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Orientalism

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Rasha Moumneh

on 2 March 2015

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Transcript of Orientalism

Orientalism
Orientalism's Logic
Said's Three Claims about Orientlism
Colonialism
Creation of knowledge about the colonized.
This knowledge is used to reinforce and justify colonial and neo-colonial domination
Orientalism, although purporting to be objective, in fact functioned to serve political ends. Orientalist scholarship provided the means through which Europeans could take over Oriental lands. Said is quite clear about the causal sequence: ‘Colonial rule was justified in advance by Orientalism, rather than after the fact.’
Imperial administrators like Lord Curzon, a Viceroy of India, said that the products of this scholarship - ‘our familiarity, not merely with the languages of the people of the East but with their customs, their feelings, their traditions, their history, and religion’ - had provided ‘the sole basis upon which we are likely to be able to maintain in the future the position we have won.’
Orientalism helped define Europe’s self-image. ‘It has less to do with the Orient than it does with “our” world.’ The construction of identity in every age and every society, Said maintains, involves establishing opposites and ‘Others.’ This happens because ‘the development and maintenance of every culture require the existence of another different and competing alter ego.’

Orientalism led the West to see Islamic culture as static in both time and place, as ‘eternal, uniform, and incapable of defining itself.’ This gave Europe a sense of its own cultural and intellectual superiority. The West consequently saw itself as a dynamic, innovative, expanding culture, as well as ‘the spectator, the judge and jury of every facet of Oriental behavior.’ This became part of its imperial conceit.
In 1810, the French author Chateaubriand called upon Europe to teach the Orient the meaning of liberty which he, and everyone after him, believed the Orientals knew nothing about. Said says he thereby provided the rationale for Western imperialism, which could be described by its perpetrators not as a form of conquest, but as the redemption of a degenerate world.
Orientalism has produced a false description of Arabs and Islamic culture. This happened primarily because of the belief that it was possible to define the essential qualities of Arab peoples and Islamic culture. These qualities were seen in uniformly negative terms.

The Orient was defined as a place isolated from the mainstream of human progress in the sciences, arts, and commerce. Hence: ‘its sensuality, its tendency to despotism, its aberrant mentality, its habit of inaccuracy, its backwardness.’
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Dichotomy
East vs West
Us vs Them
Good Guys vs Bad Guys
despotism
sensuality
duplicity
violence
irrationality
backwardness
Generalizations: What "they" are "like"
Essentialism: Why "they are like "that"
Islam explains everything
Culture explains everything
Colonialism in 1920
White saviors, brown victims
The central argument of Orientalism is that the way that we acquire this knowledge is not innocent or objective but the end result of a process that reflects certain interests. That is, it is highly motivated.
Orientalism is a system of knowledges and representations created by the West about "the Orient"
What is considered the Orient is a vast region, one that spreads across a myriad of cultures and countries. It includes most of Asia as well as the Middle East.

The first ‘Orientalists’ were 19th century scholars who translated the writings of ‘the Orient’ into English, based on the assumption that a truly effective colonial conquest required knowledge of the conquered peoples.

By knowing the Orient, the West came to own it. The Orient became the studied, the seen, the observed, the object; Orientalist scholars were the students, the seers, the observers, the subject. The Orient was passive; the West was active.

One of the most significant constructions of Orientalist scholars is the idea of Orient itself.

The depiction of this single ‘Orient’ which can be studied as a cohesive whole is one of the most powerful accomplishments of Orientalist scholars. It essentializes an image of a prototypical Oriental — a biological inferior that is culturally backward, peculiar, and unchanging.

The discourse and visual imagery of Orientalism is laced with notions of power and superiority, formulated initially to facilitate a colonizing mission on the part of the West and perpetuated through a wide variety of discourses and policies.
Knowledge = Power
Firstly, that there is an absolute and systematic difference between the West, which is rational, developed, humane, superior, and the Orient, which is aberrant, undeveloped, inferior, irrational. ALIEN.
Secondly, that abstractions about the Orient are always preferable to direct evidence drawn from modern Oriental realities.
Thirdly, that the Orient is eternal, uniform, outside of history, and incapable of defining itself. Therefore it is assumed that a highly generalized and systematic vocabulary for describing the Orient from a Western standpoint is inevitable and even scientifically “objective.”
And finally, that the Orient is at bottom something either to be feared or to be controlled.
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