Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Distorted quotation

Warning: this post is nonparochial.

Richard Byrne's "A Collision of Prose and Politics," in the October 13, 2006, issue of Chronicle of Higher Education, is a discussion of some Edward Said-ian criticisms of Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. Byrne writes that

Paul Berman (who supported the invasion of Iraq) uses Reading Lolita in Tehran as a case study in how writers respond to totalitarianism--and specifically, he writes, to "Islamism [note the word] as a modern totalitarianism."

Byrne goes on to say (in his own voice, no quotation marks),

it is such readings of Ms. Nafisi, linking her work and personal story to views of Islam [note the word] as totalitarian, that do alarm some observers.

Some other observers, including yours truly, are alarmed by the misquotation. You may believe Islam is totalitarian. Maybe, maybe not, but that isn't what Berman said. I don't know whether Byrne himself is responsible for the misquotation, or whether some editor at the Chronicle, working in a pompous and uninformed mode, decided that "Islamism" isn't really a word. Either way, it's alarming and unacceptable.

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