Seminarski i Diplomski Rad

Orientalism Polemics: In Praisal of Edward Said

The following paper seeks to investigate the burning controversial issues and polemical discussions generated by Edward Said’s Orientalism and his critics..As matter of fact, Orientalism is a galvanizing book that catapulted his author into international stage. It has also exerted an influential impact on many academic disciplines. In addition, it has triggered various reactions ranging from positive appraisal to a clear rejection of the book and attack of his author.
For those who attack the book, they base their refutations on many grounds: first, they appreciate the positive contributions of Orientalism in exploring the mystries of the Orient and record its historical heritage. Second, Orientalism is perceived as a pure academic knowledge not polluted by colonial sins or biased distortions. They further expound the viewpoint that if Orientalism happened to distort the others, every culture in its turn has its own system of prejudgements and stereotypes about the other cultures. Furthermore, The Orientalist tradition is characterized by heterogeneity and multivocal voices and not homogenization. Finally, it is based on humanistic noble mission to explore and civilize the “fellow brothers” who are still living in utter darkness and backwardness. Conversely, Following Edward Said model, the anti- Orientalism’s arguments are strikingly more convincing and founded on firmly solid grounds. They claim that the Orientalists have produced a grotesque misrepresantation about the Orient in general and Islam in particular. Moreover, they contend that racism, Eurocentric diffusionism, anti-Humanism and imperialism have been the salient foundations of Orientalist discourse.Indeed, Said’s anti-Orientalism standpoint is deep-seated to be shaken by implausible claims or superficial speculations.

1- The problematic nature of defining Orientalism:

The term Orientalism appeared in England in 1889 and in France in 1799.Yet, the early beginnings of the term is debatable. Some consider the time of the Crusades as the initial stage of Orientalism while others consider the attempt of John of Damascus during the seven century to teach Christians the principles of Islamic Dialectics, as the official onset of this discipline. Other historians consider the rise of Orientalism was in1312 after the church consensus decree to establish several classes for teaching and learning Arabic in different European universities. During this period downward, many westerners have studied Islam and Arabic, translated the meaning of the Holy Quran and other Islamic literary works. Among the first orientalists we can cite the French monk Jerbert, who was appointed the Pope of the Roman church in 999 after learning in the Andalus, Pierrrele Aénéré 1092-1156 and Gérard de Grémone1114-1187. in addition to fanatical figures like A.J.Arberry who wrote many books such as Islam Today, An Introduction to Sophism, and Translation of the Quran , A. Geom and Baron Garra de Vaux, H.A.R.Gibb, Gold Ziher, S.M.Zweimer, G.Von Grunbaum, A.J.Wensink, k.Gragg, M.Green, D.B.Macdonald, and many others.
My point of departure is to provide a definition of the phenomenon of Orientalism. Etymologically, the Orient stands for the distant and the source of the sunrise, simply a synonym for the Asiatic East as a whole. According to such definition, it has a geographical meaning
:the Orient as a whole including China, India, Persia and the Islamic territories. As a discipline, it denotes the long tradition of academic studies established by western scholars to discover the whole Eastern civilizations and various aspects of the Oriental world’s cultural heritage, including religions, history and languages. Orientalism in this sense is qualified as a pure academic pursuit and as a means of cultural interaction with the other oriental cultures.

