3) The idea of orientalism, as articulated byEdward Said, emerges from the study of Eastern societies, including theirculture and language, by Western scholars, writers and artists, and helps usunderstand the relationship between the East and the West. Said writes that theidea of orientalism stems from the European colonization of the East. Havingcome into contact with lesser developed countries of the East, the Westestablished the concept of ‘orientalism’ that was based on the study of people fromthe orient- an exotic civilization. Edward writes, “The orient was almost aEuropean invention”.
In Orientalism, Edward further explainshow the orientalists begin to view the orientals as non-human beings. He says: “Arabs, for example, are thought of ascamel-riding, terroristic, hook-nosed, venal lechers whose undeserved wealth isan affront to real civilization. Always there lurks the assumption thatalthough the Western consumer belongs to a numerical minority, he is entitledeither to own or to expend (or both) the majority of the world resources. Why?Because he, unlike the Oriental, is a true human being.” This view/assumption ledto the development of an imaginary geographical line that was drawn between theEast and the West, defining the orients as uncivilized people, whilst peoplefrom the West were superior and cultured, and it was their ‘duty’ to civilizethe orients. Edward analyzes the speech delivered by Lord Arthur Balfour in1910 regarding “the problems with which we have to deal in Egypt” and explainshow the colonizers justified the colonization of the East by the West throughthe ideas of supremacy.
Balfour said, “Weknow the civilization of Egypt better than we know the civilization of anyother country. We know it further back; we know it more intimately; we knowmore about it.” Hence, orientalism transformed into a powerful politicalinstrument of domination, as Edward puts it: “Orientalism as a Western stylefor dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” and “helpedto define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality,experience.”, as by associating the orients with qualities such as uncivilized,uncultured and crude, the European automatically became civilized, cultured andsophisticated. Dominant oriental framing of socialissues in today’s world continues to shape our understanding of various ongoingissues. In The Western Imposition ofSectarianism on Iraqi Politics byReider Visser, the author focuses on the history of Iraqi Politics and the waythe West continues to impose a sectarian master narrative upon it. He arguesthat the true nature of current political situation in Iraq would unveil ifsectarianism was not ‘invented’ as a lens to view the events unfolding in Iraq.
The author further writes about how this imposition comes forward in variousforms. In some instances, “It is the result of deliberate efforts by Western governmentsto manipulate and exploit sectarian identities in order to further their owninterests……because it is the only conceptual tool they have available as theytry to navigate waters of which they have limited knowledge.” This connects tothe same idea of orientalism, as articulated by Edward. Despite having limitedknowledge of the orient, the West generalizes certain behaviors and writesabout them as they perceive them,rather than what they truly mean in the East.
Furthermore, the author alsoargues that the concept of looking at Iraq through itsthree dominant communal groups, Sunni Arabs, Shi’i Arabs and Kurds, is ladenwith orientalist overtones, as he writes: “Malik Mufti called on history tocreate an image of “three very disparateOttoman provinces,” described ashaving been “fused” together by British forces after World War I. Or rather,according to Mufti, they were not only “disparate”, but also had their ownindividual sectarian characteristics.” The author further says that the mostcritical consequence of this oriental sectarian reading of Iraqi politics inthe West would relate to Iraq’s future, as “Westerners consider sectarianism asthe most viable basis for a future Iraqi political system.” Hence, he believesthat it is important that “this invented matter were subtracted” in order for amore realistic picture of Iraqi politics to emerge, as “a good portion of whatWesterners think about sectarianism in Iraq has no empirical foundation.
” Similarly,in ColonizingEgypt by Timothy Mitchell, theauthor talks about nineteenth century Egypt’s encounter with Europe by statinghow Europe believed there is a need of ‘tanzim’ within Egypt, and how this isachieved through restricting individuals and their actions. Moreover, theauthor argues how the belief of the colonizing power that the remedy for lack of”social order” in Egypt is education leads to the establishment of modernschool system which is an example of a system of perfect discipline. Hence, theEuropean idea of ‘discipline’,’bringing order’ or ‘structure’ to a society in context of Egypt’s colonizationstrong resonate with the concept of orientalism. Through the author’s argument,it is clear that the West viewed itself as superior and felt a duty towardsfulfilling Egypt’s need for “tanzim”.
However, this brings one to the question,what is ‘tanzim’? What might be perceived as order in some cultures, might beseen as disorder in others. The concept of being “civilized” is subjective andhence, the author’s argument helps one understand how the West’s politicaldomination of the East was dominated by an orientalist approach, as theydictated that Egypt was in need of ‘tanzim’, regardless of what the Egyptiansfelt. Therefore, the author’s is critical of the colonization of Egypt as it putsinto perspective the adverse impact of colonization on not only the traditionsand customs of the Egyptian citizens, but their true identity.4) Theanthropological concept of structure and agency resonates with the idea that whilstagency is the capacity of an individual to act independently, structures are institutionsmore powerful than an individual himself that limit choices and opportunitiesand act as forces that have the power of influencing human behavior and socialstructures.
