Edward Said's Orientalism
BY: Sara Alsayed / Arab America Contributing Writer
Orientalism is a concept that has always been prevalent in Western society; however, this term was established by Edward Said in his book Orientalism (1978).
Edward Said is a Palestinian American academic, political activist, and literary critic who analyzed literature in terms of social and political factors that may or may not have influenced the written text. He was also a strong advocate for the Palestinian cause and people.
His important works have made him widely considered; the founder of the area of studies called postcolonial studies. Postcolonial studies attempt to understand the stages of colonialism and how and why colonized countries developed the way that they did in a postcolonial era.
Orientalism discusses the Orient in European Western experience by saying that the Orient is “adjacent to Europe”, “Europe’s oldest, greatest and richest colonies”, “the source of its civilization and languages”, “its cultural contestant”, and “the other”. By using the term the other, it gives the sense that the Orient is the inferior and the Europeans are the “self”; therefore, the superior.
Orientalism also provides different meanings of Orientalism. First, academically, is anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient is an Orientalist and what he does is Orientalism; however, this definition is too vague and general. Second, “Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and the “Occident”. Lastly, it is “the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, settling it, ruling over it:in short, Orientalism is a Western-style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient”. So, in conclusion, Orientalism is a mode and a style of colonialism and imperialism to dominate the Orient.
There are also Residence Orients who are people who come and stay in the Orient. For example, one man wrote about one case and created stereotypes and perceptions about the Orient woman (Kuchuk Hanem); therefore, justifying the colonial powers’ reasoning for colonialism.
According to Said, the West (especially Britain and France) used the misconceptions against the West or the Orient to fulfill their colonial ambitions and interfere in the colonized language, religion, culture, etc.
Said’s work Orientalism also shows how the academic world is highly connected to the formation of the image of the Orient. Stories, books, and movies all play a role in stereotyping the Orient. Some of the issues that contributed to the perception of the Arabs and Islam into a highly politicized matter, according to Said was the history of popular anti-Arab and anti-Islamic prejudice in the West. Second, the Arab-Israeli conflict and its effects on American Jews. Thirdly, the Middle East is now identified with Great Power politics, oil economics, and the simple-minded dichotomy of freedom-loving, democratic Israel and evil, totalitarian, and terroristic Arabs.
As marginalized communities living in a modern world, it is our duty to shed light on our stories and convey our truths. Edward Said’s Orientalism influence on postcolonial studies was and is, in my opinion, revolutionary. They shed light on the hypocrisy and manipulation that has been happening towards the Orient.
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