With the publication of Said’s monumental book Orientalism, new rebellious dimensions emerge against the old-fashioned assumptions of Orientalism. It no longer stands for pure scholastic knowledge, but instead represents negative connotations and projects the Western ideological views on the East.
For Said, Orientalism is a discourse tightly linked to power and domination. Following the footsteps of Foucault, Said believes that there is nothing as disinterested or neutrally objective knowledge. Indeed, every attempt for “savoir” is a will to “pouvoir” according to Foucault. Put it differently, Orientalism as a discourse is not necessary a category equal or opposable to language, speech, writing, thought or ideas. It participates in all of these but is not reducible to any of them. To speak of discourse is to speak of a network of attitudes, biased views, modelled clichés and perceptions in their totality. In his introduction to Orientalism, Said explains the effective usefulness and applicability of the Discourse notion to Orientalism: “ I have found it useful here to employ Micheal Foucault’s notion...to identify Orientalism. My contention is that without examining Orientalism as a discourse, one can not possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage -and even produce- the Orient politically, sociologically,militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively” .
Said’s definition is more comprehensive and inclusive. It does not limits itself to the pure scholastic pursuit, but instead comprises the other aspects and sites . That is, it provides multi-dimentional qualifications of Orientalism as “a generic Western approach to the Orient”, “ a western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient”(3), “lenses of vision, thought and perception”, "A distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts." (12) , “ a textual archive of all negative attributes about the Orient”, “a political doctrine of Western hegemony”, “an amalgam of facts and fiction, of images and lexicograghies”, “a will to domination over the Orient”(5) and a “systematic topic of learning, discovery and practice”.
Owing to Said’s comprehensive framework , a huge wave of literary revisionism was born and critics feel bound to cite Said’s view that many literary works such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Verdi’s Aida, , Kipling’s Kim are just the sites and configuration of imperial notions about non-Western world.
In addition, Edward Said distinguishes between two types of Orientalism; Latent and Manifest. The former also is known as the classical Orientalism whereas the latter is a modern one.The former covers the historical period from the ancient Greece to the pre-eighteenth century, while the latter elucidates the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when Orientalism became an established “corporate institution” tightly integrated through invisible network of the intelligence communities, business corporations, political establishments and academic departments all devoted to reinforce the West authority and superiority over the Orient. Withing this new mode of reference, the orientalist was no longer exclusively an intellectual scholar, but also a politician and administrator like Lord Cromer and Balfour,or an imperial agent like T.E. Lawrence and Sir William Jones. Orientalism “is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and the Occident.”
Despite this historical division in terms of Latent and Manifest, Said maintains that “the core of the Orientalist dogma” remained intact.(234)

2- Orientalism polemic between Misrepresentations and accurate Knowledge:

