Edward Said “Orientalism” (PoCo)

Edward Said is one of the reasons I decided to get a Master’s degree in English. However, it was his theory on cultural and imperialism that I admire. I’ve heard about his theory on Orientalism but this is the first time that I’ve had the chance to work with it. Said says that Orientalism “can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient– dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it, in short, Orientalism as Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (73). Said believes that the West patronizes the East by trying to find ways of “dealing” with it. I know that there are a lot of people who believe that Said’s theory is no longer relevant. However, for someone to say that is like someone saying we live in a post-racial world. And we know that simply isn’t true. The ideas of the East have gotten worse (in my opinion) especially after 9/11. America feels like they have to control and rule over Eastern civilizations even more. But as I referred in past blog post, who said they needed saving? Many American’s believe this cultures to be so uncivilized because of the stories they’ve heard. Which is why it’s dangerous to hear a “single story.” Said says, “my contention is that without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage” (73). I agree that this type of discourse is needed in order understand the “to speak of orientalism is to speak mainly…. of a British and French cultural enterprise” (73).

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While watching Dr. Clemens speak, when she mention Laura Blush radio address in 2001 about Afganistan women, I became angry. Her you have a woman who believes that she is helping Afganstianian women from their “horrible” lives. She believes that she is introducing something new but in reality, she talking about something that has been going on for years. Longer than she’s been in the white house. On top of that, she’s solidifying the “single story” that we know about Afgashtian women and how they are treated. She believed that they did not respect their women “and we in the West do.” Of course, we know that women in the West have not been treated any differently from women in the East. It may not be a cultural acceptance (and it’s not either in the East) but it happens. Dr. Clemens goes on to mention “veil” and how it has become a signifier “for all the perceived negative aspects of Islamic cultures.” I agree, many believe the veil to mean that the women are being dictated over by their men. A lot do not realize that their hijabs are a form of their religious practices. Also, it doesn’t take away from them being beautiful or women.

 

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Halima Aden

Recently, 19-year-old Halima Aden was cast in Kanye’s West fashion show. I know many of you are like who cares about Kanye West? However, Kanye isn’t the main topic, it’s Halima. Halima may be the first fashion model to walk down a runway wearing a hijab. Seeing this young woman walking in fashion show shattered the ideology that Laura Bush tried to make about Islamic women and their veils. In addition, it also changes the way in which fashion models are presented and how they are supposed to look.

 

Trying to understand the East has lead many philosophers and scholars into a lifetime career. Said says, ” When Disraeli said in his novel Tancred that the East was a career, he meant that to be interested in the East was something bright young Westerners would find to be all-consuming passion” (74). People have sent so much time to “help” the East that they haven’t even noticed that their efforts are destroying the East and that they are not helping at all. I think Said’s theory will always be relevant as long as people try to economically and socially rule over others.

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8 thoughts on “Edward Said “Orientalism” (PoCo)

  1. Erica,
    Thank you for the beautiful post. I have yet to write my post, but you’ve reminded me about good old Laura Bush’s visit to Afghanistan and its got my anti-imperial juices flowing. What you said ties in directly with what Clemens pointed out in her presentation at Shepherd. Inferring somehow that the fight in Afghanistan was the whole world’s fight, that in itself has a way of completely debunking any other theory on our presence overseas as being driven by corporate interests. When Bush says “Civilized hearts break for women overseas,” she excludes the east from the potential to possess empathy for these women— women (as you said) that have been suffering from dominant patriarchy long before America apparently began to care, post-9/11. It seems the more and more I ponder on these types of phenomenon, the more informed, frustrated, and sickened I am by the so obvious diabolical nature of the imperial West with all of its deceit.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your post this week. When you juxtapose the eastern and western women through the Laura Bush video, I felt a revelation of sorts. To claim superiority over Eastern women, Laura Bush had to overlook the shortcomings of the treatment of women in our own country. I also liked your inclusion of Halina in dispelling the myth of the hijab. Again, you really challenged me to think about some crucial elements of Orientalism I did not feel as deeply as I should. Thanks!

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  3. Laura Bush’s radio address was propaganda to support a war. To frame her comments as humanitarian or about helping women ignores, as you said in your post, the fact that she did not address these issues before it was politically convenient to do so. She also embraces this idea that Westerners are the saviors coming in to bring “civilization” to the people in need. I watched the Q & A section and there was one woman who was displeased at the way Bush’s speech was framed–that there was another way to look at her comments. Yes, there are different ways to look at things (I’d be missing the point of this week’s reading to insist that there aren’t), but I think that maybe she was entering this discussion with the idea that Westerners really were the saviors who should be applauded instead of criticized. The idea that Laura Bush wasn’t a wholly benevolent figure seemed offensive to the woman in the audience. The idea of wholly good or wholly bad is dangerous when applied to a person–and even more so when applied to groups of people as we have seen happen since 9/11.

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  4. I wasn’t aware of Halima Aden and her role in Kanye’s show. I’ll have to look for video of her appearance.
    I think one of the post-9/11 markers of Orientalism that might have shifted a bit is a lack of self-awareness of privilege on the part of the one doing the othering. The Laura Bush comment focused mainly on presenting patriarchy as a foreign thing, ignoring that there are many people in this country that use their religion to suppress and intimidate women. (Some of her husband’s policies reflect this perspective.) She minimizes this fact in order to bash another civilization and further her husband’s policy agenda, while maintaining an idealized concept of her own nation.

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