Discourses of Orientalism, Racism, Clonialism, Imperialism, Western cultural hegemonies, ‘modernism’, Globalisation, Classic European Anti-Semitism and modern Anti-Islamism all share implicit or explicit assumptions of ‘superiority’ in one way or another.Orientalism
Edward Said’s “Orientalism” broadly speaking is a critical analysis of colonial ideology in Western literary texts. Said’s unimaginably vast knowledge of literary texts, colonial history, geopolitics, his powerful and yet accurate language, and most importantly his critical reading of classic literary texts have made it a huge influential scholarly book which impacts not only contemporary studies on middle east and ‘Orient’ but it sets a framework for critical works in post structuralism, anti-colonialism, and anti-imperialism.
Having a broad notion of CDA as an approach, “Orientalism” can -probably arguably for some- be classified as a “CDA study” in deconstructing and analyzing how a macro ideology –orientalism- has been (or still is) incorporated into literary texts and how such an ideology has been affecting the ‘oriental’ scholars while at the same time being the immediate effect of their scholarship. The book is heavy on theory of ‘orientalism’ and explaining the historical, political and social contexts which have been nurturing and at the same time arising from the systematic reinforcement of the Orientalist views in ‘western’ literary 'master pieces'. However Said goes beyond a purely theoretical account and integrates his analysis of the macro-structure of ideologies interwoven in the literary texts with in-depth analyses of several extracts from various texts (e.g. analysing discursive strategies of positive self presentation and negative other presentation; argumentative strategies of “Othering” of Islam and ‘West’ on page 235-7 and examples of text analysis of representation of Islam as represented in Cambridge History of Islam on page 302-5).
These two elements: setting the socio-political/historical context and analysing the texts are the two main elements of a critical discourse analysis. Said maintains that; “As a cultural apparatus Orientalism is all aggression, judgement, will-to-truth, and knowledge. The Orient existed for the West, or so it seemed to countless Orientalists, whose attitudes to what they worked on was either paternalistic or candidly condescending- unless, of course, they were antiquarians, in which case the “classical” Orient was a credit to them and not to the lamentable modern Orient.” (204).
He maintains that there has hardly been any compatible number of books written on ‘Occident’ than the Orientalist books (60000! books dealing with Near Orient were written between 1800 to 1950) and even those written about the Occident were on ‘learning from their superiorities’!. Such an imbalance in ‘culture product factory’ of the West would naturally bring about a hegemonic power which in turn creates a structure of understandings, and knowledge which is basically “imagined truth”.
“Every one of them [Orientalists] kept intact the separateness of the Orient, its eccentricity, its backwardness, its silent indifference, its feminine penetrability, its supine malleability; this is why every writer on the Orient, from Renan to Marx (ideologically speaking), or from the most rigorous scholars (Lane and Sacy) to the most powerful imaginations (Flaubert and Nerval), saw the Orient as a locale requiring Western attention, reconstruction, even redemption. The Orient existed as a place isolated from the mainstream of European progress in the sciences, arts, and commerce. Thus whatever good or bad values were imputed to the Orient appeared to be functions of some highly specialized Western interest in the Orient” (206).
“Orientalist provides his own society with representations of the orient (a) that bear his distinctive imprint, (b) that illustrate his conception of what the orient can or ought to be, (c) that consciously contest someone else’s view of the orient, (d) that provide Orientalist discourse with what, at that moment, it seems most in need of, and (e) that respond to certain cultural professional, national, political, and economical requirements of the epoch” (273).Discourse or 'System of Knowledge'
Said, of course considers the crucial element in proliferation of the ideology differently from what is referred to as “discourse” among CDA researchers. He considers language as one element of such hegemonic characterisation. However, this may easily be a discrepancy in terminology as is seen in many adjacent disciplines. Said argues that;
“Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imaginary, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West (Orientalism 1978:5)”
A “discourse” in its broadest sense can also be defined as any system of symbolic communication which belongs to the semiotics of human interaction. This, in turn, can go beyond the ‘verbal language’ per se and include any other modality of communication.
He maintains that orientalism is “a system of knowledge about orient, an accepted grid for filtering through the Orient into Western consciousness (6)”. He tends to ignore –or not care to notice- that the apparatus of such a transformation is ‘language and discourse’ for the only means through which such “knowledge” or “understanding” (ideology) can be acquired and proliferated is discourse as in texts.
He focuses on the ‘system of power’ as a main object of analysis in his approach towards Orientalism and maintains that;
“My whole point about this system [of Orientalism] is not that it is a misrepresentation of some Oriental essence…but that it operates as representations usually do, for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economical setting. In other words, representations have purposes, they are effective much of the time, they accomplish one or many tasks” (273)
Said, at some other parts emphasizes a linguistic analysis as a methodology, the type similar to what one may find in linguistic departments and argues that his analysis focuses on “evidence” which can be “found just as prominently in the so-called truthful text (histories, philological analyse, political treatises) as in avowedly artistic (i.e. openly imaginative) text.”(21).
“The things to look at are style, figure of speech, setting, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances, not the correctness of the representation nor its fidelity to some great original” (21).
He separates the notion of the “truth” and ‘representations’ of it and believes that ‘representations’ created through language are the subject matter of studies. He accentuates the role of ‘language’ and argues that “language itself is a highly organized and encoded system, which employs many devices to express, indicate, exchange messages and information, represent and so forth” (21) while maintaining that language is the first container and medium of such representation which then pours into culture, institutions, and political ambience.
“We must be prepared to accept that a representation is eo ipso implicated, intertwined, embedded, interwoven with a great many other things besides the “truth”, which is itself a representation” (272)
On the relationship of language and ideology he maintains:
“It [language] brings opposites together as “natural”, it presents human types in scholarly idioms and methodologies, it ascribes reality and reference to objects (other words) of its own making. Mythic language is discourse, that is, it cannot be anything but systematic; one does not really make discourse at will, or statement in it, without first belonging- in some cases unconsciously, but at any rate involuntarily- to the ideology and the institutions that guarantee its existence….The principle feature of mythic discourse is that it conceals its own origins as well as those of what it describes.” (321)
He argues for a study like his, one needs to look at different sources of data;
“Therefore I set out to examine not only scholarly works but also works of literature, political tracts, journalistic texts, travel books, religious and philosophical studies and anthropological given that I believe all texts to be worldly and circumstantial in (of course) ways that vary from genre to genre, and from historical period to historical period” (23)Anti-Semitism: Representation of Islam and Orientalism
He reminds us the common roots of Semites as Arabs and Jews and emphasizes the commonalities in the process of negativisation which occurred to both groups in old Orientalist works;
“by an almost inescapable logic, I have found myself writing the history of a strange, secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism. That anti-Semitism and, as I have discussed in its Islamic branch, Orientalism resemble each other very closely is a historical, cultural, and political truth that needs only to be mentioned to an Arab Palestinian for its irony to be perfectly understood.” (28).
Said discusses the historical inglorious contributions of philology and linguistic studies in development of discriminatory classifications of Orientals and Semites and argues that Semitic as a branch of Orient “was not fully a natural object-like a species of monkey, for example- nor fully an unnatural or a divine object [this goes back to the religious arguments that consider the origins of all languages to be traced back to one single language and that idea also contributed to some hideous classification of languages and their values based on how close or far they are from the root in linguistic family tree which in turn poured out and generalized to superiority or inferiority of people speaking those languages too] as it has once been considered. Rather Semitic occupied a median position, legitimated in its oddities (regularity being defined by Indo-European) by an inverse relation to normal languages, comprehended as an eccentric, quasi-monstrous phenomenon..” (141).
He mainly draws on Renan writings in which “Semites are rabid monotheists who produced no mythology, no art, no commerce, no civilisation; their consciousness is a narrow and rigid one; …At the same time Renan wants in understood that he speaks of a prototype not a real Semitic type with actual existence (although he violated this too by discussing present-day Jews and Muslims with less than scientific detachment in many places in his writings) (143).
"Renan’s whole treatise on the Semitic branch of the Oriental languages goes very far to show is comparative; Indo-European is taken as the living, organic norm, and Semitic Oriental languages are seen comparatively to be inorganic (143).
Said distinguishes modern Orientalism (120) from its older versions in that it relies not on religious differences but on other secular elements of classification e.g. culture, innate characters, customs and argues that "modern Orientalism derives from secularizing elements in eighteenth century European culture" (120). This is similar to the distinction of Barker (1981) of old versus new racism with the old version relying strictly on “race” (as in a genetic difference) as a point of classification while the “new” version finds the reference to “race” very callus and politically incorrect and rely on race-free elements e.g. culture, costumes, in the exactly same way as old/new Orientalism. That is, the role of religion in Orientalism and that of Race in Racism carry similar functions.
