuralism’s disdain for objectivity and truth, and its “hermeneutics of suspicion,” the notion that the apparent meaning of a discourse is a mask for the sinister machinations of power at the expense of the excluded “other.”

More important, postcolonialism is a politically activist theory, bound up as it is in the politics of the Middle East, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. Now English professors could avoid the legitimate charge that poststructuralism, despite its patina of leftist ideology, was in fact an evasion of politics, a “symbolic politics,” as historian Russell Jacoby put it, “a replacement for, and a diversion from, the gritty politics of the community and the street.” On the contrary, the purveyors of postcolonialism were on the barricades, struggling to liberate Palestinians and other Muslims oppressed by a neo-imperialist America and its puppet Israel. Rather than pampered elitists guaranteed jobs for life, now the professors could fancy themselves freedom fighters and champions of the ex-colonial brown peoples still exploited and oppressed by the capitalist, racist West.

Finally, the dogma of multicultural “diversity” now firmly enshrined in American universities likewise has found Saidian postcolonialism a useful tool for interpreting and teaching literature, one that exposes the Western literary canon’s hidden racism and oppression. Moreover, in a university like Fresno State, half of whose students are minorities, a postcolonial perspective can establish a rapport with minority students who are encouraged to interpret their own experiences through the same lens of unjust exclusion and hurtful distortions of their culture and identity. At the same time white students are schooled in their privilege and guilt, minorities can be comforted by a narrative that privileges them as victims of historical oppression, one masked by the unearned prestige of the classics written by “dead white males.” Now minority students learn that Shakespeare’s Caliban is the true hero the Tempest with whom they should identify, the displaced victim of rapacious colonialists and slavers like Prospero who unjustly define the indigenous peoples as savages and cannibals in order to justify the brutal appropriation of their lands and labor.

Over the thirty years I have taught in the California State University, I have seen this transformation of the English department. Reading lists dominated by contemporary ethnic writers are increasingly displacing the classics of English literature, and even when traditional works are on the list, the books are often taught from the postcolonial perspective. New hires more and more comprise those Ph.D.’s whose specialties lie in ethnic or “world” literature, replacing the Shakespeare scholars and others trained to teach the traditional English and American literary canon. The traditional content of a liberal education––“the best which has been thought and said in the world,” as Matthew Arnold wrote––is disappearing, replaced by multicultural melodramas of Western crime and guilt.

More important for the culture at large, many of these students will go on to earn teaching credentials and staff public schools. They will carry the postcolonial ideology into their own classrooms, influencing yet another generation and reinforcing a received wisdom that will shape their students’ understanding of the important threats to our national security and interests emanating from the Middle East, especially jihadism. And it will encourage ordinary citizens to assent to the demonization of our most valuable regional ally, Israel, currently battling the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement that can more easily gain traction among those who from grade school to university have been exposed to the postcolonial ideology.

The damage done to our foreign policy by Middle East Studies is obvious. The influence of the godfather of such programs, Edward Said, on the social sciences and humanities departments like English is more insidious and subtle. But it is no less dangerous.


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12 thoughts on “The Postcolonial Rot Spreads Beyond Middle East Studies”

  1. As someone said, we are creating snowflakes in our universities, students with ultra sensitive psyches and empty heads.

  2. Along the same lines, professor Thornton, thinkers of the day say that Islam needs a reformation.

    Perhaps we should say to such an one, au contraire mon frere, as it is clearly Evangelical Christianity which needs a NEW reformation. As you have taught us, professor Thornton, it is Western Enlightenment — from Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Gothic Christian hard-won success in civil society lab work — which self-corrects BEST and eliminates self-dealing BEST. (Exceptions might be the clever Central Bankers, with Big Gov., and their nefarious, self-dealing zero interest rate policies….MAN, have they pulled a CON JOB on us!)

    Even so, Evangelical Christianity could turn inward to expunge a great deal of bad doxie, then turn upward as the benefit would be a greater connection to all intelligent Good, to understate things. These bad doxies, of course, are give-to-get prosperity indulgence selling, fear mongering thru rapture end times ink blot imaginations of utopian do-nothingness, Emergent gobbledygook as puerile pablum for the brainless; plus general inculcation of rubes thru ease of herding and penning and shearing… NONE of which makes a good citizenry! Actually, it makes a citizenry that sits idly by while leaders create a couple hundred trillion in debt!

    So again, I say, Evangelical Christianity is ripe for reformation… of the stunning kind Martin Luther ushered in 500 years ago. Because Christianity repairs itself… whereas Islam doesn’t, can’t and won’t.

