Friday, June 20, 2008

Reclaiming orientalism

Research for the sake of genuine mutual understanding should not be confused with the imperialism of the Iraq war

By Brian Whitaker, Thursday June 19, 2008

"Edward Said changed the way western universities approach the study of other cultures — mostly for the better. "Orientalist" soon became a dirty word but, over time, lost much of its meaning and turned into an insult that bickering academics hurl at each other for no good reason.

Then came the Bush administration to remind us what orientalism is really about. In 2002, Raphael Patai's racist tome, The Arab Mind — published two years before orientalism and deservedly forgotten — was suddenly dusted off, reprinted, espoused by the neocons and used to "educate" US army officers before sending them to fight in Iraq.

For Edward Said, the invasion of Iraq reinforced his argument: "Without a well-organised sense that these people [Iraqis] over there were not like 'us' and didn't appreciate 'our' values — the very core of traditional orientalist dogma — there would have been no war." In the aftermath of the invasion, and just a few weeks before his death, he wrote:

Today bookstores in the US are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange oriental peoples. Accompanying such war-mongering expertise have been CNN and Fox, plus myriad evangelical and rightwing radio hosts, innumerable tabloids and even middle-brow journals, all of them recycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalisations so as to stir up America against the foreign devil......."

No comments: