Edward Said On Orientalism

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Discussion, Videos to Watch

Edward Said’s book ORIENTALISM has been profoundly influential in a diverse range of disciplines since its publication in 1978. In this engaging (and lavishly illustrated) interview he talks about the context within which the book was conceived, its main themes and how its original thesis relates to the contemporary understanding of “the Orient.”

Said argues that the Western (especially American) understanding of the Middle East as a place full of villains and terrorists ruled by Islamic fundamentalism produces a deeply distorted image of the diversity and complexity of millions of Arab peoples.

  1. larissaag says:

    I found this video to be very insightful, and it’s a pity that its length makes people rather not watch it. However, it was far more useful to me personally than Said’s writing due to the fact that the way he talks is simpler and much easier to follow than his writing. There are several points he touched upon that were very interesting to know, and see how he broke down the “Orientalist” mentality that has been installed upon the Middle Eastern people for more than a century, and those are:
    – When Said said that the way the West views and thinks about the east is that “The middle east is eternal, the Orientals are unchanging people unable to develop, whether they are in Syria, India or Egypt. They are incapable of developing like the West. Which is CONTRADICTED BY HISTORY” Thus, the example of how people, historians to be more exact (educated people), wrote about the Orientals was limited, and not accurate. They have viewed the Arabs as people that are incapable to evolve, making the West have an idea that the Arabs are less than the West, thus making the people of the West almost a better breed. Not only that, but the Orientalists were not even capable to see the drastic differences not only between Orientals from different areas, but of the whole Orient over several years.
    Which brings me to my other point:
    – “The principle of Orientalism is that Orientals are a lesser breed, they can only understand the power of force”, which is a long-story-short of what the Orientalist mentality is today. The tragic thing about that is that is very appealing to the stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims as terrorist. Since Orientals are a lesser breed, incapable of evolving, and are very violent, obviously it is very easy for the West to perceive them as terrorists. Events like 9/11, or how the terrorist attacks of Hamas are being portrayed by the media only makes things worse, by installing the idea that Arab Muslims are terrorists. However, the media is largely controlled by the US, Israel’s first ally, and that brings me to this:
    – “It is virtually impossible for American people to look at the media and not see Arabs as terrorists and violent people which is tragic.” That is a cause of “irresponsible journalism” which happens due to the interest behind “demonising Islam” , be is political or economical, or to “turn away from the demons of their own society” – the Western society, that is. So, obviously, when the media thinks its doing its own society a favour by showing that their villains are Arabs rather than locals, it serves a political purpose of making the citizens be more reliant on their government. Thus, why even bother to show the human side of Arabs when them as villains serve many purposes of the US?
    – Also, what I really loved, and what I found the most important about this video, which is also why this should be shown in many classrooms – because it is very eye-opening and has a lot of information on why and how Arabs are viewed they way they are today, is: People need to start understand one’s history by including the other’s person’s history without oppressing them, to understand one’s self in relation to others. Which is very important in the Middle East because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, where Said asks the main question of that conflict and that is “How do we accept difference without violence and hostility? How do we coexist?” since in his point of view the most dangerous way to approach how to handle the difference of other people is by protecting yourself from them, from “the other”, which is what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians right now with their military occupation.
    Overall, what Said was saying had a lot of content and context to not only the Orientalist history, but its contemporary state as well.

  2. Juliana Kaldany says:

    I agree with most of Said’s points. Orientalism is natural, in my opinion. It is definitely natural to form a fear of the unknown “other”, and making up stereotypes and generalizations is a common way to deal with that fear. After all, as it was said in the video, stereotypes are but a bunch of formal stereotypes.
    Said made a point about how us humans accept the different.
    I found his point about Palestinians being the victims of the victims quite interesting. Mr. L said something that relates to this in class: “the immigrating Jews to Palestine were just a bunch of people with post-dramatic stress disorders”.

  3. Juliana Kaldany says:

    Haha, yeah sorry. That’s what I meant.

  4. Mallak Al Husban says:

    Another terrifying aspect of Orientalism that it’s like permanent stain. The image that the west has created of us will not wash away easily. It’s more of a tattoo; people who don’t know anything about the middle east would look at western art works and would assume that this is the truth. They objectify us as women and demean men displaying theme as weak creatures.

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