The issue of Representation of othe societies, races and cultures is of paramount importance in Orientalist discourse. It triggered polarized views and conflicting stances. While Said strongly argues that “all representations are misrepresentations.”(21), his opponents express their incredulity in this regard.They often claim that every culture not only shapes the outlook and vision of the people belonging to it, but also imposes corrections on the other cultures and communities. Put it differently, every culture has its own stereotypes and prejudices on the other societies.This holds true for all religions, institutions, ethnic groups and political parties as well. By way of illustration, Islam divide communities into antithetical poles: the homeland of the faithful believers and the territories of the atheists and pagans.In addition, many ethnic groups believe in supremacy and superiority over the others. Therefore, it is not only the Western culture that misrepresents the others, but also the others apply the same logic in their portrayal of other cultures.
In the second place, Many critics express their disappointment at Said’s work. Nadim Al-Bitar for example, asks: “ how could Said generalize and claim that Orientalism in its entirety is characterized by animosity to Islam? How could he use such absolute sweeping statements,without qualification, and then claim that his generalization are scientific? Has he actually read, in depth or even superficially, all sixty thousand of these books and did not find in them anything to contradict his discoveries regarding the nature of Orientalism and the stance of inferiority from-birth of the East?” Said indeed estimates that about sixty thousand books about the Islamic Orient were published between 1800 and 1950. Other Arab secular intellectuals such as Jalal Alazm, Hasan Ali Alsaghir,Walid Nuwayhid and others investigate the positive contribution of Orientalism to the study of the Quran and presenting Islam to the Western world.They also believe that the Orientalist research is of great value that should be studied cautiously with openness and not hostility.They also assign an important role to German Orientalism of the nineteenth century that viewed Islam as a classical culture-deed but possessed of great value and worthy of the same philological scrutiny and attention granted to studies of ancient Greece and Rome. In the process, they performed “funeral services” which presumed to bring the remains of a noble culture to eternal rest, accompanied by great respect and veneration.
In the third place, Said was accused of reductionism and selectivity in the sense that he downplays the importance of courageous Orientalist figures who shows their sympathy and fascination and deep respect toward the Orient in general and Islam in particular like Louis Massingnon, Jaques Berque , Maxime Rodinson and Lawrence. Finally, they argue that Orientalism deformations of Islam should be understood within the Enlightenment context in the eighteenth century when Reason relaced faith and philosophy filled the void of religion.They strenghten their assumptions by Neitzsche’s motto ‘God is dead’ and Karl Marx’s proposition ‘Religion is the opium of the people’.That is, the vilification of religion, be it Christianity or Islam, was the norm and the fashion of the Enlightenment.
In his turn, Said considers his critics views as superflous and unsubstantial for many reasons: for a start, Louis Massignon’s high respect for Islamic spiritual sophism of Alhalaj should not hide the fact that he was an adviser for the French government against Muslims in North Africa .He was also appointed to the rank of the administrator of the French colonies in North Africa mainly in Algiers.Besides, he served in the French army for five years during the World War I.What is worse, his consultations led to the horrific massacre of killing more than million Moslims in Algiers. As far as Lawrence is concerned, he was an imperial agent and a British army officer in the Islamic Orient. It is true that he was enthusiastic about the freedom of the Arab countries from Ottman empire, but in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom,he considered that the true independence of these Arab countries could be achieved only under the leadership of Britain.A mere appeal to substitue the Ottman rule with the British imperialism!Concerning Rodinson and Berque, Said does not deny their importance but their writings are confiscated within the prison house of Orientalist Orientalism.
Secondly, Said’s justification for his marginalization of the German scholarship is due to his adoption of Foucauldian methodology; according to which German Orientalism was not
associated with power and domination .That is why he focuses more on the French , English and American Orientalist discourses since they are strongly linked with colonialism.
Against Said and his critics, Hitchens in his article “ Where the twain Should have Met”asserts that Germany did have an imperial project; Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Damascus and paid for the restoration of the tomb of Saladin. In addition, he proposed “Drand nach Osten”- drive to the East- which involves the stupendous schemes of Berlin-to-Baghdad railway. Therefore German Orientalism was not an exeption from its Anglo-Franco counterparts.
As for the question of representation, the proportion and scope of distortions is much wider than the scanty exceptions here and there of few respectful individual orientalists.In addition, if the rejection of religion was the norm during the Enlightenment, Said assumes that the slander of Islam was not limited to the Enlightenment. Instead it dates back to the Medieval Ages and Renaissance, throughout which Orientalism provided a huge inexhaustible repertoire of negative images about Islam .The textual literary production throughout this period, was colored by feelings of antagonism towards the Saracens and phobia from Islam. That is, the orientalist discourse was -to use Foucault’s words- “an epistemic violence” against Islam and Muslims .Bekkaoui(1998:1)considers Medival Spain as the setting for the escalation of the conflict between the Muslims and the crusaders:
