19 June 2008

Orientalism for Israel

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:11 pm by lilithhope

This is an excerpt from a very pertinent and articulate article written by an Israeli journalist, which appears as part of the Guardian’s week-long special series commemorating 30 years since the publishing of Edward Said’s seminal work Orientalism:

“As a journalist in Israel, my home country, I frequently found Orientalism to be an effective tool for understanding Israeli discourse, knowledge-construction and the media’s work. In a society which gathers around the army as its focal point and which sees Judaism as a national identity, the Jewish-military discourse emerges almost naturally.

Within this discourse, which becomes the society’s common sense, certain (positive) behaviours are linked to the Jews, and certain (negative) behaviours are linked to the Arabs. Giving the media as an example, one needs to remember that within Israeli common sense, the themes of violence, aggressiveness, propaganda and incitement are Arab-oriented, while self-defence, response, restraint and morality are Jewish-Israeli-oriented, and rarely represent Arab behaviour or ways of thinking […]

According to Said:

“In discussions of the orient, the orient is all absent, whereas one feels the orientalist and what he says as presence … We must not forget the orientalist’s presence is enabled by the orient’s effective absence”.

The process of producing sociopolitical knowledge about Arabs in Israel could prove the validity of this notion, mostly due to the fact that within the Israeli spheres where this knowledge is being made, Arabs are not allowed […]

For example, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Universities, there are no Palestinian citizens of Israel who are regular lecturers in the Middle East faculties, but, surprisingly, they can be found in the faculties of medicine, pharmacy, education, law, sociology and others. Taking high schools as another example for knowledge-construction, it is interesting to note that teachers of the Arabic language in Jewish-Israeli schools are rarely Arabs; an Arabic supervisor from Israel’s ministry of education explained their absence by saying that Arabic is the least suitable subject to be taught by Arabs.”

17 June 2008

Happy Birthday Orientalism!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:55 pm by lilithhope

Edward Said’s canonical work Orientalism was published 30 years ago this week. To commemorate the event, the Guardian is running a series of  comment pieces that analyse the legacy of the work, and its relevance in todays world. I’ve quoted parts of the series’ opening piece below as a taster:

“Orientalism, at 30, no longer stands at the cutting edge of scholarship, but its path-breaking contributions have matured and remain relevant in the post-9/11 world. Within the academy, it serves as a founding text in the field of postcolonial studies, and undergirds investigations of imperial culture, knowledge production, and categories of identity. Beyond the academy, Said’s work has equipped us to challenge orientalist thinking in the media and politics, especially in portrayals of a “clash of civilisations” between Islam and the west (think of all those Heathrow passengers today, removing their shoes and toothpaste tubes as defence against the faceless forces of Islamist terror). We are also better able to recognise parallel prejudices in discourses about other regions, like China (authoritarian and anti-human rights) or Africa (ravaged by war and disease).

An important if less obvious legacy of Orientalism has been to heighten awareness among academics of the positions from which we write. Such self-consciousness risks dissolving into identity politics, and sanctioning the idea – which Said firmly rejected – that only Jews can write about Jews, Muslims about Muslims, and so on. At its best, however, this kind of sensitivity illuminates the sometimes paradoxical links forged by the postcolonial world. In particular, scholars have expanded Orientalism’s resolutely binary opposition between west and east into the richer concept of cross-cultural hybridity […]

Geographies of power and inequality have shifted dramatically in the last three decades, as have western ideas of belonging, race and difference. Binary oppositions don’t go far in explaining this intensively globalising world. Still, the implied challenge raised by Orientalism remains apt: scholarship must respond critically to power, not simply reinforce it.

Rest in peace Edward Said. The world is both indebted to and humbled by your brilliance.