Edward Said, who died in September 2003, was professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, and the author of more than 20 books on cultural, literary, and political subjects. In many of them, such as The Question of Palestine, The Politics of Dispossession, and Peace and Its Discontents, he defended the Palestinian cause with passion and rage.
But by far his most influential work was Orientalism (1978), which gave birth to entire new disciplines, such as postcolonial studies. Universities round the world heaped honours on Said. One can see Said's influence at work in all the humanities, almost negating centuries of Western scholarship.
Islamologists have long been aware of the disastrous effect of Said's Orientalism on their discipline, which has resulted in a fear of asking and answering potentially embarrassing questions - ones that might upset Muslim sensibilities. Indeed, Said's influence has made cross-cultural judgments well-nigh impossible.
Orientalism had the attraction of an all-purpose tool, which his eager acolytes could apply to every cultural phenomenon without having to think critically and without having to conduct any real archival research requiring mastery of languages, or research in the field requiring the mastery of technique and a rigorous methodology. It displays all the -laziness and arrogance of a man of letters who does not have much time for empirical research or, above all, for making sense of its results.