Monday, May 16, 2011

Analysis 7: The West was no Occident

Analysis #7 (Ethnicity Studies and/or Post-Colonial Theory)

Said. Orientalism 1861

Edward Said was a very successful academic that wrote the “landmark” work called Orientalism. In this work “Said discusses how European and U.S. literary and cultural representations, academic disciplines, and public perceptions foster biases against non-Western peoples, casting them as oriental Others” (1861). This work is considered by many to be what starts the “field of postcolonial studies” (1861). Said’s “work focused on imperialism and the interplay between the dominant West (the ‘Occident’) and the Middle and Far East (the ‘Orient’) (1861).
Even though he has the West to thank for all his academic achievements with his works prominently displayed in College textbooks to be studied by thousands of students Said is perhaps bitter because he felt “out of place” (1862). Perhaps all the gifts he receives from the “Occident” were not enough. Perhaps he feels guilty for getting an education from the very best Western schools. Perhaps he felt more of an allegiance to the “Orient” that is his place of origin. Said spends much time in the West and observed the West’s “understandings of Arab culture” (1862). This observation brings about the work known as “Orientalism” that “voiced a strong dissent against pro-Israeli U.S. policies that operated at the expense of Arab peoples” (1862). Said seems to believe that, “Orientalism reveals more about the West and its fantasies than it does about the actual people, culture, and history of the East; not simply a myth, it is ‘more particularly valuable as a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is as a veridic discourse about the Orient’” (1862, 1863). Shortly after this quote from Said’s biography in the textbook the race card is thrown as a possible explanation for the way some western scholars portray the East. It reads, “…Said’s analysis is a sharp warning to scholars and intellectuals, showing how scholarship is sometimes informed by rasism and how intellectuals have been complicit in the administration of imperial power” (1863).
To find out a different perspective of Said I looked on the internet:

“In 1980 Said criticized what he regarded as poor understanding of the Arab culture in the West” [2]:
“So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.”[1]
Notice the date that this quote from Said is from. They year he says this is 1980.
On November 4, 1979, an angry mob of young Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 Americans hostage. "From the moment the hostages were seized until they were released minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as president 444 days later," wrote historian Gaddis Smith, "the crisis absorbed more concentrated effort by American officials and had more extensive coverage on television and in the press than any other event since World War II." [3]

At this point I begin to wonder how our textbook could have ever described Said as someone with a “sense of homelessness” (1862). The textbook informs the reader that “this sense of homelessness defined for him the proper stance of the intellectual, who should remain independent of fixed theoretical, disciplinary, professional, and national loyalties, yet always be attentive to social injustices and what he calls the “brute reality” of history” (1862).

Do Said’s words from "Islam Through Western Eyes," sound like the words of an objective intellectual? Perhaps he strongly supports a particular side, for his argument defends one perspective (Islam) while blaming another for it’s negative over exposure (mass media, and America).
Online there is a picture of Said throwing a rock at Israeli guards near the border fence. Is this the image of a man “independent” of “national loyalties”? Is this how a "professional" should behave while being “attentive to social injustices” (1862)?
I agree with Said’s belief that there are Western scholars that feel superior to the East, but I also believe there are Eastern scholars that feel superior to the West. Perhaps if Said had asked people from the East if they think that their culture is superior to the West he may be surprised as to how many Easterners would say “yes”. Perhaps then he could have written something not so one sided, or perhaps that was never his intention.
The Middle East has become very wealthy and should be thankful that they possess such an important resource. Said should wonder what the middle east would have been like without it. Said thinks very little of the West for I re-enter a portion from a quote used earlier in this analysis: “So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists” [1] I could not find any quote of what Said believes the Muslims and Arabs think of America. Said seems to have saved his voice for only making derogatory comments about the West. Said seems to believe that the West is so simple minded, and heartless that they look at Muslims not as people, but as terrorists with oil. Does this not make his entire essay a junket of hypocritical thought wrapped in a very small box painted red, white and, blue with a sloppy hand and very broad strokes?
When there is major social injustice (Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq, Germany) America is there to help. When there is a natural disaster anywhere on the globe, America is there to help (Haiti earthquake, Pakistan floods). I have not seen these elements incorporated into the textbook and students are not taught of America’s good works. Why this is so, one can only speculate.


Imperialism – The policy of extending a nation’s authority by economic and political means over other nations.

Works Cited
[1] Edward W. Said, "Islam Through Western Eyes," The Nation April 26, 1980, first
posted online January 1, 1998, accessed December 5, 2005.



Edward W. Said. "Orientalism". ed. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.

The American Heritage Dictionary. Fourth Edition. Bantam Dell. New York. New York. 2001

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