“Medival Spain was the battleground of long and fierce battles between the crescent and the cross.The Muslims penetrated medival christian consciousness with a violent trauma, leaving far-reaching wounds in the psyche of Europe.The easy triumph and rapid spread of Islam in the Iberian Peninsula struck accute terror in the whole christendom...the christians were shocked and alarmed. They coud not understand how a “false” religion could possibly triumph over a true faith. Stereotypes were only means of explanation ,and misrepresenrations of the enemy became a trenchant weapon of religious warfare”.
the distorted images and misrepresentations of Islam in Orientalist writings are numerous. In the Divine Comedy, Dante gives a negative stereotype about the prophet Mohamed -peace and blessing be upon him-through which the western reader come to judge Islam via these unique codifications or schematisations:Islam as a name of religion,was relegated to another insulting label “Mohammedanism”. Dante places Mohamed the messenger of Allah and great Arab figures such as Ali the fourth caliph, Salahdine at the last circle of Hell with Satan: “Maometto-Mohamed-turns up in canto 28 of the inferno.He is located in the eighth of thenine circles of Hell,in the ninth of the ten Bolgian. In Barthélemy d’Herbelot’s Biblioteque Orientale published in 1697, “Islam is judged as being a fraudulent new version of some previous experience christianity.” . In other words, There has been an acute attack on Islam and the prophet Mohamed- peace and blessing be upon him- as well. Said proves that “ the character of Mohammed in the Middle Ages was heaped a bundle of attributes that corresponded to the character of the prophets of the “free spirit” who did arise in Europe , and claim credence and collect followers. Similarly, since Mohamed was viewed as the disseminator of a false Revelation, he became the epitome of lechery, debauchery, sodomy and a whole battery of assorted treacheries, all of which derived logically from his doctrinal impostures.”
The vilification of the prophet continued under different cliches, sometimes under the name of Mahound -instead of Mohamed- that refers to the prince of Darkness in Greek mythology. Other times, the name of Mohamed is harshly deformed to Mahometto; the first-born child of Satan. In addition in The Song of Roland, Mohamed is depicted as “ a scoundrel and his followers as abominable idolaters given to immoral practices such as polygamy and capable of every sort of satanic wickedness” .Within the same mainstream, another famous French orientalist Antoine Galland divided history into two types: sacred and profane(the jews and christians in the first, the Muslims in the second) . David Roberts expresses his crude comments against the victorious Islamic troops entring European cities: “splendid cities,once embellished with temples and edifices now deserted, or reduced by mismanagement and barbarism of the Muslim creed to a state as savage as wild animals by which they are surrounded. Often have I gazed on “them” till my heart actually sickned” . The perception of Islam as a political, religious, economic, and social threat reflects ignorance of this religion. It is ignorance of the reality of Islam that has provided the fertile land for the growth of tolerance, co-existence and respect for the others.
Furthermore, Islam was fixed, laid out to the Orientalist attitude, imprisoned in a closed system, in which objects are what they are because they are what they are ,for once and for all time.What is worse, The Orientalist discourse is overgenerlising.Vocabulary and items are all declarative and self-evident;the tense they employ is the timeless eternal, they convey an impression of repetition and strength.Always the use of the copula is. Thus, Mohamed is an imposter,the very phrase canonized in d’Herbelot’s bibliotheque and dramatized in a sense by Dante”(Said:72). This western view is fixed in the the European repertoire and collective consciousness. for example, Humphrey Prideaux who is a famous seventeenth century orientalist wrote a biography of Mohamed entitled “ the true Nature of Imposter”.
In short, the Islamic religion has come to symbolise the diabolic evil, the dreaded foe, the insinuating danger, the source of devastation and demonic terror.
According to Said(1978:59), these misrepresentations are due to the rapid expansion of Islam in Asia and the enormously increasing triumphs of Islamic troops “first Persi , Syria and Egypt, then Turkey, then North Africa...in the eighth and ninth centuries Spain, Sicily and parts of France were conquered. By the thirteen and fourteen centuries Islam ruled as far East as India , Indonisia and China”. He proceeds arguing that these distortions emanates from the fact that Islam represents unresolved challenge on the political, intellectual and economic levels to
the West. Therefore,transforming the realities of the Orient from what they are, to what they should be, helps so much in demeaning the importance of the “outsider enemies”.
In his book Islam and the west: the making of an image, Norman Daniel explains the reasons underlying these distortions: “Apparently, under the pressure of their sense of danger, whether real or imagined, a deformed image of their enemy’s beliefs take shape in men’s minds with the victories of the Muslims, distortions spread in religious writings and took monstrous disfigurements in literary imagination.” . On his part, Bekkaoui(1993:2-3)considers the aim of the distortion and misrepesentation of Islam as an attempt to “vividly evoke Europeans to engender xenophobia, mount a campaign against Islam...Norman Daniel goes on to say: the enemies must not be allowed to speak for themselves. It was the church which arogates to itself the right to represent the other...the role is to create stereotypes and frame the Muslims so as to inflame the Crusaders colonizers with holy zeal and incite them to battle against “the turband Race”it does not matter whether truth is distorted because Norman Daniel explains the christians thought that whatever tended to harm the enemies of truth was likely itself to be true.

