Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Said surveillance

Here is an important article by David Price about government surveillance of Edward Said. Price filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the FBI's files on Said; he received 147 partly redacted pages of the 238-page file. Price explains the contents of what he has received: "Most of Said's file documents FBI surveillance campaigns of his legal, public work with American-based Palestinian political or pro-Arab organizations, while other portions of the file document the FBI's ongoing investigations of Said as it monitored his contacts with other Palestinian-Americans." Later in the article he discusses the omission of significant discussion about Said's landmark book, Orientalism:

Having read hundreds of FBI reports summarizing "subversive" threads in the work of other academics, I am surprised to find that Said's FBI file contains no FBI analysis of his book Orientalism. This is especially surprising given the claims by scholars, like Hoover Institute anthropologist Stanley Kurtz in his 2003 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Select Education, that Said's post-colonial critique had left American Middle East Studies scholars impotent to contribute to Bush's "war on terror". Given what is known of the FBI's monitoring of radical academic developments it seems unlikely that such a work escaped their scrutiny, and it is reasonable to speculate that an FBI analysis of Orientalism remains in unreleased FBI documents.

Price details surveillance of Margaret Mead and other American anthropologists in Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and FBI Surveillance of American Anthropologists. Alexander Cockburn adds a few comments here.
Blogger Ben on Wed Jan 18, 10:00:00 AM:
When Said was in the Palestinian National Council, tapping his phones was the kind of reasonable intelligence-gathering (like the Presidential daily briefings from August 2001, or the report about flight training) that we're always criticizing Bush & co. for fucking up.

But once Said left, one look at the liberal politics in his Al-Ahram column should have shown that monitoring him was going to be a waste of time and focus. Failing to stop monitoring him wasn't just unlawful and intrusive, it was stupid.
Blogger Ben on Wed Jan 18, 10:09:00 AM:
Also, when I met David Horowitz, he said the same thing about Orientalism--that it "just completely destroyed Middle East Studies departments." There must be a conservative training camp somewhere that teaches them these slogans.

How did Orientalism destroy Middle East studies? As Horowitz explained, by arguing that all Middle Easterners are pure experts about the Middle East, and all Westerners are fundamentally racist and incapable of analyzing the Middle East fairly. That's a pretty ridiculous reading of the book, not that I think Horowitz ever read it... although I remember Richard Bulliet, my favorite history prof at Columbia, suggesting he felt eternally suspect to the tenured Middle East department for just this reason.