Orientalism Essay Example

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Orientalism as termed by Edward Said is meant to create awareness of a constellation of assumptions that are flawed and underlying Western attitudes towards the Muslim societies. Evidence from his 1978 book “Orientalism”, states that the culture has been of influence and marred with controversy in post colonial studies and other fields of study. Moreover, the scholarship is surrounded by somehow persistent and otherwise subtle prejudice of Eurocentric nature, which is against Islam religion and culture (Windschuttle, 1999). In his book, Said illustrates through arguments, that the long tradition in existence containing romanticized images of Islamic stronghold regions i.e. Middle East, and the Western culture have for a long time served as implicit justifications for the European and American Imperial ambitions. In light of this, Said denounced the practice of influential Arabs who contributed to the internalization of Arabic culture ideas by US and British orientalists. Thus, his hypothesis that Western scholarship on Muslim was historically flawed and essentially continues to misrepresent the reality of Muslim people. In lieu to this, Said quotes that, “So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Muslims and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Therefore, very few details such as human density, the passion of Arab-Muslim life has entered the awareness of even the people whose profession revolve around reporting of the Arab world. Due to this, we have instead a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression” (Said, 1980).

should not only be considered as a catalogue of Western prejudices and misrepresentations of Arabs and Muslims (Asad, 1980). Though it should be more of an investigation and analysis of the authoritative structure of Orientalist discourse, which is self-evident and self-confirming character of the specific distinctive discourse. Thus it is reproduced timelessly through scholarly texts, literary works of imagination, and the obiter dicta of public men and women’s affairs (Asad, 1980). Indeed, the book describes how «the hallowed image of the Orientalist as an austere figure unconcerned with the world and immersed in the mystery of foreign scripts and languages has acquired a dark hue as the murky business of ruling other peoples now forms the essential and enabling background of his or her scholarship (Prakash, 1995).Orientalism is viewed as a somewhat detailed and influential work conducted within the study of Orientalism. Anthropologists argue that OrientalismNevertheless,

Orientalism is classified with chronological works or events that occurred during postmodernism and postcolonial, which have variations in their degrees of skepticism about the representation of orientalism. However, the most central ideas concerning the issue of orientalism is the knowledge of the East by the Western, which is assumed not to have been generated from factual information or even reality, but derived from archetypes that depict the Eastern societies, thus terming them as similar to one another despite being fundamentally opposite to the Western societies (Arjun, N.d).

Chapters in the Book “Orientalism” by Edward Said

Chapter One

This chapter focuses more on the scope of orientalism as discussed by Said. He goes ahead and argues with come of the caveats as to why this scholarship might be flawed. Said reiterates that the Russian scholarship has not been included and also explicitly excludes German scholarship of orientalism with reason that the two have had pasts that were clean, therefore there was no reason to include them in the study and that they would be good for such studies in the future. He explains the relationship of the scientific study of orientalism and its development and how Orientals begun the consideration of the Orientals as non-human. The evolvement of these Orientals have since seen them divide the world through the use of our and theirs concept. This followed the invention of an imaginary line which bisected the two parts and went on to define what the aim of the two wars was in respect to the orientals and orientalists. In this sense, the orients were considered as uncivilized persons; thus, with the consideration of Western people being civilized, they opted to take up the task of civilizing the Orientals to achieve their goals by colonizing them through taking possession of their territories and ruling them.

The reason to this was because they believed that the Orients were unable to run their own governments and thus they had the sole right to represent the Orientalsm the West. This triggered the shaping of Orientals in the way they wanted; hence finding a way to shape them and perceive them. Another probable feature linked to orientalism is the explanation of the Orientals culture explained to Europeans, which linked them to the West e.g. the reason why Islam was referred to Mohammadism is because of its founder Mohammad; thus, the creation of the term Mohammadism was purely a creation from the West, which the Muslims had no idea of and could actually do nothing about it other than to abide by the created name of Muslim

Chapter Two

This section outlines the transfer of orientalist discourse; hence suggesting that the main aim for setting up the discourse was to come up with a foundation on which further studies would be based. Said points to changes that have occurred slightly in accordance with the Europeans attitudes towards Orientals. Europeans considered themselves as the sole rulers who were meant to rule orientalists due to their earlier advancements before the development of the Orientals. In the view of the Europeans, they mean to show that their superiority allows them to rule the Orientals and also for the fact that the Europeans discovered the Orients and not vise-versa

Chapter three

Here the current trends of orientalism are reviewed to determine how much it has gone since its historical framework, following the previous chapters by Said. Having discussed the flawed discourse of orientalism, Said remarks that on issues that pertain to cultural discourse and concludes by posing questions about the possibility of one representing other cultures and also what these other cultures are! He afterwards laments by asking if the notion of a distinct culture is useful.

Edward also reiterates that after the World War 1, Islam culture never enjoyed the liberal stance taken by other cultures. This was due to constant attacks launched towards them to expressly depict Islam as a weak religion.


