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July 15, 2020 00:46:00 | Rather Nasir

Edward Said and relevance of orientalism

 South Asian countries, like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, when they face each other in cricket matches or some other competitions, both their fans and players alike, show passionate and emotional colours to the fullest. Since, they take it, as a proud title for being jazbati people; emotionally surcharged lot. However, there is no logic behind this emotional prefix. The title of ‘ jazbatiloug ‘  was endowed  to the  people of subcontinent by Briteshers, who ruled India as a colony for almost  200 years . One of the examples in this regard may be given from, the famous novel, ‘A Passage to India’, by British author E.M. Forster. Dr Aziz, one of the Indian characters in it, is a Muslim and portrayed as an intelligent but emotional man. Nineteeth century British authors, such as James Mill and Charles Grant, repeatedly describe Indians as being overtly religious, irrational and emotional. The celebrated author and intellectual, the late Edward Said, would have denounced this as being stereotypes invented by Europeans to make Eastern societies seem backward.Said was the founder of ‘post-colonial studies’ ,it is  the study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. In 1978, he wrote the hugely influential book Orientalism, in which he demonstrated how Western writers have been concocting distorted views of Eastern cultures, especially ever since the 18th century. According to Said, this ‘Orientalism’ was enacted as a depictive tool which was closely related to and informed by the West’s imperial politics and ambitions.

 

Said wrote Orientalism when the US had already lost a devastating war in Vietnam and when Britain was facing a series of political, social and economic crises. The predicament in the West, further compounded by the 1973 Oil Crisis, generated an academic onslaught within Europe and the US that fervently attacked the modernist narratives of progress on which European imperialism and then the postcolonial dominance of the US were supposedly built. Such modernism was often critiqued in the context of how the West had distorted the image of Eastern cultures to facilitate political and economic exploitation. But, ironically, almost all of these critiques emerged in the West, even though Said was a Palestinian. However, he wrote his book while he was a professor at an American university.This idea of Orientalism generated great excitement among young ‘post-modernist’ academics. Nevertheless, when it did leave the confines of American and European academia and reached non-Western regions ,  mainly through Asian, African and Arab students studying in American and European universities , the idea began to be rapidly adopted by certain segments, who used it to justify violent attacks on anything they deemed ‘Western.’

 

The attacks were first intellectual and political in nature, in countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Thailand, South Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. Western civilisations were explained as being devoid of spirituality, morals, roots and values and only driven by sensual pleasures, profit and exploitation. However, it was critiqued by voracious British historians, like Bernard Lewis in his book Islam and the West with other historians like Albert hourani and R.G Irwin who joined the tirade as well. Since, They harshly critiqued, Edward Said's views of Orientalism , as according them Said’s treatment of West,  was the same as  he accused of the West, treating east . Since, they complained that Said, saw West as monolith i.e immobile in its opinion which was just a generalization . As, many eastern cultures have adopted western political/ economic  thought not by  compulsion but by choice, so in every thing there is no  need to see patterns for hegemenistic or imperial designs in western discourses.

 

However, against the background of all such cacophony, Orientalism was and remains a cogent critique of colonially conditioned modes of knowledge production. It is a study of the relation between knowledge and power, and as such, deeply rooted in and indebted to the work of Michel Foucault and before him Friedrich Nietzsche. Today, a close and critical reading of Said’s seminal masterpiece requires an even more radical dismantling of the European project of colonial modernity and all its ideological trappings. Said paved the way and pointed us in the right direction. The treacherous path ahead requires not just the sparkles of his critical thinking but also the grace of his courage and imagination.

 

 

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July 15, 2020 00:46:00 | Rather Nasir

Edward Said and relevance of orientalism

              

 South Asian countries, like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, when they face each other in cricket matches or some other competitions, both their fans and players alike, show passionate and emotional colours to the fullest. Since, they take it, as a proud title for being jazbati people; emotionally surcharged lot. However, there is no logic behind this emotional prefix. The title of ‘ jazbatiloug ‘  was endowed  to the  people of subcontinent by Briteshers, who ruled India as a colony for almost  200 years . One of the examples in this regard may be given from, the famous novel, ‘A Passage to India’, by British author E.M. Forster. Dr Aziz, one of the Indian characters in it, is a Muslim and portrayed as an intelligent but emotional man. Nineteeth century British authors, such as James Mill and Charles Grant, repeatedly describe Indians as being overtly religious, irrational and emotional. The celebrated author and intellectual, the late Edward Said, would have denounced this as being stereotypes invented by Europeans to make Eastern societies seem backward.Said was the founder of ‘post-colonial studies’ ,it is  the study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. In 1978, he wrote the hugely influential book Orientalism, in which he demonstrated how Western writers have been concocting distorted views of Eastern cultures, especially ever since the 18th century. According to Said, this ‘Orientalism’ was enacted as a depictive tool which was closely related to and informed by the West’s imperial politics and ambitions.

 

Said wrote Orientalism when the US had already lost a devastating war in Vietnam and when Britain was facing a series of political, social and economic crises. The predicament in the West, further compounded by the 1973 Oil Crisis, generated an academic onslaught within Europe and the US that fervently attacked the modernist narratives of progress on which European imperialism and then the postcolonial dominance of the US were supposedly built. Such modernism was often critiqued in the context of how the West had distorted the image of Eastern cultures to facilitate political and economic exploitation. But, ironically, almost all of these critiques emerged in the West, even though Said was a Palestinian. However, he wrote his book while he was a professor at an American university.This idea of Orientalism generated great excitement among young ‘post-modernist’ academics. Nevertheless, when it did leave the confines of American and European academia and reached non-Western regions ,  mainly through Asian, African and Arab students studying in American and European universities , the idea began to be rapidly adopted by certain segments, who used it to justify violent attacks on anything they deemed ‘Western.’

 

The attacks were first intellectual and political in nature, in countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Thailand, South Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. Western civilisations were explained as being devoid of spirituality, morals, roots and values and only driven by sensual pleasures, profit and exploitation. However, it was critiqued by voracious British historians, like Bernard Lewis in his book Islam and the West with other historians like Albert hourani and R.G Irwin who joined the tirade as well. Since, They harshly critiqued, Edward Said's views of Orientalism , as according them Said’s treatment of West,  was the same as  he accused of the West, treating east . Since, they complained that Said, saw West as monolith i.e immobile in its opinion which was just a generalization . As, many eastern cultures have adopted western political/ economic  thought not by  compulsion but by choice, so in every thing there is no  need to see patterns for hegemenistic or imperial designs in western discourses.

 

However, against the background of all such cacophony, Orientalism was and remains a cogent critique of colonially conditioned modes of knowledge production. It is a study of the relation between knowledge and power, and as such, deeply rooted in and indebted to the work of Michel Foucault and before him Friedrich Nietzsche. Today, a close and critical reading of Said’s seminal masterpiece requires an even more radical dismantling of the European project of colonial modernity and all its ideological trappings. Said paved the way and pointed us in the right direction. The treacherous path ahead requires not just the sparkles of his critical thinking but also the grace of his courage and imagination.