Edward Said Orientalism is commonly read as a book about power, cultural differences, science, global politics and anthropology. However, Orientalism most resists a late twentieth-century readers’ effort to pardon Said from the accusation of talking about imperialism, colonialism and racial prejudice. Indeed it is clear that prejudice is a central element in the book. Said imbues her text with components that require a differentiation between fiction and transient pleasures that arise from common Anglo Saxon cultures, particularly those delights associated with the kind of self-centered and ignorant attitudes towards the ‘Other’ (a term referring to alien people or people of other races) as exemplified by the depiction of Islam as a “closed system” Gayatri Spivak, a critic with post colonial perspective states that ‘ although Orientalism is ostensibly about the origin and evolution of western society, it does not deploy the axiomatic of imperialism. The aim of this paper explores the connection between knowledge and power in connection to different cultures while using the arguments of Edward Said’s orientalism and Paul Silverstein research on Algeria in France.
Paul Silverstein’ “Algeria in France” is an analogy of the post-colonial predicament of that marries Algeria and France to one political space. Instead of focusing on the usual narrative of “clash of civilizations” under the assumed argument that secular-modern-Christian societies of Europe are constantly at battle with African and Arabian Islam, there need to be reexamination of the relationship based on mutual respect. Still, Silverstein reckons that even though Anthropologists have argued that there is nothing like race but it will take time before people realize this and practice it in life. This is because the idea of race is so much complex and associated with pride which the dominant people are not ready to lose for the sake of equality; this means that the minority should be given more power; money and influence which will make them develop the self esteem and confidence to fight this social evil. The dominant people will also respect them because of the status they have achieved in the society. But one thing is that it will take time before this is realized. In the process, Algerians in France will continue to exist with the tag of the other- the less powerful (Silverstein, 7).
On his part, Silverstein recognizes that all is not lost. He argues that cultural associations “present a salient space where larger identities discourses take place.” Even though most Algerians in Paris are excluded from these forums, the element of cultural homogeneity and the unity of France as a society take center stage. In the end, France sinks to the reality that the world today is homogenous in culture; almost every country in the world is multiethnic, multiracial and multilingual. The need for cultural and racial enlightenment is imminent.
Still, one aspect of power and knowledge that Silverstein and Said shares is the aspect of discrimination and the perception that the Islamic society is closed. Because the white people have this control, they still practice some kind of racism which is not so outstanding but aimed at dehumanizing the other races. One of these is the security checks which Africans, Arabs, and Indians go through at the airports. This is always racist because people from Europe are often not subjected to this kind of scrutiny in the airport as other races. In the embassies across the world, the ones located in countries outside Europe are known to be stricter in their issuance of visa to people who are the “other” compared to light skinned people. All this is racism and the laws enforced against it are just to please the minority people but not everything but not for something meaningful because racism is in the mind and no law can remove this except education and knowledge.
Edward Said’s Orientalism is an account of cultural studies that explores the concept of orientalism. Orientalism refers to the difference between the east and west according to Said. Said asserts that during the process of colonization, the Europeans came with the less developed countries of the east. Because of the advancement of the European society, they found the cultures of the west exotic, thus leading to the science of orientalism which referred to the study of people with exotic civilization. According to Said, the European grouped the world into two, namely the east and the west. The Europeans also used words such as the orient and the occident as well as the civilised and the uncivilised. The distinction of the world into two was obviously was designed on the premise of ownership, and finding an identity. The Europeans thus used the rest of the world as a case study to understand themselves. Using their own standards, the Europeans thus defined themselves as superior races than the rest of the world. It was thus their duty to civilise the world by colonization and bring up the rest of humanity.
The trail of destruction and waste has been interpreted as a warning of the potential dangers of the effects of colonialism. Because of the freedom of democracy that is in Britain, the lessons from French revolution and failure of revolutions in other parts of Europe, Britain had more than enough lessons on how to handle its people. Nevertheless, Britain failed to apply these honorable qualities in their colonies. The colonies bestowed Britain with revolutions after revolutions: American Revolution, then slavery revolts in the Caribbean, the Anglo Boer war in South Africa and the British Zulu War of South Africa. As if that was not enough, there were a huge number of British personnel who died miserably while trying to serve their nation in the colonial lands. All the same, the ramifications of imperialism did not leave Britain unscathed. Subconsciously, Said pens the effects of colonialism or warning Britain about colonizing other people. Either way you look at it, the parallel is almost self evident.