Again similar to all the discussion on old/new racism Said maintains that the shift from religion to other elements for classificatory practices does not mean that “religion” has fully been abandoned in European categorisation and characterisation of the Orient but “far from it: they [old religious patterns] were reconstructed, redeployed, redistributed in secular frameworks just enumerated” (121).
“my thesis is that the essential aspects of modern Orientalist theory and praxis (from which present-day Orientalism derives) can be understood, not as a sudden access of objective knowledge about Orient, but as a set of structures inherited from the past, secularized, redisposed, and re-formed by such disciplines as philology, which in turn were naturalized, modernized, and laicized substitutes for (or versions of) Christian supernaturalism” (122).
He accounts for the similar roots of anti-Semitic ideologies –referring to both Jewish and Muslims- “which had its origins in the so-called ancient-Semitic field pioneered by Renan” (262). However, the sees a shift in the Orientalist fields of study and argues that
“whereas it is no longer possible to write (learned or even popular) disquisitions on either “the Negro mind” or the Jewish personality”, it is perfectly possible to engage in such research as “the Islamic mind” or “the Arab character”” (262).
He maintains that other Orientalist disciplines e.g. African studies, East Asian studies have stopped encapsulating the wholesome label for the subject matter of their studies and avoid talking about, let’s say’ an “African mind” while in even in the contemporary academia there exist “such thing as an Islamic society, an Arab mind, an Oriental psyche” Moreover, the study of contemporary Islam and Muslim communities and countries does not adopt a synchronic –hence objective- perspective even scholars whose specialty is supposedly the ‘modern’ Islamic world “anachronistically use the texts like the Koran to read into every facet of contemporary Egyptian or Algerian society. Islam, or seventh-century ideal of it constituted by the Orientalists, is assumed to posses the unity that eludes the more recent and important influence of colonialism, imperialism, and even ordinary politics. Clichés about how Muslims (or Mohammedans, as they are still sometimes called) behave are bandied about with a nonchalance no one would risk in talking about blacks or Jews.” (262).
This is obviously directly and indirectly influencing the public discourse among non academic circles of society i.e. TV when thinking and discussing matters related to Arabs or Muslims which in turn would promote a stereotypical uniform patterns of behaviour and characterisations among people in Islamic countries. That is a large group of people are talked about, thought about, and obviously judged about primarily in terms of their religion rather than their individuality. This is what exactly isnot happening for the powerful Christian world and is rightfully deemed to be an immoral and wrong approach when it comes to be about Jews or Blacks or any other less powerful communities. Atrocities against ‘Jews’ (climaxing in Nazism and Holocaust) and ‘blacks’ (during slavery and after its official abolishment) happened to become two historical epoch entangled with shame and embarrassment for humanity that are still relevant –may be even more than before-; lessons learned in the hardest way.Native Informants and Orientalism; Nafisi’s ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran”
In such a scenario the Orientalist, uniform categorisation and characterisation of the Orientals (Arabs and Muslims here) intertwined with cultural hegemonies and political, economical and military superiority on one hand and absence of an organic home grown literature from within these areas and conquest of commercial TV and franchised entertainment services leave no room for any original narration while at the same time the hegemony of monolithic representation prevents minor attempts or will subliminally be defined in terms of the current hegemonic Orientalist structure which is already in place and become what Said calls “native informant”(301); an Orientalist from within.
Discourses of Orientalism, Racism, imperialism, Western cultural hegemonies, ‘modernism’, globalisation, and classic anti-Semitism (Jewish) and modern Anti-Islamism all share implicit or explicit assumptions of ‘superiority’ based in one way or another.
Said maintains that Orientalism –not in its classical from necessarily- continues to reincarnate in various ideologies “despite its failure, its lamentable jargon, its scarcely concealed racism, its paper-thin intellectual apparatus”(322).
He warns against native informants as the new mode of fuel for Orientalist ideology as “indeed there is reason for alarm in the fact that its [Orientalism] influences has spread to “the orient” itself; the pages of books and journals in Arabic (and doubtless in Japanese, various Indian dialects, and other oriental languages) are filled with second-order analyses by Arabs of “the Arab mind”, “Islam” and other myths. Orientalism has also spread in the United States now that Arab money and resources has added considerable glamour to the traditional “concern” felt for the strategically important Orient. The fact is that Orientalism has been successfully accommodated to the new imperialism, where its ruling paradigms do not contest, and even confirm, the continuing imperial design to dominate Asia” (322?)