3- Orientalism as the site of clash between Zionists and Palestinians:

As an elegant Palestinian professor at Columbia University, Said had been a faithful advocate of the Arab and Islamic world in general and a Pro-Palestinian in particular. With all force and passion at his disposal, he acutely attacked Orientalism as a colonial legacy that has legitimized Zionism. Indeed, Orientalists have given credence and credibility to the zionist propaganda “a land without people for people without land” so as to legitimize their colonial settlement in Palestine.Throughout his works, Said seized the opportunity to demolish the basis of the Zionist project.
To begin with, The question of victimization is of significant imporance for a better understanding of Orientalism. It is deeply rooted in the Arabo-Zionist conflict.Throughout history, the zionist discourse has been founded on narrating the the experience of the Jews as victims. The distinctive features of their representational identity are characterised by diaspora, sufferings, homelessness, genocide, holocust, persecution, exile and wandering. Indeed, the Zionists has successfully managed to win supporters to their liberal project especially in the United States of America. Said was combative in argumentation; he situated the Palestinian cause at the core of his preoccupations to the extent that his opponents has tried helplessly to associate him with Islamic rage and ideologue of terrorism. By way of illustration, the American zionist Edward Alexander describes Said as “a professor of terror” that spills ink to justify his Palestinian colleagues’ spilling blood” . What a hellerious ad hominem! What is worse, Said receives many death threats from other zionists for his strong arguments. His book refuse to see the Arabs and Muslims as stagnant in their passivity and backwardness, instead it is an operative manifesto to see them in positive activism and affirmative action..
The aggressive reactions against E. Said is firmly grounded on of his being a committed intellectual and a Palestinian exile. As far as being an intellectual is concerned, Said believes that the Arab intellectual elites should stick to their political and professional commitments and remain advocates of their Arab and Islamic issues.As a Palestinian in exile, Said demonstrates tha the Palestinians are but the last victims of a long-seated prejudice against the Arabs, Islam and the East in general. Being aware of the zionists fraudulant logic to gain credibility; Said ironically applies the same principles of cultural significance to show that if the Jews presume to be victims throughout history, Palestinians in turn are the manifestation of the daily Jewish persecution; massacre, mass-killing and aggression. He strongly provides the image of the Jews not as the oppressed and prosecuted ,as always been the case, but as the oppessors and prosecutors. His groundbreaking works are encapsulated with such literary jargon and titles such as “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims” “My right of Return”, “ An Exile’s Exile”and “Blaming the Victims”. Such jargon has a powerful influence on the zionist consciousness; but this time to describe the Palestinian expatriation from their homeland: “There is a guilty side and there are victims.The Palestinians are the victims” .
Besides, the Palestinian case is more convincing than the its Zionist counterpart: “the crucial disparity between the Jewish and Palestinian experiences is that the former use these terms to denote a collective nostalgia toward an imaginary and mythical place, while the latter use the notion to describe the factual loss and concrete historical displacement of Palestinians from their country. “The difference is that the Jewish people claim that their relationship to Palestine goes back 3000 years, and that they were exiled from it and displaced 2.500 years ago.But the expulsion of the Palestinians from Palestine began just yesterday.Still, we should not forget that the Zionist official history was founded on the diaspora and and the idea of permanent exile- this history uses many myths. I think we as Palestinians should avoid myths,and...focus on the historical and concrete facts and refuse to utilize mythical dimensions”

4-The foundations of Orientalism:

4-1 Eurodiffusionism:

