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Whose Life Is It Anyway?

A lie, as Mark Twain observed, can get halfway around the world before truth has even put its boots on. So it has proved-but only so far-in the matter of Justus Reid Weiner versus Edward Said. In a recent syndicated article, Daniel Pipes has allowed himself to repeat quite blithely that Professor Said's own biography is a work of "dissimulation." Other columnists and commentators-John Podhoretz anonymously and Sidney Zion under his own name-have intensified Weiner's confected allegations and recycled them as fact. Weiner, for example, could not quite rally the nerve to say that Edward never attended St. George's school in Jerusalem. (He confined himself to the elaborate insinuation.) But his slipshod, taunting emulators did dare to say so flatly, and Weiner-who has been busy lately answering a few questions on his own account, and will soon be busier still-has not found the time to admonish or correct them. This is how the work of defamation and innuendo proceeds, as we shall see.

After writing my first response to Weiner's article ("Minority Report," September 20) I learned that, before finding a lodging in the feculent pages of Commentary, his effort had first been dangled in front of the editors at The New Republic. That magazine never misses an opportunity to be unpleasant about Said. Its proprietor, Martin Peretz, is perhaps his most unsleeping foe. So why did it, and he, pass up such a tempting opportunity? One staffer told me in confidence that Weiner's effort did not come up to fact-checking standards. And Charles Lane, the editor, has said for the record that Weiner balked when confronted with the publisher's proofs of Said's imminent memoir, Out of Place. "He refused to look at the galley and take it into account. Discussions broke off at that point."

Here we approach the crux. It's obvious from his hasty and bungled effort that Weiner did look at the proofs of the forthcoming book. He must have realized that his years of spiteful and selective "research" were about to be wasted because (quite unlike Rigoberta Menchu, who has now invoked whichever god protects narratives of moral rather than forensic truth) Said had set down a painstakingly factual account of his own past. In desperation, and in the obvious hope of achieving some spoiling pre- emptive publicity, Weiner found a hospice in a journal that has-I restate for emphasis-lower standards for journalism than those of Martin Peretz.

Nothing else but desperation-apart of course from simple bad faith-can explain the farrago of inaccuracy and incomprehension that Weiner has produced. I didn't have space for it all in my last column, but let me select some of the choicer ancillary chunks:

1. Weiner says that Nabiha Said, who held the title to the longstanding family home in Jerusalem, was "only" the wife of Said's uncle. Inference: hardly a family home at all...a distant connection. Except that Nabiha was also the sister of Edward's father. She married her cousin and received a loan of money for the house from her brother, two of whose children were born in the house before the State of Israel was proclaimed and the property confiscated.

2. In his Commentary article, Weiner claims that he made an unrewarded effort to contact Professor Said. He now reluctantly tells Salon magazine that this was three years ago, when he was working on a quite different article for another journal. "Three years" is the time Weiner boasts he has spent in making stupid blunders like the one noted above. On his own evidence he cringed away from confronting his target and has now also lied, in print, even about his own cringe.

3. A part of the Said home in Jerusalem for a time housed the Yugoslav consulate. Said's book doesn't make anything of the fact and Weiner pounces on this, wondering sarcastically how such a salient presence could have escaped the boy's attention. I can introduce Weiner to the editor who suggested to Said that that very section be dropped from what is an exhaustive book: These things do happen to authors and can be confirmed (as I also know) from original drafts. But one has to be interested in getting at the truth.

4. I accidentally misrepresented Weiner in my last column, saying that he could easily have contacted former St. George's students like Haig Boyadjian, now living in New Jersey. It now turns out, according to Boyadjian himself, that Weiner did track him down, by telephone, this past spring. (He purported to be doing an article solely on the school, introducing Said's name only late in the conversation.) Boyadjian distinctly remembers telling Weiner what he's happy to confirm to anyone- that Edward had indeed been a Jerusalemite fellow-pupil. So to the charge of suggestio falsi we are compelled to add the no less grave one of suppressio veri. Weiner simply excluded any findings that contradicted his underhanded purpose.

5. By now, Weiner will have received a letter from Andre Sharon, a Jewish schoolboy friend of Said's from his Cairo days. With some humor and care, Sharon explains the porous nature of frontiers in the Mandate period (his own family originated in Syria but moved extensively before settling). Having rehearsed some fairly obvious points about Levantine society, he says: "In short, that Said moved seamlessly from Palestine to Egypt to Lebanon is remarkable only for being so unremarkable to him and to those he grew up with. He was a Palestinian Arab, like I was an Egyptian Jew." It's perhaps odd that Weiner should need such elementary instruction, but then (having moved to Israel from America only in 1981, to work as a junior propaganda functionary for Menachem Begin) he is of course new to the area.

Weiner's novice status still does not excuse his unscrupulous refusal to contact his intended journalistic victim, nor his pathetic lying about that failure. Justus Reid Weiner is a hack and a hireling, lacking in the skill to do serious work, lacking in the courage to take on a better man and lacking in the grace to apologize. He may, however, have slightly redeemed his nonentity condition by enlarging the sale of a powerful and honest book.
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Title Annotation:literary critic Edward W. Said's biography is wrongfully attacked
Author:Hitchens, Christopher
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 4, 1999
Words:1030
Previous Article:Adults Only.
Next Article:Polymaritally Perverse.
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