    Besides, all this internet communication is bound to actually make people smarter, more cautious, more skeptical, to believe in solutions that work quickly instead of the church-state conundrum of dumb sheep controlled by even dumber leaders.

    And finally, a Constitutional amendment banning the use of public funds in education for the “Progressive-Retardnation Worldview,” while allowing funds for “Tragic-Liberty Worldview” pedagogy will be stunningly ameliorative thru time. If such an amendment is NOT considered, all efforts to fix what have you from the ruinous clutches of Progserfdomite undereducated elite idiots… will only be temporary… as right now they own all the rube factories, that is to say, the Progtarded K-12 and university schools celebrate their astonishing ability to dumb down all who will submit to brain raping insanity and lack of love and logic.

  3. How infuriating it is to read about the far reaching, radical influence of Saidism on our university curricula.

    The radical Left’s intent of replacing the great literary works of the West with such patently dangerous political and religious doctrines is truly frightening. If they succeed in manipulating young minds – the teachers and leaders of tomorrow – into rejecting Shakespeare, or seeing his works with such narrow ideological blinkers, then the true meaning and beauty of his language will be reduced to a caricature of racism, colonialism and other anti-European calumnies. The purpose of this full frontal assault on Western thought and tradition is not just about trashing Shakespeare. It is a brazen attempt to toss Western culture itself into the dustbin of history and, by doing so, promote the totalitarian, chauvinistic ideology of Jihad and Marxism.

    As the European majority, along with people of all colors and ethnicities who embrace the Western enlightenment and its traditions, continues to shrink through low birth rates and massive Third World immigration the stage is being set for a bitter confrontation between the light of individual liberty and the darkness of religious dogma and surrender to state control. Could this lead to another Civil war? For the love of humanity, let’s hope not.

  4. Why aren’t the problems of the Middle East blamed on Turkish colonialism? At least as anything more than a brief footnote? The answer is obvious, they are not white, Christian Europeans.

    For many years there has been a struggle going on in this world between the Left and Right. In any struggle there is always a demonization of the enemy. Leftists have been demonizing whites and fomenting hatred of their race.

    As a defense, Leftists argue that whites are the majority in the US and are richer than minorities so there is no way that whites can be oppressed, but that is not the point. Racial hatred of any type is destructive to a cosmopolitan society. No amount of sophistry can hide that. We have seen the results on the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. And more is to come…

  5. Emily Dickinson was also wise to the insidious danger of ideological rot.

    Much Madness is divinest Sense —
    To a discerning Eye —
    Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
    ‘Tis the Majority
    In this, as All, prevail —
    Assent — and you are sane —
    Demur — you’re straightway dangerous —
    And handled with a Chain —

  6. Rick Bonsteel

    Professor Thornton should be an imposing authority figure at his school, but post-moderns develop a thick skin and a sense of righteousness that makes them immune.

  7. Colonialism is simply another whining excuse for those whose home countries remain human cesspools of poverty, violence, and ignorance. It is a result of the habits and cultures of the people who continue to live there, free to create conditions long unfettered by colonial influences or controls . Experience will show that allowing them to relocate to modern countries without requiring them to adopt those countries’ habits and cultures will eventually recreate more human cesspools. More proud of your home culture than your new one? Go home.

    1. C’est vrai, mais je préfére monsieur Hanson. Est-ce que vous avez lu ses livres? J’aime beaucoup Why the West Has Won et The Savior Generals.

  8. I took a class at a state university called, “The Politics of Post-Colonial Africa”. The main thrust I got from the class was that Socialism was the primary remedy for ill’s caused by the capitalist imperialism of the French and British and reminants of the racist South African apartheid regime. I had already developed a conservative mindset, but realized through further study on the country I wrote my term paper on, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that one of the primary causes of stunted economic development was the depredations, corruption, and pilfering by dictators, such as Mobutu Sese Seko, of African nation’s natural resources.

    As an American, at what point does all this ethnic, gender, and Marxist ideology amount to cultural imperialism on behalf of the Left? I was saddened and angered upon hearing that the historically revisionist Obama regime had deemed it necessary to replace Alexander Hamilton on the ten dollar bill by some yet to be named female. Alexander Hamilton may never have been president, and probably few American’s would even know that he was the the first Secretary of the Treasury, but he served as George Washington’s most trusted aide-de-camp, and was instrumental in developing an American political philosophy, most notably by coauthoring the Federalist Papers, along with James Madison and John Jay. He was instrumental in developing the thought that led to the Constitution, and in getting it ratified.

    It now seems that it is traditional America that is under threat of being colonized by the third world, with 1 in 4 Californians being bornoutside the U.S., rather than be the victim
    of Western imperialism.

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