Orientalism is a way of looking at the cultural gaps that occur between Arabs and people living in Europe and the United States. It involves seeing Arabic culture to be primitive and uncivilized while seeing Western society to be modern. Orientalism theory was established by Edward Said. It is linked to the study of diverse civilizations and the field of eastern civilization. According to Said, orientalism dates back to the European Enlightenment and civilization. The aim of Edward’s book was to expose and justify the doctrine of orientalism and the occurrence of Western dominance over the East. He labeled orientalism as the form of western colonization that the East had been exposed to during the foreign times. He talked about the past orientalist authors who did not discuss the true extent of the orient. These writers discussed different stereotypes that had been accustomed to other people. It appeared to Edward that this was shadowed by the European colonies in the Orient who needed the knowledge to conquer people’s region. Edward referred to this as orientalism. Edward portrayed the Eastern world as being dark, threatening place and mysterious.
Said acknowledged that the poets, political theorists, novelists, and philosophers had already recognized the distinction between the East and the West. They illustrated the distinction in their novels, theories, social descriptions, and epics while explaining the customs of the Orient. These differences and the undesirable Orientalist dissertation that Edward mentions are unsafe to Muslims because the image depicted is harmful. The critical weakness of Edward’s opinion in Orientalism is that the differences of the East shown by the Orientalists well justify the royal ambitions from the West (Robbins et al., 1994 p. 14). Moreover, his otherness theory and his stereotype of the Eastern cultures can be portrayed by the military occupancy of the Arab nations. One can argue that the contemporary orientalism that Said discusses can be in the form of Islamaphobia. He praised films, popular media, images, articles and books that came from the West because they instilled an underlying feeling of dominance and inherent racism.
In 2004, Kofi Anan discussed the idea of Islamaphobia. Therefore, it can be perceived that the notion of orientalism is essential in understanding the difference between cultures across the world. Thus, it is critical to understand the surrounding context during the time that Edward discussed orientalism to understand the relationship between the Western nations and the Middle East. According to Said, the Arab-Israel war of 1973 was the revolving point (Said, 1978 p. 2001). He said that he developed the idea of orientalism while watching news covering the proceedings of the war. Edward postulates that the Arabs were being portrayed as less modernized than those of Israelites because their method of fighting was backward and cowardly. He demonstrates how the western world demeaned the Arabic world because it was less advanced than that of their enemies.
Thus, it can be reasoned that orientalism is vital in gaining an insight into the Middle East. Additionally, orientalism can be used to show how the media portrays the Arab world (Said, 2004 p. 870). One needs to reflect the current military levels of Afghanistan and Iraq by the Britain and Americans when studying the relationship between the West and the Middle East.
Thus it could be reasoned that Orientalism as an idea is valuable for gaining an understanding of the Middle East and some of the means that the media seems to depict the Arab world. Orientalism concept can also be used to explain why the nations decided to go to war. It can be argued that Bush and Blair’s suggestion to war was easily acknowledged because they discussed the danger of arms of mass destruction that Iraq owned (Said, 1985 p. 12). They recognized that there was the need to disarm Saddam Hussein to enhance the proper relationship between the countries. However, these weapons were not found despite the assurance from the West that they would bring democracy. Not much has been attained apart from western supremacy in the region. The dominance builds the foundation of neo-imperialism and thus requirement to cure the uncivilized Arab World with the western values by Orientalism.
Nevertheless, it can be claimed that post 9/11 orientalism as a concept is obsolete. This is because the Western countries were not actively engaged in the Middle East during the cold war. The West did not pay attention to the numerous wars in the area such as Israel-Palestine war and Iraq-Iran war because it was not of direct relevance to them. Termination of the cold war led to the fighting between the Russians and Afghanistan’s. Here, America decided to support the enemy of Russia, by supporting Taliban (Singh, 1995 p. 600). The film “Charlie Wilson War” shows an American Senator who helped the Taliban by arming them. Some people argue that this action destroyed the Berlin wall thus ending the cold war. Nevertheless, after Taliban defeated the Russians, they began fighting the Americans who had provided them with military and economic support. The termination of the cold war led to the growth of Islamic militaries. Furthermore, it led to the end of balance between Russian and America. This meant that America could control some regions in the world that Russia could have stopped them previously.
Here a crucial point can be made from the works of Edward. He argued that the Western nations did not understand the Middle East and viewed it as lesser and cruel states who could not threaten the security of the West (Said, 1985 p. 12). The worthiness of the concept orientalism can be understood by analyzing the reasons why America decided to support the Afghan freedom fighters. This was because they did not pose a threat to the West. Moreover, this act was against the concept of orientalism, which discusses the discrimination of the Muslim world.
In conclusion, it can be argued that orientalism is slightly off point to understanding the international relations because war is still going on amid the Middle East and Western nations. Films portray the challenges that American soldiers encounter in their line of duty in the Middle East. It is imperative to argue that East captivated the Western nations because it inspired the artists through creative arts, artists, and movies. It can, therefore, be deduced that orientalism is less relevant today than it was in the past because threats from Al Qaeda still exist. There is also decreased economic relationship between the West and the Middle East despite the many efforts to bring cooperation between them. Orientalism can also be used in different disciplines such as music, literature, film, and religion. Furthermore, orientalism does necessarily portray the opinion of the inhabitants of the East and West but of the Western European. It creates stereotypes and cultural ties that help build cooperation between different states.
Robbins, B., Pratt, M.L., Arac, J., Radhakrishnan, R. and Said, E., 1994. Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism: a symposium. Social text, (40), pp. 1-24.
Said, E., 1978. Orientalism: Western concepts of the Orient. Delhi: Penguin, 1995, p. 2001.
Said, E., 2004. Orientalism once more. Development and Change, 35(5), pp. 869-879.
Said, E.W., 1985. Orientalism reconsidered. Race & Class, 27(2), pp. 1-15.
Singh, M.G., 1995. Edward Said’s critique of orientalism and Australia’s ‘Asia Literacy’curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 27(6), pp. 599-620.