For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies by Robert Irwin - review by David Pryce-Jones

David Pryce-Jones

Malignant Charlatanry

For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies


Allen Lane The Penguin Press 409pp £25 order from our bookshop

Nearly thirty years have passed since Edward Said published Orientalism. That book shifted the intellectual climate – more exactly, degraded it – by propagating a new and unusual sort of hatred, aimed at scholarship and scholars. In Said’s opinion, everybody who had ever studied or written about the Middle East had done so in bad faith. Epigraphists, archaeologists, grammarians and linguists, papyrologists, geographers, the lot, including poets and travellers, had nothing to do with the advancement of learning or the recording of their findings and impressions. With sinister purpose, they were imposing themselves upon innocent and harmless people. Century after century, the activity of these assorted men was not at all what it might seem but only ‘a rationalisation of colonial rule’ and, since for most of the time there was no colonial rule, a justification of it ‘in advance’.

Said fashioned this massive international conspiracy out of the vulgar Marxist concept that knowledge only and always serves the interest of the ruling class, and therefore cannot be objective. He spiced it up with a supportive concept, this time taken from Michel Foucault, that there is no such thing as

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