Religion and Politics Term Paper

  • Length: 11 pages
  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Term Paper
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Religion and Politics

Uses and Abuses of the Concept of Orientalism

There have been many uses and abuses in regard to the cultural and social concept called Orientalism. "Unlike the Americans, the French and British -- less so the Germans, Russians, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, and Swiss -- have had a long tradition of what I shall be calling Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western Experience. The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, and experience. Yet none of this Orient is merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture. Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles." (Said, 1978)

The renowned Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said's 'Orientalism' has laid claims to being the most significant and influential books on cultural studies since it hit the bookshelves in 1978. The book provided an insight into perceived tactics of Orientalism for western imperialism against third world states and has made Said the resident expert on the topic. One of the root causes for the positive and negative applications of Orientalism has been associated with our western culture's constant need to come to terms with our own history.

Today's Orient represents a system that has been linked by ever changing political forces that have exposed Orientalism into our western learning system. The western cultures have consistently operated under the opinion throughout history as if the Orient was in existence solely for the west's objectives and to expose and utilize it as needed.

It is a mirror image of what is inferior and alien ("Other") to the West. Orientalism is "a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient." It is the image of the 'Orient' expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship." (Said, 1978) Orientalism was a coordinated media attack based on a structure of lies and myths.

A good marketing campaign based on false advertisement would be similar to the Orientalism campaigns that have historically labeled whole nations as underachieving or simply heathens. Orientalism can be seen as an indicator that the western nations held something of an advantage over the third world nations. Today, the Arab world has also been associated with Orientalism. Western cultures have historically seen Islamic laws as a flawed belief structure because these laws were affiliated with what was then considered a false religion. Today's reasoning has been modernized in the sense that the Islamic laws are now considered flawed because there is an assumption by the western cultures that the Islamic laws reject human rights. There is one consistency in the west's beliefs from past and present -- Western reasoning is superior to eastern reasoning.

It will be clear to the reader...that by Orientalism I mean several things, all of them, in my opinion, interdependent. The most readily accepted designation for Orientalism is an academic one, and indeed the label still serves in a number of academic institutions. Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient -- and this applies whether the person is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or philologist -- either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what he or she says or does is Orientalism." (Said, 1978)

The uses and abuses of Orientalism have been based on the Orient's unique point in European and Western occurrences. Asia and the Orient were historically the western culture's more significant colonies and therefore a steady source for resources and wealth. The Arab world today could be considered similarly as a significant resource as the demand for natural resources like oil continues grow at a staggering pace.

The early Orientalists made an effort to understand eastern cultures. "It seems evident, therefore, why many of the Company recruits who went to India were predisposed to adopt the basic tenets of Hastings's Orientalism. This is not to argue that they were necessarily influenced by European thought or that Orientalism was simply an intellectual extension of the West on Indian soil. At the other extreme, to argue that civil servants became Orientalists wholly as a result of their Indian experience, or that Orientalism was derived only from conditions of European rule in Asia, is to give too shallow an explanation for too complex a phenomenon. (Kopf, 1969)

Former colonies of the European powers are on a long list and can be divided into distinctions to demonstrate if the Powers settled in the lands or managed from a distance. Settler nations were countries like Australia and the United States and non-settler nations consisted of countries like India and Jamaica. With these colonies came an ever increasing nationalism. With the increase of Nationalism, the west came to see themselves as more superior. It's most important that the Orient was considered a material source of wealth and labor. The West did not wish to purchase resources from the East. The intention was to conquer, colonize, or exploit the nations of the Orient. The westerners then attempted to rationalize their actions so as not to be seen as imperialists.

Related to this academic tradition, whose fortunes, transmigration's, specialization's, and transmissions are in part the subject of this study, is a more general meaning for Orientalism. Orientalism is a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between "the Orient" and (most of the time) "the Occident." Thus a very large mass of writers, among who are poet, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, "mind," destiny, and so on.... The phenomenon of Orientalism as I study it here deals principally, not with a correspondence between Orientalism and Orient, but with the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient.. despite or beyond any correspondence, or lack thereof, with a "real" Orient." (Said, 1978)

Reviewing the history of the British colonization of India can demonstrate a good example of the way Orientalism was refined by the imperialistic nationalism. In the early stages the Indian culture was seen, as an equal with the outsiders but after a few years was later considered inferior to British rule after 1800. The Orient has been a major wellspring that has helped in defining the west. Orientalism should therefore convey or represent a positive part of western history. "The differences between the Orientalist and Westernizer alternatives to modernity may seem small. One critic has gone so far as to argue that Orientalism was not so much alternative to as it was an alternative of Westernization. The only difference here between Anglicists and Orientalists is that the Anglicists went farther than the Orientalists in importing Western values wholesale and were less sympathetic to Oriental culture and to the need of integrating the new values smoothly into the old fabric." (Kopf, 1969)

What actually is Orientalism? "Orientalism, is a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, 'us') and the strange (the orient, the East, 'them'). (1) As the "strong" and the "familiar" entity, the West finds it automatic and, at times, imperative that "the Oriental is contained and represented by dominating frameworks." (2) The frameworks of containment and representation take various forms and apply different techniques. Among the major frameworks are historical presentations and re-presentations. (3) According to this logic, the Orientalist historiography of Eastern civilizations expresses an imperial desire: to subject the "other" and the "other's" past to the imperial will, and to come out with a new "world history" in which the Western power becomes the historical necessity in a "new world order." (Said, 1978)

Today, Orientalism is an attempt to control and exploit the East. Orientalism can be considered a type of thinking based upon the Orient and the Occident. Many writers accept the distinctions of east and west and from those distinctions concoct an elaborate account of the people and customs of the Orient. "Unsophisticated generalizations about the outer world as seen from the West were in fact also the major component of the Orientalism so severely criticized in recent years. Overtly simplified messages about Asia's democratic deficiencies are contained in everyday language and common prejudices and reflected in popular literature and journalism." (Bruun, 2000) And as the west has historically seen the orient as inferior, Orientalism as a philosophy of conquering has spread. The Islamic law nations have become the new Orient.

Is there a justification for Islamic law…

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