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Orientalism and Conspiracy: Politics and Conspiracy Theory in the Islamic World ed. Arndt Graf, Schirin Fathi, and Ludwig Paul), 2011. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, xxi + 257 pp., £59.50. ISBN: 978-1-84885-414-7 (hbk).

By now, there must be hundreds of academic books dealing with one or another aspect of orientalism as defined by Edward Said in his seminal Orientalism in 1978. Orientalism and Conspiracy: Politics and Conspiracy Theory in the Islamic World is yet another addition to the shelf of the like books. As a result of a conference on 'orientalism and conspiracy' held in 2005 in Germany, this edited volume, like many others of this nature, is a collection of autonomous individual papers-turned-chapters. The volume's arguable originality is in tying orientalism to conspiracy, something that had hitherto been only marginally done in the field of the study of orientalism.

The volume consists of three parts - Theoretical Approaches, Historical Perspectives, and Contemporary Discourses - each with three to four texts, resulting in ten essays in all. Those interested in theoretical (and philosophical) debates on orientalism would probably find the first part most rewarding, while those looking for practical expressions of contemporary orientalism (and conspiracies) would above all enjoy the case studies found in the third part. The title of the middle part is somewhat misleading for only one of three contributions in it deals with history (and does so in a truly Saidian fashion) while the other two could (or should) have been assigned to the first and the third parts.

As is often the case, edited volumes containing conference papers include contributions of different natures and levels of quality. The first and the last essays are by Sadik J. al-Azm, a senior Syrian scholar in whose honour the conference was held in the first place and whom many of other contributors often refer to in their texts. His opening essay is rightly placed at the beginning of the book - and not because the conference was held in his honour, but because it outlines the volume's theoretical framework. However, in the third part, the lengthy concluding theological-philosophical essay on Iblis, the fallen [End Page 491] angel/Satan, though in itself quite engaging, apparently has little to do with the rationale of the volume and may be treated as just yet another way for the editors to honour al-Azm by making another of his writings available in English; this essay was, by the way, originally written in Arabic back in the 1960s.

Most students of orientalism are aware of the fierce debate Edward Said and Bernard Lewis once were engaged in. There even is a well-written concise chapter by Mohd Hazim Shah devoted to it in the first part of the book. That duel has framed the entire polemics surrounding the issue of orientalism and has forced academics to choose one of the two opposing and seemingly irreconcilable camps. In result, it has become extremely difficult for those writing on orientalism (especially contemporary orientalism) and orientalism-related conspiracies to remain impartial. Some, however, manage to stay that way. So, for instance, in Karin Hörner's contribution there is an elegant critique of both Daniel Pipes' and Bassam Tibi's theories of conspiracism, and the essay in general stands out as a good insight into the concept of conspiracism.

Matthew Gray's essay on conspiracism in the Arab world adds to the debate on the nature and workings of conspiracism, this time in the Middle East rather than in the 'Occident', and together with Lorenzo Casini's essay on occidentalism forms a small yet meaningful group of texts dealing with mirror phenomenon of orientalism; that is, occidentalism. It is to the credit of the editors that they decided to include analyses of occidentalism in the volume.

For some unexplained reason, Indonesia is given pre-eminence over any other state in the volume - it is the only one to whom case studies (and there are two) are devoted. One of them, by Arndt Graf, besides being a well-executed case study, contributes to the general study of orientalism by periodising it into what...


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