While discussing the new demand for some ‘native’ account of the life from within the Arab countries particularly Iraq he provides an example of how a mediocre book may suddenly get an ample attention and celebration for it fits well in what the hegemonic ideological structure deems to be in demand;
“Typically The Republic of Fear appeared in 1989, unnoticed. Its author later became a celebrity not because his book makes a scholarly contribution-he does not pretend otherwise- but because its obsessive and monochromatic ‘portrait’ of Iraq perfectly suits the need for dehumanized, ahistorical, and demonological representation of a country as the embodiment of an Arab Hitler.” (Culture and Imperialism 1993:368)
Hamid Dabashi in his article “Native informer and the making of American empire” Similarly maintains that the new mode of imperialism has changed from domination on the actual space to domination of public space. He draws on the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negry Empire (2000) who argue that “the classical case of imperialism had now mutated into an imperial mode of domination, corresponding to cultural, social and economic globalisation, a mode that is in fact rooted in American constitutionalism” (1).
He emphasizes in a system of cultural and consensual manufacturing of the empire (which essentially needs to be discursive by the way) there seem to be a general amnesia accompanied by creating and instigating a collective memory –a macro structure of network of information along with a set of argumentative strategies in manufacturing a new Orientalist view of the case in question; Iran.
“A particularly powerful case of such selective memories is now fully evident in an increasing body of memoire by people from an Islamic background that has over the last half a decade, ever since the commencement of its “War on Terrorism”, flooded the US market. This body of literature perhaps best represented by Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), ordinarily points to legitimate concerns about the plight of Muslim women in the Islamic world and yet put that predicament squarely at the service of the US ideological psy-op, militarily stipulated in the US global warmongering.” (2).
Dabashi uses a very strong language (calling Nafisi a ‘comprador intellectual’) and believes that Nafisi’s book is “partially responsible for cultivating the US (and by extension the global) public opinion against Iran”
“The publication of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran coincided with the most belligerent period in recent US history, the global flexing of its military muscles, and as such the text has assumed a proverbial significance in the manner in which native informers turned comprador intellectuals serve a crucial function in facilitating public consent to imperial hubris. With one strike, Azar Nafisi has achieved three simultaneous objectives; (1) systematically and unfailingly denigrating an entire culture of revolutionary resistance to a history of savage colonialism; (2) doing so by blatantly advancing the presumed cultural foregrounding of a predatory empire; and (3) while at the very same time catering to the most retrograde and reactionary forces within the United States, waging an all out war against a pride of place by various immigrant communities and racialised minorities seeking curricular recognition on university campuses and in the American society at large.” (2).
He argues that Nafisi’s account of Iran and Iranian women is ahistorical and mono-chronological, it presented an account of systematic abuse of legitimate causes and more importantly “through the instrumentality of English literature, recycled and articulated by an “Oriental” woman who deliberately casts herself as a contemporary Scheherazade [a huge intertextuality intended here!], it seeks to provoke the darkest concerns of the Euro-American Oriental fantasies and thus neutralise competing site of cultural resistance to the US imperial designs both at home and abroad”.
“As all other acts of propaganda and disinformation, Reading Lolita in Tehran is predicated on an element of truth. The Islamic Republic of Iran has an atrocious record of stifling, silencing, and outright murdering secular intellectuals, while systematically and legally creating a state of gender apartheid. But the function of the comprador intellectual is not to expose and confront such atrocities; instead, it is to take that element of truth and package it in a manner that serves the belligerent empire best; in the disguise of a legitimate critic of localised tyranny facilitating the operation of a far more insidious global dominations -effectively perpetuating (indeed aggravating) the domestic terror they purport to expose.” (3).
He maintains that many significant aspects of ‘an Iranian life’ has been deliberately unexplored and uncovered in Nafisi’s contemporary novel and as such the ‘imagined Iran’ or representation of Iran in her novel is deficient in many ways.
“No one will ever know, reading Reading Lolita in Tehran that Iranians, like all other nations, have a literature of their own, a constellation of women writers, poets, artists, activists, and scholars second to none, that they are survivors and dreamers in terms not just global to their geopolitics but also domestic to their own perils and promises, and that in the span of the same period of time (the 1990s) that Azar Nafisi designed to live in Iran and sought to save the soul of a nation by teaching a privileged few among them “Western Classics” Iranians had produced a glorious cinema that has captivated the globe in awe and admiration, produced a feminist press and literature rarely matched in any other country, and elected more women to their parliament than those in the United States” [!] (5).
