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on 10 October 2001
This book studies in depth the issue of how Islam is seen by the West. It uncovers the roots of the image created by western media and writers. It is a very valuable work for anyone interested in the relation between Islam and the West. It sheds the light on the issues that have contributed to a false portrayal of Islam. Mr. Said explains how western media and scholars cover any event related with Islam in a framework created by pre- conceptions, prejudices & political interests. He describes the way in which Western apathy towards Islamic civilisation as a whole (literature, law, politics, history, Art, sociology, etc...) has led to a narrow understanding of Islam. He goes on to clarify how this has led to one billion Muslims worldwide, representing different societies and cultures, being judged by the acts of small unrepresentative groups that most Muslims oppose. The west needs to understand that the problem is a political and not ideological one.
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Edward Said was a Palestinian Christian who was a Professor of English at Columbia University. He says in the introduction that this is the third in a series of books in which he examines the relationship between the world of Islam and the West, particularly the United States. The first in the series, and his most famous, is Orientalism, which is a dense scholarly work. The second is rather short, entitled The Question of Palestine. This one may be the most accessible and interesting to the general reader. It was written in 1981, still during the Cold War, but when American general interests were beginning to focus on the Islamic world due to the Iranian "hostage crisis." Since the vast majority of Americans have never been to an Islamic country, and few non-Muslim Americans have Muslim friends, how do they form their opinions of Islam and Muslims? In the pre-Internet days when this book was written, the media, meaning largely TV and the newspapers, along with some books, are the opinion creating, and sometimes changing, medium.

If it is bizarre, violent, misogynistic, it must be because of Islam. If the same actions, attitudes, or events occur in another context, they are not linked to some religious structure, such as Christianity or Judaism, or economic structure, say capitalism. It is a point Said makes repeatedly, with numerous examples: "Of course no one has equated the Jonestown massacre or the destructive frenzy produced at the Who concert in Cincinnati or the devastation of Indochina with Christianity, or with Western or American culture at large; that sort of equation has been reserved for Islam" (p 8). Said cites the lack of language proficiency as one of the problems in a herd-like view of the Islamic World. He quotes C. Wright Mills on men living in "second-hand worlds" in which "their images of the world, and of themselves, are given to them by crowds of witnesses they have never met and never shall meet."

A major portion of the book is devoted to the "Iranian hostage crisis" which started in 1979, and involved the holding of American embassy personnel in Tehran for 444 days. He quotes directly from the news media at the time, and notes that the motivation for Iranian hostility, specifically the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew their democratically elected government was virtually completely airbrushed out of the media's coverage. The author quotes from Flora Lewis, a NYT columnist at the time, who would say that the Arabic language is "rhetorical and declamatory, not intimate and personal," and even more outrageously, that the "Islamic mind" has "an inability to employ step-by-step thinking." As Said says: "...that would be considered either racist or nonsensical if used to describe any other language, religion, or ethnic grouping" (p 85). In another section, Said reports on the issue of extraterritorial juridical privileges enjoyed by the West in Iran: "Khomeini was able to say in 1964, `If the Shah should run over an American dog, he would be called to account, but if an American cook should run over the one has any claim against him.'"

In the final section, entitled "Knowledge and Power," Said nails again and again the "scholarly community" for the distortions in their supposedly rigorously factual work so that what is determined may be used as a mechanism for control over the people studied, or, as he expresses it: "Small wonder, then, that benighted non-European natives have viewed the scholars' `intellectual curiosity' with such suspicion, for when was a Western scholar ever in a non-Western country except by dint, however symbolic and indirect, of Western power over that country?"

Erudite and provocative, a delight to read for any American desiring to have a better understanding of those "who live on the other side of the river," to utilize Blasé Pascal's phrase. A definite 5-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on November 10, 2010)
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on 24 February 2006
This book is intended as an extension of the thesis first set out in "Orientalism" that a scholarly class of Americans, and to a lesser extent Europeans, presents a distorted and biased view of Middle Eastern cultures. This bias, Said argues, is so deeply ingrained that it has become part of our standard cultural baggage, and is a stereotypical background against which the Middle East is discussed in television, newspapers, journals and academic debate.
The amazing thing about this book is that it was first written in 1981! Years before the current upsurge in interest in "Islam", Said had detected a widespread acceptance of the "Orientalist" paradigm. The people and politics of the Middle East are largely characterised as being inspired by non-rationalist, and at times quasi-savage-like, inspirations. A central assumption guiding Orientalist thought, mercilessly criticised by Said, is that cultures in Muslim countries are politically, emotionally and even intellectually backward when compared to the "Western" standard which is considered to be several centuries ahead in general cultural maturity.
In a detailed analysis of several mainstream media sources, Said claims that the politics especially of Middle Eastern cultures is not portrayed as following standard paradigms for politics. The possibility of actions being taken as a result of legitimate (or even illigitimate) grievances, economic interest, defence of national autonomy, are a priori exluded. Rather attention is drawn to religious fanaticism, an incapacity to perceive reality for what it is, an ingrained cultural stubbornness. Said basically shows that even the most "expert" commentators on the Middle East follow this racist programme which is essentially rooted in colonialist attitudes which still prevail despite political decolonialisation.
What, Said asks, would be the consequences were one to portray say Judaism or black African cultures in the same light. He thus lays bare the double standards within out cultural viewpoint which permit, or even require Arabs and Muslims in general to be presented as a backward and fanatical cultural group.
Let's take an example. The massacre of Christians in Nigeria (February 2006) is hailed as a dangerous event, taken as a manifestation of the underlying tendency within "Islam" to violence and the defeat in battle of other cultures and religions. Even those who take pains to say that these are maybe extremists and we should talk to "moderate Islam" are guilty by Said's standards. What they are doing is creating the intangible notion of "Islam" and then reputing to it responsibilities, including that of having to control the actions of extremists who, by virtue of their Muslim faith, are assumed to fall under the control of this all-powerful "Islam".
We know the story, it's repeated day after way. But, Said reminds us, consistence would require its application in other contexts. But who in their right mind argued that the massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Catholics ("Croats") or Bosnian Orthodox Christians ("Serbs") could tell us anything about the nature of Christianity? Who in their right mind would have thought that the actions of the IRA could in any way be traced back to "Christianity" in the same sense that those of "Al Qaida" can be traced back to "Islam". Why do we think in this way about "Islam". In fact, what is "Islam", and how does it differ from "Christianity" or "Judaism".
This review cannot even pretend to do justice to this magnificent book. So many issues are touched upon by Said that it is impossible to list them all. But at every stage he invites us to think, and to challenge our cultural assumptions. Other interesting parts are his final chapter clearly inspired by the likes of Foucault, and his treatment of media analysis which offers a more nuanced view to that often cited as scripture by Chomsky followers. He does not want to impose on us his view of the world (although he would dearly love us to reject the Orientalist biases), but wants us above all to start thinking and to challenge assumptions inherent in the way the world is presented us by the media, by experts and by government.
This book is written by an intellectual and some parts are quite academic. But on the whole it is quite well readable and accessible to the general reader. To its credit it is short, yet at the same time offers a wealth of ideas with which to approach media treatments of "Islam".
Think about the "Islam" and "Christianity" opposition, and above all read this book.
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on 9 March 2013
I have chosen this rating as 'Covering Islam' is probably the best book that I have bought! Edward Said has definitely helped educate me within the understanding of how 'Islam' is viewed by the 'other'. There is no doubt that this novel has broaden my perspectives on the various influences within society. I would recommend this book to anyone.
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on 7 November 2008
I think the review posted by A Customer on 24 Feb 2006 covers a lot of what I would have wanted to say about this excellent book.

We live in a period where there has grown up a new racism which is directed at Muslims. Whether we call this Islamophobia or Anti-Muslim racism is besides the point. What is important to understand where this racism comes from, what are it's causes and origins.

Those who seek to justify this racism will do so by blaming the actions of Muslims and will refer to 7/7, 9/11 and the Rushdie Affair. No-one doubts the importance of these events as milestones along the way to where we are today, but they are not the starting point. If they were the starting point, then it would not have been possible for Said to write this book in 1981.

For what Said does in 'Covering Islam' is point out and document the long history of how 'The West' sees 'Islam' and how this has largely been negative and driven, in modern times, by the needs of imperialism.

Thus it is with the modern rise in hostility to Islam. Said documents change occuring in the 1970's as the oil crisis, Israel-Palestine, Pakistan-Bangladesh, 'Death of a Princess' and Afghanistan grabbed the headlines and some commentators looked for commonality between these disputes and hit upon there being 'somehting wrong with' Islam as an explanation.

Then in 1979, came the Iranian Revolution in which the ally of The West, the Shah, was overthrown and an Islamic Republic founded in it's place. There was also the US embassy hostage crisis. The ideological response to this in the West, especially the US, was to explain the revolution in terms of the backwardness and barbarity of Islam. In other words, again, hostility to Islam and Muslims was serving the need of imperial power.

That this hostility borrowed directly from the tradition of orientalism that Said documented in his work of the same name just the year previously, demonstrates great foresight on Said's part.