Centuries, which was done long before they seized control of Arab strong holds i.e. the Middle East. He was ignorant of views of other scholars such as the Italians, Dutch and Germans and this is portrayed in his book’s introduction where he addresses and acknowledges the deficit of German academic scholarship; hence the German scholarship was of more importance to the European orientalism compared to the French and British (Lewis, 1993). However, the countries named had no colonial intentions or objectives towards the Middle East, or had no connections between their orientalist researches. Said though seemingly fails to clearly explain why much of the study of orientalism conducted never had an impact to advance the causes of Western imperialism.th and 17thThe theory of Said’s account incorporates numerous methodological, factual and errors that are conceptual in nature. In his briefings, he tends to ignore contributions that are genuine against the study of Western and Eastern cultures in existence during the Victorian times. With respect to this, he does not give evidence and proper explanation as to why the French and English focused on the study of the Islamic culture in the 16

In his arguments on the subject of orientalism, Lewis states that orientalism originated from humanism, an idea that was distinct from ideological imperialism, which was at times opposite to it. However, the rejection of Islamic religion and its dogmas led to the study of orirentalism, which was a great leap to discovery of alternative cultures. It is though criticized as “intellectual protectionism” by Lewis and illustrates that only the groups within a given culture uphold the greatest task to discuss issues pertaining to the culture (Kramer, 1999).

Said’s rebuttal to Lewis states that, Lewis’ negative rejoinder should clearly be placed in the proper context. He argues that this is vital as his main argumentative principals emphasize that the case of orientalism was wittingly or unwittingly used as an instrument of empire. In addition to Said’s criticism, in view of Said’s work, a multiplicity of forms and traditions are represented in view of orientalism (Turner, 1994).

Irwin, in his book For Lust of Knowing, criticizes Said’s thesis that illustrates every European as being a racist, ethnocentric and more so an imperialist. He reiterates that most orientalists were committed advocates for Arab and Islam political causes, decades before the introduction of notions such as post-colonialism had been incorporated into academics.

Though Said’s influence of orientalism on postcolonial theory was acknowledged by other scholars such as Landow, his views are generally considered as lacking. Said is chided for his ignorance of non-Arab Asian countries, non-Western imperialism, and the occidentalist ideas abound in East towards the Western, and gender issues. He warns against orientalism political focus which has created harm to literature students. This is due to the reason that it has led to political study of literature, which has been conducted at the expense of rhetorical, philological and literary issues (Landow, N.d). He continues and points out Said’s ignorance to Asian countries such as China and Japan when referring to the East, and therefore proceeds to criticize the East’s homogenization by the West. Said is also blamed for his failed attempt to capture the essence of the Middle East; hence overlooking useful works by Arabic and Egyptian scholars.

Said is also criticized by Landow due to his insufficient knowledge of the European and non-European history of imperialism stating that he only considers the influence of the West on the East in the colonialism era. He reiterates that such influences are not simply based on one-way, but they are composed of cross-cultural; hence Said fails to consider other societies or facets involved with the East. His dramatic assertions that no European or American scholar could know the orient are criticized largely by Landow, however, in his view, whatever the European and American have done have resulted to acts of oppression. Moreover, Said is considered as a person who never took tie to welcome other scholars’ views which he would use to feature in his analysis. According to Landow, he considers this as the greatest single sin committed by a scholar in orientalism (Landow, N.d).

Using judicious satirical criticism by Daniel M. Varisco to defuse what has become an acrimonious debate, he surveys the extensive criticism of Said’s methodology and his extensive use of Foucault and Gramsci criticisms, he argues that the politics of polemics needs to be superseded to move academic discussion of real cultures in the region once imagined as an «Orient» beyond the binary blame game (Varisco, 2007).


For the orientalists to win freedom, they had to study the techniques of the Orientals to assist their government develop policies which would assist in dealing with the orient countries. With the ending of World War II, Oriental countries (European colonies) had to surrender giving freedom to the orientalists. This installed the belief that there were no more Orientals and occidentals in existence. Unfortunately, the orientalsts were faulty in some way as this was contrary to what they thought. The existing prejudice by western countries towards Eastern countries was still evident, of which they were able to generalize most of the Eastern countries due to the prejudice. An example is the unfair representation of Arabs as people who dwelt on cruelty and violence. In other perspectives, Muslims were characterized with terror activities, thus, termed as terrorists. Though there has been increasing globalization and awareness, such biased ideology was only found in people in the developed countries. Edward said therefore, concludes by insisting that it is unnecessary for orientalists to make generalizations, thus, should also incorporate the views of the orientalists but should also admit that it was wrong to create the boundaries that existed.

Works Cited

Asad, T. English Historical Review. 1980: p.648.

Arjun, Sethi. “Edward Said and the Production of Knowledge. University of Maryland.

Retrieved May 21, 2011.

. Vol.1. Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical WritingKramer, M. “Bernard Lewis”.

London: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 719-720. Retrieved on May 21, 2011 from


. Edward W. Theories of Colonialism and PostcolonialismLandow, G. P. Political Discourse –

Said’s Orientalism.

Lewis, Bernard. Islam and the West. Oxford University Press. 1993. P.126.

, Vol.34, No.3. 1995. Pp. 199-200.History and theoryPrakash, G. ‘Orientalism Now”.

, April 26, 1980. Retrieved May 21, The NationSaid, W. E. “Islam Through Western Eyes.”

. London, Routledge. 1994.Postmodernism and GlobalismTurner, B. S. Orientalism.

: University of Seattle and LondonVarisco, M. D. Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid.

Washington Press. 2007.

. January 17, 1999.The New CriterionWindschuttle, K. “Edward Said’s “Orientalism revisted,”

Retrieved January 19, 1999.