In a society that thrives in dehumanizing other people through slavery, exploitation and military conquest, there is more than enough evidence to show that the Said’s Oriental is a representation of the feelings of the marginalized’. Possibly, the book is a representation of the Indians in America, the Indians in the subcontinent, and the Arabs in the Mideast or Africans in Africa. Therefore, the creature’s description serves both the role of metaphor for the colonial territories and alien man in an Anglo Saxon society. Denied assimilation in the society, the oriental lacks the balance between the moral and physical balance. In away, its destruction of order in the less civilized societies represents the immoral rot and decadence in the European colonies as a result of defiance of moral code. Similarly, the pessimism that accrue from imperialism on the victims accounts for the wars in Africa, conflict in the Middle East, unrest in India and Pakistan among many other places. As such, one cannot fail to see that the Orientals’s destruction implies the annihilation of the colonized in the long run.
The fact that blue eyes, light and bright hair is considered beautiful while black eyed girls are not proves the point that race determined how people were viewed morally. This actually corresponds with the thinking during the latter half of the nineteenth century when racial codes provided a pseudo-scientific justification to the subjugation of people based on physical appearances. Skin color, eye shape, hair texture or the size of one's nose or lips were assigned values, with standardized European features assigned favorable values of moral character. European standardization and their view of the other serve as visual codes to readers that suggest their unimpeachable moral character that conforms to their physical appearance.
The biggest problem with this analogy is the generalization done by the Europeans on what they defined as Orientals. The generalizations created an image on the faces of many Europeans on what they defined as orientals leading to the creation of biases and negative European attitude towards the outside world separate from Europe. The bias did not escape the carrying out of pseudo-science that did research to substantiate the views of popular mainstream conventions about the outside world. Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiaries of such scientific statements is observable on the generalization of the Arab race across the western world. The same analogy has led to the assumption of the Arabs as conquered with a closed religion and society.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the Arabian course in Europe accrued from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Pentagon. The Arabs have been target of discrimination since the public has constantly associated terrorism with Islam. Accordingly, most people tease Arabs for being terrorists or are denied jobs for fear of harming citizens. This arguably the biggest challenge for Arab immigration. This rampant discrimination has often led to psychological problems of self-esteem or radicalization. Addressing this problem requires that Arab population to come out in the media, and all channels condemning terrorism and also engaging in the army, sports, and all other events that give honor and integrity. Understanding where the Arabs are coming from is pivotal for the success of the modern civilization. In my view, the problem is having a global mindset on the way things work. Cultural understanding is an important facet. When student go to school, they bring not only their physical bodies, but also physical, emotional, and cognitive differences. Introduction of multicultural literature in school would be the first step towards the embracing of Arabs in France. If the students learn that Arabs are also regular people instead of having the belief that Arabs are potential terrorists, there would be more realized.
It is important to know that while being a global citizen, culture still stands out to be greatest impediment to global harmony. In many respects, globalization has come to mean that buying everything that is pro western. So much so, that globalization heavily markets and promotes western ideas while the ideas from “others” are marginalized. It is interesting even to point out that the paradigms that promote these ideas of globalization are not the same. In the case of the France and Algeria, the biggest struggle is the misconception of Arabs as people with many ills or terrorists. In order to solve this, there must be a strong and genuine desire on the part of all the stakeholders. If there is not such commitment, the pursuit of harmony would be hard to realize.
Racists violate the principle of equality when they override the interests of their own race over the interests of another race if there is a clash between the two interests. Often, this class of interests leads to the harming of other people in the provision of food, and for economic well being. In the process, people suffer through death or slavery and other forms of suffering. In view of Silverstein, this people suffering ought to be equated bigotry and racism. The question that begs to be asked is how we can compare civilization of humans from other parts of the world to that of Europeans when millions of humanity languishes in poverty, thousands of diseases such as AIDS, malaria, typhoid, and poverty still claims lives of many people? It is moral madness for liberals to advocates to the equality humans in the face of the differences in industrial development? Before the full realization of rights, human rights must take precedence. It is human’s moral obligation to care for fellow human beings. However, to be the devil’s advocate, human equality can only be realized after a complete and uniform achievement of human rights across the globe.
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