Orientalism Essay Research Paper

Orientalism Essay, Research Paper

“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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