Editor, the Gauntlet,
[Re: "The Muslim," Sarah Malik, Nov. 9, 16 and 23, 2006]
I would like both to praise Sarah Malik's series of articles on "The Muslim" and disagree strongly with professor Schmiel's charge that they are "one-sided."
Ms. Malik's articles have done a great job shedding light on two important themes if we in the West hope to understand the Muslim world. First is the depth of the simple rule--at least as applicable in politics as in physics--that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. One of her major purposes was to articulate some of the reactions within the Muslim world to actions of the West--and explore some of the less known subtleties of the relationship between the two.
A second strong theme revealed through the series was the degree to which the Muslim has become "the other" to the West--and how this has shaped our learning, perception, and in many ways literally blocked the West's desire to truly understand the Muslim at all. (Edward Said's Orientalism, a key source for Ms. Malik, has inspired debate; nonetheless it is a book I was embarrassed I had not read long before I actually did.)
Professor Schmiel hides personal disagreement with--or dislike of--what Ms. Malik has written behind a classic rhetorical veil--faulting her for not writing something she was not trying to write. Focusing on just a couple of phrases, he decides what he wants to read--a "history of Islam." When the article is about something other than this artificially grand picture, he can now fault it for not doing what it was not trying to do and avoid engaging the writer on any actual specific points and themes she develops. Rather than deal directly with the detailed research, careful articulation and honest purpose of the author, he shoots beyond the article's intention and criticizes what Ms. Malik "seems" to think. (If my own students are reading this, take note: I don't put up with this trick.)
That these tactics are so employed, that there is not one ounce of charity, not one acknowledgment of validity, in the attack of a professor emeritus on one of our own gifted students as she diligently explores our complex cultural climate and unearths great food for thought in doing so is (to borrow the professor's phrase) "utterly unhelpful and discouraging"--from both a cultural and a pedagogical point of view.