The Acceptance of Edward Said’s Book Orientalism in the Arab World
Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, presented the false beliefs that the Westerners hold against the people from the Middle East (Sered, 1996). Due to his strong presumptions, Orientalism has drawn the attention of many critics and philosophers who are interested in post-colonial studies (Landow, 2002). As a matter of fact, in reaction to Said’s ideas, several Arab thinkers have expressed their thoughts on the different sections of the book.
The first chapter of the book discusses the scope of orientalism in which, Said (1978) asserts that the notion of the “East” being the inferior culture has been manifested in European political, academic and literary discourse. He challenges the dominative and coercive knowledge that the Westerners have imparted (Eagleton, 2005). Said (1978) furthers in the second chapter of his book that the prejudiced discourse has been transmitted from one country to another across Europe. However, Habib (2005) thinks that this is a narrowed conception since “orientalism” has been centered on the attitudes of British, French and European people alone, excluding other European countries. For Habib (2005), Said had failed in terms of how he put forth the definition of “orientalism”. While he admitted that there might be some misrepresentation and misinterpretation in the first edition of his book, Said never really identified specifically what those flaws are; instead, he seems to have left it to the readers to judge and interpret his notions on their own (as cited in Berkowitz, 2008).
Moreover, in citing the ideas of other philosophers, Said seems to adopt a non-Marxist view (Siddiqui, 2005), which, in turn drew criticisms from Sadiq Jala al-Azm (1993) who thinks that Said falsely represented Marx’s ideas. This is, likewise, the belief of Mahdi Amil who disagrees with Said for disregarding the class distinction in the Western culture (as cited in Andary, 1997). Amil believes that it is necessary to understand the conditions on the basis of class conflict (as cited in Andary, 1997). As such, it is not merely a matter of one race against the other but of a class struggle that has brought changes in society.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Said favored the people from the Middle East, Arab Ibn Warraq (2007) resented Said’s umbrage against the West. Warraq asserts that the Westerners were simply motivated by intellectual curiosity that encouraged them to find out more about the people in another land. However, Said has addressed this criticism by saying that this knowledge only served the interests of the Europeans (Kamiya, 2006). But then again, due to his strong ideas, Said has also committed the same act that he had accused the Westerners – that is, to come up with a generalized conclusion that the Europeans are racist and orientalists (Pryce-Jones, 2008).
Just as Said criticized the European prejudice towards the Arabs and their culture (Windschuttle, 1999), he also denounced the way that Arabs seem to adopt these wrong ideas towards them that they have gradually become an epitome of terrorism and violence (Said, 1978). Therefore, while he was able to understand and delve into the foundations upon which the Western culture rests (Jarrah, 1999) his assertions have, to some extent, displeasured some Arab thinkers. For Ibn Warraq, Said has inculcated to the minds of the Arabs the idea that they are victimized by the Europeans – a belief that prompted them to resort to violence as natural defensive reaction (Pryce-Jones, 2008).
Nevertheless, despite the criticisms against Edward Said’s Orientalism, it remains undeniably influential in today’s post-colonial studies. His revolutionized ideas regarding the Middle Eastern society have paved way for philosophers to reassess the current conditions of the civilization and to apply the teachings incorporated in Said’s narrative to today’s situation of interracial conflicts, discrimination and racism.
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