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Ways of Misreading the Middle East By: Joshua Prober
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 23, 2005

We [the Palestinians] have had no Holocaust to protect us with the World's Compassion…

 Palestine has been replaced by an Israel whose aggressive sense of itself as the state of the Jewish people fuels the exclusivity of a national identity won and maintained to a great extent at our expense…

 -- Edward Said, quoted in the composition textbook, Ways of Reading

Ways of Reading is a popular composition textbook [1] that appeared in 1987. Professors chose it because, as Thomas Kerr, an assistant professor of writing at Ithaca College notes, it was "a way not only of reading but also of proselytizing and subverting the mind-numbing, consumer/capitalist/fascist/sexist/rascist/classist ideologies that surround us in the form of American mythologies and mass culture."[2] One of the ways that the two editors of Ways of Reading, David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky (both of the University of Pittsburgh), achieve this is by promoting Edward Said's ideology, attacking his critics, and presenting a warped version of Middle East history.


Why does Ways of Reading contain Edward Said at all? The editors claim they chose an excerpt from Said's After the Last Sky because they "were struck by its combination of beauty and power. It is... a writing with pictures."[3]


The editors' real interest regarding Said is political, as can be seen in the teachers' edition to Ways of Reading. There they savage a critic of Said, Justus Reid Weiner, whose article in Commentary in 1999, "‘My Beautiful Old House' and Other Fabrications by Edward Said" meticulously accounted for Said's lies about his upbringing (making himself out to be a Palestinian refugee, when his young life "had almost nothing to do with Palestine").[4] The editors of Ways of Reading disdain Weiner, calling his article "ugly and biased, an example of bad reading."[5] Why is this political statement in a composition textbook? Because, by discrediting Said's critic, Bartholomae and Petrosky are solidifying Said's views.


Bartholomae and Petrosky ignore Weiner and write that "Said was born in Jerusalem, in what was at that time Palestine, to parents who were members of the Christian Palestinian Community. In 1947, as the United Nations was establishing Israel as a Jewish state, his family fled to Cairo."[6] This is false, but they have no choice but to regurgitate lies, for once Bartholomae and Petrosky admit that Said was raised in Cairo, Ways of Reading's fraudulence becomes apparent. It is better to completely deny that there is a problem than recognize it.


Ways of Reading discourages anything but worshipful attitudes toward Said. The editors suggest that the piece by Said "invites research projects"[7] but they discourage professors letting students do research from sources of their choosing. They do not want students using the Internet ("We don't have to send them to the Internet! They go there all too quickly")[8] and instead urge circumscribed sources: "In the case of the Middle East, many sources that present themselves as balanced or objective are serving a particular point of view."[9] They elsewhere recommend tracking down "some of the names offered by Said,"[10] and then spell these out: "Surely few have equaled the courage and principle of Israel Shahak, and Leah Tsemal and Felicia Langer of Noam Chomsky, of Izzy Stone, of Elmer Berger, of Matti Peled."[11]


This list includes among the most hostile Jewish critics of Israel. Tsemel and Langer are Israeli lawyers who defend accused terrorists, while Peled was former Israel general and a far-left activist whose family invited a PLO spokesman to his granddaughter's funeral after she was murdered by a suicide bomber. Shahak, a chemist, went even further and trumpeted – much to the delight of Holocaust deniers and radical Muslims - the perverse doctrine that Judaism itself promoted hatred of non-Jews, and was therefore responsible for anti-Semitism.


Another way of avoiding criticism is what Bartholomae and Petrosky deem the "popular" assignment [12] of students summarizing Said's article. Summaries "require attention to the text, and in particular, to those part of the texts that are difficult, surprising, unexpected; and they require generosity, a willingness to enter into the text's argument."[13] How much safer that is than allowing students to research Said's claims and summarize what they themselves have found? Instead, by summarizing they must participate in Said's frauds.


Ways of Reading smuggles a biased presentation of the Middle East into classrooms. As the school year begins, too many students will again find themselves drudging through Edward Said's mendacity. For a book that promotes only one biased way of reading, Ways of Reading is an ironic title indeed.




[1] By some estimates between 500,000-1,000,000 students use ways of reading every year. According to the dust jacket of the fifth addition, Ways of Reading has been adapted at more than four hundred colleges and universities. See Pedagogy, volume 1.3 (2001), pg. 590-592.


[2] Pedagogy, volume 1.3 (2001), Tom Kerr.


[3] David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005), Teacher Seventh Edition, page 117.


[4] Middle East Forum, MEF Wires, Justus Reid Weiner, September 20th 2000.


[5] David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005), Teacher Seventh Edition, page 117.


[6] Ways of Reading, Student Seventh Edition, page 609.


[7] Ways of Reading, Teachers Seventh Edition, page 119.


[8] Ways of Reading, Teachers Seventh Edition, page 119.


[9] Ways of Reading, Teachers Seventh Edition, page 119.


[10] Ways of Reading, Teachers Seventh Edition, page 119.


[11] Ways of Reading, Student Seventh Edition, pages 640-641.


[12] Ways of Reading, Teachers Seventh Edition, page 120.


[13] Ways of Reading, Teachers Seventh Edition, page 120.


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Joshua Prober is an intern of the Middle East Forum and wrote this for Campus Watch, a project that critiques Middle East Studies with an eye toward improvement.

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