Eurodiffusionism is one of the theoratical framework that feeds the orientalist discourse.this notion of Eurodiffusionism is based on the belief that the whole world has one permanent single center; the Great Europe and one permanent periphery; the non-European communities. J.Blaut(1993:1) provides the fundamental tenets of diffusionism “Europeans are seen as the makers of history. Europe advances, progresses,modernizes. The rest of the world advances more sluggishly;or stagnates.Therefore the world has a permanent geographical
center and permanent periphery:an Inside and an Outside.The Inside leads, the Outside lags.The Inside innovates, the Outside imitates”.Put it differently , the inside-the Great Europe-is the center of innovations, creation and civilisation and all diffusions, while the rest of the world are the recipient of the innovative processes of Europe.The cultural inventions diffuse or spread from the inside to the outside as the air flows into the vacuum. Since antiquity,all decisive and most influencial events that changed the course of human history have taken place in Europe due to “European Miracle” : “Great Europe has been the perpetual fountainhead of history, democracy, pure science, mathematics, philosophy, law, modern state and capitalism”.
In addition, Eurodiffusionism is grounded on “binary division” between “we”, the Europeans and “they”; the colored people. The former are the dessendents of the first true man, “Cro-magnon”. they are the source of racial superiority, cultural priority and historical supermacy. The latter on the other hand are bogymen living in utter darkness, cruel savagery and global stagnation: “People living in Africa and Asia are depicted as inferior, subhuman, barbaric, source of stagnation , political despotism and, tyranny and cruelty, while only Europeans know the true meaning of Freedom, honour and courage.” .
What is more ,a dividing line between the inside and the Outside has been drawn concerning positions, assigning roles to play: the Inside’s-the center- noble mission and civilizing duty is to progress, modernize, create and innovate whereas the Outside remains traditional, unchanging, backward and receptive.Thus, the Inside is historical, outstanding and progressing while the Outside is ahistorical, irrelevent and non-evolving. In harmony with divisive classification, “Civilization still marches from Athens toRome to Paris to London and perhaps set sail to New York...Non-Europeans do not contribute much to the world history, although they begin to do so a result of Eurpoean influence, Europeans are still brighter, better and bolder than everyone else.”
Apart from the European Miracle,Eurodiffusionism relies on the myth of emptiness.It has a particular connection to settler colonialism in two ways: first,eliminating native inhabitants by pretending that they are only wanderers do not settle permanently there. Second, the indigeneous people are not aware of the meaning of political sovereignety or individual property and ownership to the land.Thus Europeans have the legitimate right to colonize these territories. From the angle of Eurodiffusionism, Colonialism is the inevitable destiny and the natural way for non-European world to advances out of its stagnation, backwardness and traditionalism.
Moreover, the notion of Eurodiffusionism is reciprocal and bidirectional.Concerning the reciprocity of their relation, the inside diffuses innovative ideas and speads new inventions to the outside. The Outside in turn, has a duty to compensate the Inside for all its noble missions in terms of exploiting natural resources: “ Compensating in part for the diffusion of civilizing ideas from Europe to non-Europe, is a counterdiffusion of material wealth from non-Europe to Europe...nothing can compensate the Europeans for their gift of civilization to the colonies, so colonialism is morally justified. It gis more than it receives” .
As for the bidirectional nature between the Inside and the Outside, any ideas that diffuse from the outside into Europe must be ancient, savage, atavistic, uncivilized evil, black magic, vampires, plagues, the bogyman and the like. Associated with this conception is the diffusionist myth which has been called “the theory of our contemporary ancestors”. It asserts that as we move farther and farther from civilized Europe, we encounter people who, successively, reflect earlier and earlier epochs of history and culture. Thus the so-called “stone-age people.”
Said’s refutes Orientalism because it is based on “the ontological and epistemological distinction between the Orient and the Occident” that Eurocentric Diffusionism theory hold as unquestionably valid for every time and place.In addition, it suppresses the evidence that many communities and societies -part from Europe- such as China, India and the Islamic world have contributed positively in the creative innovations of Humanity.

4-2 Colonialism:

The relationship between Orientalism and Colonialism is another divisive topic among intellectuals. Said’s opponents argue that he falls in a paradoxical trap.while he is faithful to his dictum “all oriental representations are misrepresentations”, at the same time he claims that Orientalism paved the way for imperialism.That is, if all orientalists are spies and intelligence agents-as Said holds- they are obliged to provide detailed accounts and authentic information to their governments based on facts and realistic data instead distortions andmisrepresentations. They also insist that Said underestimates the role of colonial knowledge about the cultures of the colonized. Furthermore, many orientalists were motivated by various commercial, religious and academic motives and not only colonial ones.
In consistency with his thesis, Said provides factual data from history to reinforce his view that Orientalism exerts an exchange with imperialism. From the late eighteenth century down on, Orientalism has been an effective tool and cultural entreprise that facilitate the task for the colonial powers to rule over the Orient. France and Britain which were the great imperialist empires at the time set up many institutions concerned with the study of different geographical areas of the Orient with different scholarly specializations, before the shift of power moved to the United States of America after the end of the World War II.

