The Western Lens That Blinds : An Analysis of Edward Said’s Orientalism

 

Edward Said’s Orientalism argues how misconceptions and stereotype images have dominated the narratives of the “orientalist”, who perceived the Middle East & Islam through the conceptual lenses of Samuel Huntington’s, where clashes are inevitable. Said argues on that, “Orientalism’s failure to have been a human, as much as an intellectual one; for in having to take up a position of irreducible opposition to a region of the world it considered alien to it’s own, Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also yo see it as human experience”. [PG. 328]

 
1. Said, Edward. Orientalism
  Introduction, “pp. 1-28
  Part 3: “Orientalist Now,” pp.201-328
 Afterword, ” pp. 329-354
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   The clash of civilizations and  cultural identity is usually the source of conflict between nations. Whether it’s the lack of understanding of another’s identity or the need to define ones identity based on one’s own preconceived notions or stereotypes – it has led to the polarization of the East – via the lens of the West.
   The “West Versus the Rest” rhetoric has been written about extensively throughout time. Said’s “Orientalism” dives into how the West has constructed an identity for people in the Middle East which speaks to power relations between countries. Said asserts that Orientalism is the West’s way of dominating and having authority over the orient. The thesis brought to mind the reasons why as academics – we do everything in our power to control for our inherent biases. We control for several variables, we design surveys so that they do not yield responses in favor of our alternative hypothesis, & we randomly select samples. If we do not do this, the accumulation of knowledge will be bombarded with bias results which adds little value to our understanding of the world and its people. In a sense, this can be viewed as a false reality that we as researchers construct.
   Orientalism is a false reality constructed by the West to define and oppress the East. It’s interesting that the West has to define and categorize the “other” in attempts to gain insights into the cultural identity of its people. The attitudes toward the East have been of “latent inferiority” , which itself limits the West’s ability to truly appreciate and understand – for example- Arab religion and cultural traditions.
   While reading Said’s Orientalism many questions came to mind. At any point, does the orient have a seat at the table to define and structure their own identities? Seeing that the West relies on many resources from these “inferior” countries, what would a more productive and conducive lens for studying such countries look like?
   The stories that Said recounts takes on similar methods of communication reflected in American media: the one way exchange lens. In the media, most sources are bias and put little effort into telling the complete story.  Said recount’s Lane’s story, who for instance, appropriated Egyptian culture to gain exclusive access. He tells the story from an observers stand point that lends little insight to the experience of the observed. It leads me to question the depictions of Middle Eastern culture in the media & the extent to which inherent biases have shaped the way that Western’s view people from the East.
   As academics, we embark on a process which consists largely of unlearning the concepts and events we were taught in our adolescence that are false. The big take away point for me after reading Said is in reference to the construction of cultural identity & where the rightful source of such definitions & how we understand the “other”, lies. In present day, it’s difficult to find consensus domestically because stakeholders in our Two-Party Political System often speak past each other which leads to lack of accountability and transparency. The question then becomes, assuming we now have a better understanding of  historical discrimination globally, how can we rectify and build relationships with the East? How can we move past exploiting the East for resources or appropriating culture, toward a mutual exchange benefit that includes acts of appreciation, understanding, humility and assistance?
 
Whitney F. Martinez |Political Science, M.A., C.G.S.
Ph.D. StudentDepartment of Politics & Government|School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation
M.B.A. Candidate/Research Assistant, Drucker School of Management
 Founding President, Phenomenal Voices
Marketing|Communications Director ’17-’18, Drucker School Student Association 
National Society of Leadership and Success   
 Claremont Graduate University 
Adjunct Faculty, Department of Political Science
School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Chaffey College
5885 Haven Ave, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91737
 
 

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