He emphasizes on the influential role of an account like that of Nafisi coming from within the Orient and yet tapping on classic Orientalist elements knowingly or unknowingly; “The comprador intellectual speakes with the voice of authority, nativity, Orientalised oddity. He is from “there” and she “knows what she is talking about”, and thus their voices carry the authority of a native informer”(7).Orientalism: Representation of Arabs and Islam
In discussing the prescriptive, top down representation of Islam and Muslims Said discusses Gibb’s thoughts on Islam and his book; ‘Mohammedanism; An Historical Survey’ and picks on the title of the book calling the religion ‘Mohammedanism’ rather than Islam. He draws on Gibbs self indulged logics (rather than backed by evidence) in calling the religion Mohammedanism while “no Muslim would call himself a Mohammedan, nor so far as in known would he necessarily feel the importance of law over theology (reason Gibbs provides for his way of referencing to Islam) (280), and the same is true with Gibb’s other categorisations and impositions of his own definitions on researching Orient e.g. “oriental philosophy had never appreciated the fundamental idea of justice in Greek philosophy” (Gibbs)
Said traces back the representations of Islam and Arabs to present day and the impacts of socio-political events (e.g. Israeli-Arab war) on their representations and widespread stereotyping which consequently occurred.
“Yet after 1973 war the Arab appeared everywhere as some thing more menacing. Cartoons depicting Arabs sheik standing behind a gasoline pump turned up consistently. These Arabs, however, were clearly “Semitic”; their sharply hooked noses, the evil moustachioed leer on their faces, were obvious reminders (to a largely non-Semitic population) that “Semites” were at the bottom of all “our” troubles, which in this case was principally a gasoline shortage. The transference of a popular anti-Semitic animus from a Jewish to an Arab target was made smoothly, since the figure was essentially the same” (286).
The strong negative stereotypes of “Arabs” in the films and TV associates them “with lechery or bloodthirsty dishonesty. He appears as an oversexed degenerate, capable, it is true, of cleverly devious intrigues, but essentially sadistic, treacherous, low. Slave trader, camel driver, moneychanger, colourful scoundrel: these are some traditional Arab roles in the cinema”.
In line with the strategies of ‘collectivisation in newsreels or news photos “the Arab is always shown in large numbers. No individuality, no personal characteristics or experiences. Most of the pictures represent mass rage and misery, or irrational (hence hopelessly eccentric) gestures.” (287).
He goes on providing very explicit evidence of the racist and stereotypical representation of Arab and Islam in American course books even in so called scholarly research papers e.g. Moore Berger 1967 “Middle Eastern and North African Studies; Developments and Needs” are instances of some kind of reproduction of older classic Orientalist representations with large quantities of negativity and hostility added.
He argues that the new Orientalist attention paid to Arabs has a unique character in its being devoid of literary works which is imposed upon the Arab representation. “the net effect of this remarkable omission is to keep the region and its people conceptually emasculated, reduced to “attitudes”, “trends”, statistics; in short dehumanized” (291).
Said maintains that Orientalist negitivisation, categorisation which assumes an essential supremacy on the part of West, after the second world war becomes primarily focused on Muslims and Arabs and Zionist discourse after adopting a “quasi-Occidental” (306) mentality started to reproduced the classic Orientalist racist characterisation against Arabs.
He provides examples from Balfour and Zerimann as adopting an Orientalist perspective against Palestinian in assuming essential superiority and inferiority on the parts of Jews and Arabs respectively and relating this notion to inherent qualities. He maintains that “orientalism governs Israeli policy towards the Arabs throughout” (306) “its [classic anti-Semitic ideology inclusive of Arabs and Jews] central argument is the myth of the 'arrested development' of the Semites. From this Matrix other myths pour forth, each of them showing the Semite to be the opposite of Westerner and irremediably the victim of his own weaknesses. By a concatenation in the Zionist movement; one Semite went the way of Orientalism, the other, the Arab, was forced to go the way of Oriental” (307)
Said, E. (1978) Orientalism. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. London.
Said, E. (1993) Culture and Imperialism. Random House. London.
Nafisi, A. (2003) Reading Lolita in Tehran. Random House.
Dabashi, H. ‘ Native informers and the making of the American empire’ Al-Ahram Weekly. 1-7 June 2006, Issue No 797. Last retrieved on 30 October 2007.(http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/797/special.htm