Orientalism – Book Review

Edward W. Said delivers a tweedy iron fist of a scholarly read in his seminal book Orientialism (Random House, 1978); a must-read on any informed world citizen’s booklist.

Said, a Palestinian Arab, examines the studies of cultures in the Middle East carried out by French and British scholars over two centuries. Said writes that discoveries such as the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone led to information about ancient languages, yet scholars synthesized such information into illusory knowledge about the civilizations in question. The knowledge was illusory, because it was constructed to meet the ends of European Imperialism and colonial goals in the Middle East rather than in discovering what people of that region thought about themselves or their own history.

Knowledge of the Middle East was sought to control and pacify the native populations rather than enlighten. In the process of acquiring knowledge for empire’s sake, scholars defined the civilizations they studied in terms of their own culture. For example, early British Orientalist scholars described Islam as “Mohammedism.” This term equates Mohammed with Christ’s characteristics in Christianity. Mohammed, however, is a prophet delivering God’s divine words to mankind and is not divine or a part of a complex Father, Son, and Holy Spirit trinity as is Christ in the majority of Christian traditions.

Said also asserts and proves through his analysis of scholarly texts that anti-Semitism applies to Arabs as well as Jews. For example, as Semites, Arabs and Jews were “ranked” beneath Persians, who are of Aryan descent, amongst early Orientalist scholars.

For arguments like these, Said’s Orientalism has become a seminal book as what he writes about Arabs and Jews can be applied to any culture or nation that has been subject to colonial empires or imperialism.

(Tune in to the Cultures of the Middle East program on Culture with Ruth Paget on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at noon EST – New York Time – on http://www.blogtalkradio.com ‘s Asnycnow Radio 3 channel for an interview with Jerusalem-based foreign correspondent and author Matt Beynon Rees. A podcastwill be available after the show.)

Originally posted on Ruth Paget’s blog Belle Vie Reviews and More at http://belleviewreviews.blogspot.com