The first manifestation of this exchange was in 1798 when Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt was facilitated by Orientalism. “Napoleon’s plans for Egypt therefore became the first in a long series of European encounters with the orient in which the orientalist special expertise was put directly to functional colonial use. For at the crucial instant when an orientalist had to decide whether his loyalties and sympathies lay with the orient or with the conquering West, he always chose the latter from Napoleon’ s time on...As for the emperor himself(Napoleon), he saw the Orient only as it had been encoded first by classical texts and then by orientalist experts, whose vision, based on classical texts, seemed a useful substitute for any actual encounter with the real Orient”.
Put it differently, the triumph of Napoleon was prepared in advance by books and scholors. Napoleon and de lesseps admitted that everything they knew, more or less, about the orient came from books written in the tradition of Orientalism, placed in its library of “ideés recues”. Orientalism as system of knowledge provided the political circles with an open easy to access library or archive of information about the probable impediments to be encountered by colonial powers and ways to cope with them politically, socially and economically. The textual production of Orientalism includes the works of intellectuals such as Gobineau, Renan, Burnouf, Remusat, Palmer, Zeil, Dozy, Muir, and other literary figures like Goethe, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Kinglake, Nerval, , Flaubert, Lane, Burton, Scott, Byron, Vigny, Disraely, G. Eliot, Gautier and many others. Napoleon for instance did not hide his high admiration for Comte De Volney’s Campagnes d’Egypte et de Syrie. “Napoleon refers explicitly to Volney reflections in his Campagnes d’Egypte et de Syrie .Volney considered that there were three barriers to French hegemony and colonial ambitions in the Orient and that every any French force would therefore have to fight three wars : one against England, a second against the Ottman Porte, a third, the most difficult against the Muslims” .
The idea of taking a full-scale academy of historians, philologists, translators, travellers archaeologists and physicians, not only indicated the importance of textual attitude to the orient , but also bolsterd the urgent necessity for Napoleon to take those skillful orientalists who knew every detail about it.
Although the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt deeply rooted in the French imperial scheme to establish an unprecedented empire in the Western history, Napoleon did not feel shame or embarassment to pretend that the invasion was for the benefit of Islam: “Napoleon tried everywhere to prove that he was fighting for Islam; everything he said was translated into Koranic Arabic...he make the local imams, cadis, muftis,and ulemas interpret the Koran in favor of the Grande Armée. To this end, the sixty ulemas who taught at the Azhar were invited to his quarters, given full military honors, and allowed to be flattered by Napoleon’s admiration for Islam and Mohammed and by his obvious veneration for the Koran, with which he seemed perfectly familiar... He made every efforts to convince the Egyptians that “ nous sommes les vrais musulmans” .
In brief, many Orientalists have examplified the duality of their existence as both political experts and academic scholars. Sir William Jones, Macdonald, Balfour, Cromer, Massingon, Bernard Louis are but few names in the long list of imperial agents disguised in academically scholastic pursuit.
In close relation with colonialism, Said considers Anti-Humanism and racism as key features of the orientalist discourse. what follows, will clarify each one of them.

4-3 Anti-Humanism:

