Orientalism, A Eurocentric Vision of the ‘Other’
- Edited and with an Introduction by Seyed Javad Miri
- Published by International Peace Studies Centre Press
- London, UK, December 2013
- ISBN: 978-1-909571-03-7
- Paperback: 206 pages
In this book, the authors have argued that Orientalism is a eurocentric vision of the ‘other’. The question of Orientalism has been treated in this work through different angles such as sociology, film studies, literature, philosophy and cultural studies. The book is a joint project by 8 authors at distinguished universities and institutes from US, UK, Singapore, France and Iran. The director of the project is Dr. Seyed Javad Miri who is an associate professor at the Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies in Tehran, Iran.
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Editor’s Introduction / 1
Orientalism in the Social Sciences Today
Syed Farid Alatas / 5
Frederick Copleston’s Epiphany in Hawaii
Chad Trainer / 23
Paradigms and Empowerment: The Arabic Orient and Orientalist Wish Fulfilment
Feras Alkabani / 43
Strangers at Home. A Reading of Marco Turco’s Film, La Straniera, Italy 2009
Isabelle Felici / 61
East vs. West, Orient vs. Occident: The Binary that Haunts Orientalism and the Clash of Civilizations
Daniel Martin Varisco / 79
Turning Turk: Anxieties Surrounding Bodily Difference in Orientalist Discourse
Sophia Rose Shafi / 105
Nietzsche’s Transvaluation of Islam: Philosophical Orientalism and its Consequences
Dustin J. Byrd /129
Orientalism: A Eurocentric Vision of the ‘Other’
Seyed Javad Miri / 169
Bibliography / 177
Index / 195
Contributors / 199
In 2012, I was invited to participate in the VIII Congress of Russian Orientalists in Kazan which is the capital of Tatarstan on the bank of Volga River. The city is 800 kilometers away from Moscow. This is one of the northern areas of the Muslim World which is populated by Muslims since time immemorial. When I presented my paper on Orientalism as a Eurocentric Vision of the ‘Other’ the participants who were mainly Tatar professors and intellectuals were very surprised to hear about my views on Orientalism as for them it was not an ideology but a disciplinary field of inquiry which meticulously collected and analyzed the wisdom of the Orient. In answering their critiques by trying to engage with them in an amicable debate, I argued that if this is only an academic discipline which is focusing on the structures of regions which lie in the eastern hemisphere then that would be fine and admirable but the question is where the East starts and where it ends within the parameters of Orientalism. In other words, what is the relationship between Iran and China or India and Egypt? On what grounds in Uzbekistan could we establish department of Orientalism? To put it differently, how could we differentiate between Tatar society and Turkish society? Is the difference between Russian society and Tatar culture very negligible in comparison to Tatars and Iranians that one could sit in Kazan and talk about Oriental societies ‘over there’? More I argued with them less it seemed that we are talking about the same subject because I was arguing that Orientalism is not a field of academic inquiry as such. In my view, if orientalism was a disciplinary mode of analysis then it should have not been an ism but a logy but in academic context we don’t talk about Orientology, i.e. an academic field of inquiry. On the contrary, within the field of academic social sciences we are faced with an ideological construction which has been imposed upon disciplinary mode of classification and hence Orientalism a la Socialism, Liberalism, Communism and other ideological stances is based on a normative approach to reality. However our discussions seemed to be counterproductive due to the fact that we were seemingly talking about distinct intellectual categories. In Russian language the word for Orientalism is востоковедение, i.e. a sort of knowledge about the East. It seems this is 2 Editor’s Introduction
apparently closer to Orientology which does not exist within western academic circles but even this seemingly innocent branch of academic knowledge in Russia is based on erroneous assumptions. These questions and many other queries during this trip compelled me to think over this problem as an offshoot of Eurocentric vision of the world which has overshadowed various domains of social sciences and humanities. In addition, I realized that non-Eurocentric approaches to cross-cultural studies have not reached Russia and Russian social thinkers have not realized that Russia has been a colonial power and Tatars should realize that they are in dire need of post-colonial theories for dis-covering their locus in the scheme of global affairs rather than talking about orientology a la Europeans and Russians in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In this work, which is before you, the authors have attempted to deconstruct Orientalism as a Eurocentric vision of the other. Once Najla Said, the daughter of late Edward Said asked her father if he could explain Orientalism in a simple fashion which could be accessible to everyone with a rounded knowledge in English. Edward Said replied to his daughter in the following fashion,
… the basic concept, is that . . . historically, through literature and art, the ‘East,’ as seen through a Western lens, becomes distorted and degraded so that anything ‘other’ than what we Westerners recognize as familiar is not just exotic, mysterious, and sensual but also inherently inferior (Said quoted by Najla Said, 2013).
Once the sense of superiority is structured within the parameters of an epistemic paradigm then cognizance departs from our horizons. In other words, there is a kind of dialectic between inferiority and superiority in cultural exchanges, i.e. when one has a sense of superiority before the ‘other’ or when one lives under imposed conditions of inferiority there is a little hope for mutual emancipation. Because a sense of emancipation is conceivable when there is no sense of coercion but when one approaches the other as an inferior object of submission then any kind of liberative knowledge is out of equation. It may be farfetched but it is a fact that most of current global problems between states, nations, regions, ethnicities, races, cultures, religions and people across the world are rooted not only in economic, Editor’s Introduction 3
political, and diplomatic issues but in psychological sense of being. In other words, sometimes we cannot reach each other due to our mental images of the other and orientalism as a discourse has contributed to this sense of misunderstanding by breeding an unrealistic sense of superiority in the western mind which has meant, like all kinds of binary oppositions, an imaginary sense of inferiority in the oriental mind. In these discursive ideological battles the gentle voice of humanity has been lost by racists who categorized human societies in accordance to misconceived so-called scientific categories which gave them right to dominate the ‘others’ around the globe. Of course, today we are in a better position as people have become more conscious about each other and their respective limits and possibilities but we should realize that ignorance is more dangerous than all kinds of weapons of mass-destruction and the key to harness ignorance in all its fashions and modes is intellect. In other words, we need to engage with each other more and realize that our humanity is actualized in relationality and this interdependency is not only true on individual levels but on communal as well as global levels. To put it otherwise, peace is not possible if we do not realize that humanity is conceivable as a category when relationship is established between all members of human family on authentic basis. This is to argue that it is high time to realize that we may be on different level of social progress around the globe but socioeconomic advances do not automatically issue for us a license to coerce others to be what we want them to be. Because being is an act of choice and the true quality of human society is appraised in accordance to the level of realization of choice both individually and institutionally. Once we forget these basic rules of being then we lose the art of being and cannot achieve the art of living in the memorable words of Erich Fromm. In sum, we all need to have certain norms when studying the other but this does not qualify us to impose our normative vision of reality to others without realizing that reality could be more complex than our conceptual frame of references. This is something that I could not make my colleagues at the VIII Congress of Russian Orientalists in Kazan to realize. Although concepts capture for us complex gamut of reality in an intellectual fashion but they cannot reflect all dimensions of reality in an all-comprehensive fashion. If one does not realize this fact then the existential consequences of this remiss would be grave and catastrophic.