Marx in Said’s Orientalism


1IMAGE/The Companion

Edward Said’s Orientalism was greeted with great enthusiasm upon its publication. But there were also powerful critics, many from the Global South, who viewed it as an intellectual retreat. We publish here a text hitherto unavailable in English, in which Mahdi Amel argues that while Said’s work is a critique of Orientalist ideology, it nonetheless trades in the cultural essentialism that it claims to reject.

Using the pen name Mahdi Amel, Hassan Hamdan was a prolific Marxist writer and member of the Lebanese Communist Party from 1960 onward. He was born in 1936 and was assassinated in Beirut on May 18, 1987. That same year, his comrade Hussein Muruwwa (1910–1987) had been gunned down in bed. He too was a Marxist writer and a prominent member of the Lebanese Communist Party. Religious Shia militants (widely believed to be Hezbollah) murdered both as part of an orchestrated attack on communist activists who hailed from Shia families in South Lebanon.

Their deaths spoke volumes about the increasing clout of conservative political forces emerging then in the Arab world. If Amel and Muruwwa sought to separate state and religion, and advance both socially progressive causes and working-class organizations, their rivals sought the opposite. Organized religious Shia participation in the Lebanese Civil War sharpened and entrenched (rather than diluted) sectarian and confessional identities. With the defeat of the plo by Israel in 1982 and the weakening of the left nationalist alliance, the Lebanese political terrain changed. Militant communalism edged out both communism and nationalism. In the South, Shia fundamentalism came to carry the mantle of anti-imperialism and to struggle against Israel’s occupation of Lebanese lands. The Left thus lost its role as leading anti-imperialist force. With its demise, a whole tradition of radical Arab thought fell by the wayside.

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