Enlightenment was the historical period that witnessed the reemergence of a Eurocentric imperialism that was founded on the “Truth” of being. Said contends that humanist culture is tightly linked to colonial imperialism. Humanism means the European Man’s constant search for certitude and mastery over the prolific earth. For Said, Humanism is an other configuration of Western hegemony to dominate and rule over the Orient. In Being and Time, Heideggar claims that “Humanitas” can be traced back to the age of the Roman Republic.The Romans divided the world into two polarized spheres: Homo Humanitas and Homo Barbarus.While Homo Humanitas means the Romans who exalted and honored Roman virtues through the embodiment of the Paidea(education; culture and erudition) , Homo Barbarus denotes the savage world of non-Romans. In addition, the Romans were qualified as Veritas metropolis as opposed to the Falsum world. Therefore, the Roman educational project is devoted to “ eruditio et institution Homo Barbarus in bonas artes”; scholarship and training of the Barbarians in good conduct. An other pretext that legitimated the Roman will to power over the “barbarians” so as to produce royal citizens of the Metropolis.
Rome has been always the model and the norm; it constituted not only the mode of reference of modern Humanism, but also the definitive model for modern imperialism. In other words, Rome becomes the founding moment of European history, the source and the end of Occidental representation of being and identity. In fact, the so-called Renaissance in Italy is a renascentia romanitatis; the revival and the rebirth of the Roman values and civilisation. Orientalism subsequently emanates from the same source and constitutes the ideological doctrine and political embodiment underlying the tendency to imperialism.
According to Said, Orientalism has always possessed the same essence throughout history from the classical Greece to modern American Middle Eastern Studies. Even the existential philosopher J.P. Sartre clarifies the deep nature of Humanism: “ First,we must face the striptease of our humanism.There you can see it ,quite naked and it is not a pretty sight. It was nothing but an ideology of lies, a perfect justification for pillage, its honeyed words, its affectation of sensibility were only alibies for our aggressions”

2-4 Racism:

Along with anti-Humanism, Racism is the ideology which justifies the colonial rule and imperialist exploitation. the French orientalist Earnest Renan for instance, believes that the “Semites[ the Arabs and the Jews] are rabid monotheists who produced no mythology, no art, no commerce, no civilization;their consciousness is a narrow one. All in all, they represent “une combinaison inferieure de la nature humane...the Semitic race appears to us to be an incomplete race, by virtue of its simplicity, this race this race is...like that pencil sketch is painting, it lacks that variety, that amplitude...the Semitic nations experienced their fullest flowering intheir first age and have never been able to acheive true maturity”. An other racist figure Jules Harmond, who is qualified as the spokesman of the French imperialism, reinforces the same illusions of Western superiority :“I is necessary then, to accept as a principle trhat there is a hierarchy of races and civilisations and “we” belong to the superior race and civilisation. The basic legitimation of conquest over native people, is the conviction of our superiority.Our dignity rests on that quality,and it underlies our right to direct the rest of humanity” .
Furthermore, Chateaubriant derives his derogatory lexicography from the same orientalist archive. He claims that “ of liberty, the Orientals know nothing, of property, they have none. Force is their God...they have the body of soldiers without a leader, citizens without legislators, and family without a father”.This racist trend reached its culmination in Gobineau’s book “the Inequality of Human Races” published in 1853. This book was one of the most aspiring gospels of Hitler to attain his imperialist ends. For Gobineau, only Europeans are the the source of brilliance,intelligence and vigor, nobility of mind, civility of character and ingenuity of morals .


The polemical debates swirling around Said’Orientalism reflect the significant role and far-reaching impact the book has exerted on Academia. While Said’s critics enthusiastically praise the acheivements and contributions of Orientalism, accusing Said of sweeping overgeneralizations and undermining the diversity and heterogeneous nature of orientalist heritage, Said in his turn based his strong rejection of Orientalism on historical intellectual and academic grounds. He manages successfully to deconstruct the fundamental tenets of the orientalist discourse. His furious attack emanates from his conviction that Orientalism is not only a configuration of Western Hegemony, but also is closely tied with imperialism, racism, anti-Humanism and Euro-Diffusionism. In addition, Orientalists have never extended beyond the strictures and the confines imposed by the Western culture to which they all belong.
Said’s thesis has two dimensions: first, it presses on the urgent need to look for other alternatives that can grant real and authentic representations of other cultures and societies rather than Orientalism. Second, it calls for the adoption of more humane and humanistic paradigms beyond prejudices, distortions and feelings of hostility that Orientalist writings tend to feed and expound.


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―. “Orientalism Reconsidered.”In Reflections on Exile and OtherEssays. Cambridge, Massachusetts:Harvard University Press. 2002.

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