In Creative Reckonings by Jessica Winegar, the author focuses herargument on what it entails to be an artist or to practice art in apostcolonial setting. Jessica understands the idea of post-colonialism andnationalism as a lens through which artistic practices are defined andperceived in the Egyptian society. The author writes that “To be an Egyptianartist was to manage a set of values (and tensions) produced through thehistory of colonialism and nationalism.” The author argues that the formationof an Egyptian artists identity did not depend on the artist themselves, butrather it was the system that created the possibility for this talent to beseen or respected as “learnable”. Previously, the “system had been gearedtowards the scientific, industrial, and technological development of thecountry.” However, “Nasser’s educational reforms created a situation someforty-five years later where people from lower and middle classes came toattain a college degree in the visual arts.” In this manner, the author argueshow structure, namely the government, had the power to influence the opportunitiesavailable to one and how the society viewed them.
Prior to Nasser’s reforms,art was largely viewed as an elite activity. However, the 1962 decree, havingabolished tuition, and art exhibitions helped show art’s usefulness to societyand nation, influencing the society’s view regarding this profession. Moreover, the author further argueshow culture in Egypt continues to bedominated by its colonial past, and the way an agency, namely the colonial power,can leave a drastic impact on social institutions. This leads to theunderstanding of the concept of cultural authenticity in Egypt and how thesocietal view on art continues to dominate how artists presently live their livesand establish their careers. Winegar writes about how “teachers lectured on theimportance of “searching for Egyptian identity” or “Egyptian roots” whileworking.”, and how “Yes, they were studying a topic that was a Western import,they were told, but they could use it to help make the masses more cultured, todecorate the home, or to beautify the decaying city.” Hence, in this manner,art students learned their role inthe society, rather than what they truly considered the function of art. AsWinegar writes, “recognition and exploration of specific cultural roots andcontexts was necessary to being an artist who was “true” to her-or himself andwho did “real” art that was “good”.
Therefore, above individual ideals,structures, such as the state, helped shape many aspects of an artist’s work. “Fromchoosing subject matter and materials and theorizing about those choices, to evaluatingart, to representing themselves to their colleagues, critics, and the anthropologists”ideas of cultural authenticity continued to hold precedence. On the other hand, in Joyridingin Riyadh by Pascal Menoret, joyriding is seen as a phenomenon that resultedfrom the state’s actions of enforcing a stricter check over the population, andmarginalizing a certain part of it based on socio-economic background. Socialsuffering was intense amongst Saudi rural migrants and the lower-class youthhad a harder time acquiring education and making a living, with the driftersholding the society guilty for marginalizing them, as the urbanization of thecity of Riyadh was based on the expulsion of rural elements of the society. Inthis manner, the state’s policies led to the oppression of a certain part ofthe population, shaping their development and access to opportunities.
Moreover,the state’s effort to control the population led to the politicizationof joyriding, as “repressed by the state and their behavior constructed as apolitical problem, joyriders in turn politicized their activities, andtransformed a suburban pastime into an open challenge to the police and thepreachers.” In this manner, joyriding allowed drifters to upset Saudi Arabia’sglobal image as a deeply religious nation, and portray that the city was not incontrol of its public spaces. Hence, from an innocent hobby to a wider revoltagainst the state surveillance, joyriding turned into a political problem. Hence,in this manner, Joyriding in Riyadh helps one understand the power that structures,such as the state, have over an individual. The state’s actions not only led tothe oppression of the population, but helped shape and dictate their actions intheir daily lives. 5)The idea ofcategorization in anthropology refers to the grouping of people into categoriesthat are social. This categorization occurs in the context of relationshipbetween individuals, groups, and the wider society.
In Sectarianismas Counter-Revolution: Saudi Responses to the Arab Spring by Madawi AlRasheed, the author delvesinto the heart of the events that took place during the Arab Spring and ‘howthe Saudi Regime used sectarian divisions to widen the gap between the twocommunities- Shia and Sunni.’ The author explains how sectarianism as a regimepolicy not only politicized religious differences through the categorization ofpeople based on religious identities, but also created a rift between themajority Sunnis and Shia minority. Hence, this state strategy of categorizingthe population and depicting protests as a Shia conspiracy helped hide theweaknesses of the authoritarian rule and pushed the Sunnis to renew theirallegiances to the regime. On anotherhand, in The Clash of Civilization by Huntington, the author argues thatprior to the Cold War, societies were divided by ideological differences, namelydemocracy and communism.
However, he hypothesizes that in the post-Cold Warworld, “the most importantdistinctions among peoples are no longer ideological, political, or economic.They are cultural”. Hence, in order to create the understanding of thepost-Cold War world, the author categorizes populations based on cultures anddivides the world into eight major civilizations.
Moreover, the author alsoelaborates on the increased role of religion in world politics. He writes howindividuals “need new sources of identity, new forms of stable community,and new sets of moral precepts to provide them with a sense of meaning andpurpose”. As religion is able to meet these needs, replacing politics withreligion can result in increased communication between societies and cultures. However,Huntington goes on to predicts the conflict between Islam and the West and,hence, categorizes societies based on religion. This categorization aids one inthe comprehension of the conflictual nature of Islam and Christianity.