I have to say that, much as I admire Said, I find reading him can be a little on the tough side and felt that 'Orientalism' had large parts which were a drag to read - even though the book was tremendously informative. That is not the case with 'Covering Islam' which is written in a much snappier, almost journalistic style and covers the bases covered in 'Orientalism'. It's an easy read and thoroughly recommended.
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on 29 July 2016
Great book that helped to get me through my BA (hons) degree in Religious Studies and Philosophy. Great book with plenty of useful points. In particular, I think that understanding how the media has covered Islam in the past and present. The book also shows how the portrayal of Islam in the media was created by pre- conceptions, prejudices & political interests.

This is a must for anyone wishing to tackle the underlying features of Islamaphobia.

I hope my review has been helpful.
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on 22 November 2014
This book illustrated the role of the media in twisting the public opinion. A brilliant piece of work and a joy to read. At times it is hilarious in the way it exposes the ignorance of the Western governments and their sense of superiority. You simply must read it!
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on 24 July 2005
what can i say..
The fact that this book has the great Edward W. Said name on it gives it the potential to go straight through your head..
this book is very informative and would tell you a lot of stories that would make you wonder and think..
Islam has been a target for most media and they sure gave the world the wrong image of this fast-spreading relegion..
read the book and be ready for some eye-opening facts!!!
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on 8 July 2014
The book was an used copy but very pristine, without any marks or tears. It was delivered well before the promised deadline. It is a thought provoking dissection of the topic by one of the most seminal Western scholars.
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on 26 April 2010
Edward W. Saids "Covering Islam" is the third in a trilogy of books (see also Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient and The Question of Palestine) in which (to use Saids words): "I attempted to treat the modern relationship between the world of Islam, the Arabs, and the Orient on the one hand, and on the other the West: France, Britain, and in particular the United States".

The trigger for this book (originally published in 1981 and updated in 1997) is evidently the medias coverage of the Iranian Revolution and the holding of the American Embassy Staff hostage by Iranians students. Said makes the argument that the coverage of these events was almost entirely focused on the hostage crisis. The actual Revolution itself was only a backdrop to that event; the historical context within which the Revolution occurred was entirely absent, particularly with regard to the U.S. history of "involvement" in Iran; and that the media ruminations on Iran, Shiites, the Iranian Revolution and Islam were made up of repetitive schematic generalisations and stereotypes of astonishing crudity. Said backs up these assertions with a number of examples from both print and television journalism, including the efforts a number of "experts" on "Islam".

His point is that it is hard to imagine another culture or religion being treated in the manner that "Islam" has in recent decades. Crude generalisations and stereotypes with regard to "Islam" and "Arabs" are acceptable within mainstream discourse in a way that once was the case for Africans, Chinese, Japanese, and other non-Western peoples. Not only is this the case for journalism: in the academy the orthodox strain of "Orientalism", personified in Saids book by the lamentable Bernard Lewis, peddles a reductionist version of "Islam" and "Arabs" rather than attempting to sympathetically view the various lived experiences, changes and developments that have made up their real history.

He also reflects on the more general problems that accompany the attempts of one culture to gain knowledge of another one. He is very definitely not saying this should not be attempted, or that it cannot yield worthwhile and constructive results, just that the orthodox Orientalist methodology has approached this endeavour in an entirely unreflective manner, especially with regard to the Imperial roots of their discipline, and the context (political, institutional, etc) within which their efforts occur. All this is often compounded by a tone that is one of contempt or hostility.

"Covering Islam" is not all doom and gloom; Said does take note of the diversities of outlook within the discourse on Islam and the Arabs. In particular what he generalises as the antithetical (to the orthodox view) school, which is aware of the nuances of the subject, and approach it in what Said describes as a "humanist" manner. These include writers such as Nikki Keddie (Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution) and Albert Hourani (A History of the Arab Peoples). He also notes that the attitude of people within the U.S. who have long had a jaundiced view of American foreign interventions and an appreciation of the realities in the third world in general, such as Richard Falk, the alternative press, Ramsey Clark, and even those who have a general attitude of hostility to Islam and religion such as I.F.Stone, were able to view the events during the Iranian Revolution with more sympathy, and comprehension of the reality of what was happening than mainstream journalists and Orientalists.

Still enormously relevant thirty years after its initial publication, "Covering Islam" is a serious reflection on the problems, in theory and in practice, of covering other cultures that focuses on the experience of the Wests coverage of Islam. The 1997 edition of the text, which has been fully updated and includes a lengthy introduction by Said, is the best version available and well worth getting hold of.
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