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Essay/Term paper: Orientalism

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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"Two great themes dominate his remarks here and in what will follow:
Knowledge and power, the Baconian theme. As Blafour justifies the
necessity for British occupation of Egypt, supremacy in his mind is
associated with "our" knowledge of Egypt and not principally with
military or economic power."

He describes the desire for knowledge about the orient as being spawned
from the desire to colonialise effectively not to decipher the complex
nature of a society which is inherently different, thus bound to do
things a little differently. By comprehending the Orient, the West
justified a position of ownership. The Orient became the subject, the
seen, the observed, the studied; Orientalist philosophers were the
apprentices, the overseers, the observers. The Orient was quiescent;
the West was dynamic.

This is a rather unfortunate position both for the West and the
'Orient'. The students used their position of perceived understanding
to further compel 'Oriental' people into subservience while
simultaneously justifying their actions. They protected their
conscience by convincing themselves that the 'Orient' was incapable of
running itself, thus their territory must be administered for them.

"It dose not occur to Balfour to let the Egyptian speak for himself,
since presumably any Egyptian who would speak out is more likely to be
the "agitator [who] wishes to raise difficulties"

Said makes some vivid, passionate and striking points however, he seems
to be lacking of a little objectivity. The general tone of his book
"Orientalism" depicts western Orientalists as persistently reinventing
the near and Middle East in self-serving, eurocentric terms; as seen
through Western eyes, "the Orient" emerges as a passive, backward
world, monolithic in nature and exotic in its alienism, a realm ideally
created to sustain the West's daydream of supremacy. Said brutally
charges Western scholars for perpetuating the notion that the Orient
should not be taken seriously but rather be seen as a subject of

It is in this line that Said builds his argument. Totally oblivious to
the fact that the sheer passion in his discourse may be equated to
favouritism by readers. He makes many hard hitting and vivid points,
but the repetitive hammering on the same point posses the ability to
transform a great piece of work into an opus which skates around a
diluted form of reverse racism. As progress is made through
"Orientalism" several instances are depicted which provoke negative
attitudes from the reader:

"The European is a close reasoner; his statements of fact are devoid of
any ambiguity; he is a natural logician, albeit he may not have studied
logic; he is by nature very sceptical and requires proof before he can
accept any proposition...the mind of the oriental on the other hand,
like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His
reasoning is of the most slipshod description. Although the ancient
Arabs acquired in a somewhat higher degree the science of dialectics,
their descendants are singularly deficient in logical faculty..."1

Excerpts with similar themes are found all over Said's "Orientalism".
They generate feelings which cannot be considered to be catalyst to a
sound and logical comprehension. It is this model of argument, employed
by Said, which reduces the effectiveness of his contention. In Said's
blueprint of Orientalist discourse, the argument fell, inadvertently
but ultimately, into the same binary logic it desired to criticise. He
essential conveyed the impression that, there is justifiably, a "real"
Orient; whose essential contrast remains incomprehensible by Occidental

However, Edward Said's appraisal and investigation into the practices
referred to as "Orientalism" forms a crucial setting for postcolonial
academia. He has aptly explained and summarised the thought processes
and intentions behind colonialism; by highlighting several conceptions
housed by the Occidentals he has efficiently characterised the
reasoning employed to 'effectively' colonialise, as well as the reason
why elements of colonialism still perpetuates themselves till this
present day. His efforts lay emphasis on the inaccuracies of a
kaleidoscope of presuppositions, while it simultaneously questions
various patterns of conviction which are approved of on personal,
academic, and political spheres.

Said tackles various derivatives of "Orientalism". Offspring if you
will, as a result of which perspectives and thought processes are
influenced all over the Western world and to a lesser degree, the mind
of the "Oriental" as well. He discussed a Dormant Orientalism which
amounts to the underlying, certainty of understanding, about the very
nature of Orient. Viewed as eccentric, unenlightened, stimulating, and
inert, it has a predisposition towards despotism while retreating from
development. Always compared with the West who hands down a certificate
of inferiority and assumes the position of kindergarten teacher on it's
behalf. The second derivative of "Orientalism" is the result of the
application of Dormant Orientalism: Apparent Orientalism. Meaning when
the principles of dormant orientalism are acted upon and it's results
are manifest. These derivatives of "Orientalism" have served as the
host of perpetuation, which carry "Orientalism" (In it's negative form)
into the present.

This is achieved by handing down of similar thought processed from
generation to generation; by both institutionalised and
uninstitutionalised modes of education. Definitely books written by
authors such as Balfour and Cromwel are still in obtainable today and
may be mandatory reading for those who will graduate into opinion
makers. Similarly, since the "Oriental" has been forcibly put into a
relationship of subservience due to their inability to study the
Occidental as well; they will be unable to "own the West" as a result
of a better understanding of them. Since the ways of the "Oriental"
have already been deemed as "uncivilised" and this propaganda has been
spread across to the economic and technological dominants, it would be
a matter of deprogramming the rest of the world and indeed the

Said's arguments which are summarised above are particularly
interesting. He unearths a particular format for colonialisation and
indeed the reasoning which justifies it to the colonial powers, in this
case the West. Superiority. In the sense that the West believe that
they set the standard, there is no "different standards for different
people"; all positions which are not on the same path as theirs are
primitive and must be brought on track with the Eurocentric societal
development. This proved to be a very interesting point, which I agree
with thoroughly.

The present day adaptation of this is rightly ( Apparent Orientalism )
described by Said in the modern day treatment of Arabs cultures. The
current view of the west with regards to Arabs (Orientals) is as a
result of a long process of evoloution, a metamorphosis if you will, of
the pronciples of Orientalism Dormant Orientalism and Apparent
Orientalism. These principles are established as the basis for dogma
and procedure, as developed by the Occident. Present day representation
of Arabs in the media (which help to shape opinion) are everything but
positive. Arabs are seen as the instigators, untrustworthy, fanatical,
dangerous. Numerous instances of negative imagery, which appeals to the
fears and insecurities of peoples, thus placing the Arab in the
position of an enemy, whom extra caution should be exercised around.

Edward Said attacks Orientalism from a moral high ground, uneathing the
underlying principes behind it. It all boils down to prejudice it
seems; prejudice and greed. Greed being the underlying cause due to the
fact that Oriental study was brought about by colonialism which served
to benefit the Colonial Masters. It served as a justification for
Colonialsim, and it's after effects are still being felt by the
"Orient" and "Oriental peoples all over the world.. It is an erasure of
the line between 'the West' and 'the Other.'

Said's makes it clear the his desire is to highlight the negative
influences in Orientalism, and pave the way for a new evaluation of the
"Orient", made objectively, without preconceived notion, or bias.
Facilitated by adequate municipal representation, that is, finally
giving the "Orientals" the chance to speak for themselves, instead of
Western scholars speaking on their behalf. To make this possible there
would need to be a global revolution, where mindsets would be
transformed into logical, moral thought process. This is seldom the
case now, where petty prejudices are still commonplace. Thus the effect
of Orientalism (as well as postcolonialism) will still be felt through
the globe for decades to come. However Said's "Orientalism" aptly and
provocatively unsheathes the mindset behind colonialism.

1 Cromer's statements with regards to the Egyptians in his book Modern
Egypt. "Orientalism" by Edward Said. Page 38.


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