Dissecting Orientalism

As noted by Anderson, Tessler and Halliday, regional studies are essential to the social sciences because they make broader analytical frameworks pertinent to the areas they comprise. Halliday brings forward his thoughts on the impact of Orientalism on the social sciences and makes several concerning points about the Orientalist debate.

Edward Said considered one aspect of Orientalism to be a certain depiction of the Middle East and East Asian cultures, that portrayed the East as backwards, exotic, uncivilized and in need of rescue.

“Orientalism provided a rationalization for European colonialism based on a self-serving history in which “the West” constructed “the East,” yet in Halliday’s critique, he refers to Arabs as one entity. This fails to address the non- Arab population living in the Arab nations. Before the modern Arab world existed there were a multitude of different cultures and languages spoken in the Middle East and North Africa region. As of recent statistics, there are more than 300 million Arabs in the MENA region, this number, however, includes the many ethnic minorities that do exist in the area, including the Kurds, Armenians, Aramaeans, Chaldeans, Turkmens, Cherkess, Turks, Zangians, Nubians, Berbers, Banyans, Haratins, Gnawas, Tauregs, Chechens, Romanis, Ajamis, Moors and Assyrians.[1] Halliday fails to address the demographics of people who were Arabized, such as the Berbers, as Berber languages were seen as inferior to Arabic. [2,3, 4] Just as the West orientalized the East to justify their colonialism, in turn the Arabs Arabized the Berber population as they too were and are capable of orientalist-like beliefs. Haliday’s failure to address this flaw and label of “Arab” is in a sense an orientalist belief because he has grouped different cultures together under one label.

Another concerning point unaddressed by Halliday was the effect Orientalism had on MENA academics, researchers, journalists and writers, as well as what happens when these people serve an Orientalist agenda. For example, Joumana Haddad is a Lebanese poet, translator and the creator of the Jasad quarterly magazine. She is also the editor of the cultural pages of the Al-Nahar daily paper. In her book I Killed Schehrezade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, she attempts to debunk stereotypes of Arab women in the West, yet she also enhances the eroticization and orientalization of Arab women in her magazine’s erotic portrayals. She aims to show that the “typical image of Arab women is not all wrong, but rather incomplete,” but her argument and actions found throughout the book leads the reader to believe that she herself believes Arab women are oppressed.[5] She orientalizes herself by grouping Arabs with Muslims together, as not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs.

While Halliday, Tessler and Anderson addressed many issues faced by academics studying the Middle East, their concerns seemed self-centred and short-sighted, seeing as little focus was given as to how their research can influence ideologies held by MENA researchers and politicians, as well as affect the lives of the people living in the regions they study.

[1] The Islamic Human Rights Commission. “IHRC – Minorities in the Arab World.” Islamic Human Rights Commision (IHRC). 27 Jan. 2004. Web. 17 July 2011. <http://www.ihrc.org.uk/show.php?id=989&gt;.

 

[2] Weiss, Bernard G. and Green, Arnold H.(1987) A Survey of Arab History. American University in Cairo

Press, Cairo, p. 129.

 

[3] Harich, N., E. Esteban, A. López-Alomar, P. Moral, A. Chafik, and G. Vona. “Classical Polymorphisms in Berbers from Moyen Atlas (Morocco): Genetics, Geography, and Historical Evidence in the Mediterranean Peoples.” Annals of Human Biology 29.5 (2002): 473-87. Print.
[4] BBC NEWS. “Africa | Q&A: The Berbers.” BBC News – Home. 12 Mar. 2004. Web. 17 July 2011. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3509799.stm&gt;.

 

[5] Haddad, Joumana. I Killed Scheherazade Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman. P. 31. Lawrence Hill, 2011. Print.

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