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51 6 ARABIA AND THE WEST Aside from his anti-Zionism, the Arab is an oil supplier. —Edward Said In his 1978 literary masterpiece Orientalism, Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said presented a critical analysis of Western attitudes toward the East. Said examined the set of beliefs behind theWestern ideology known as Orientalism, that is,the tendency for colonial administrators,philosophers,and writers to treat the East as alien, exotic, and inferior. For several centuries, this ideology emphasized “the difference between the European and Asiatic parts of the world,” as if each were a distinct and single entity.1 Said described Orientalism as “fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient.” Orientalism determines the relationship between the exploiter and the exploited, based on power. It is aggressive, judgmental, and unsupported by a wholesome body of knowledge. Often orientalists applaud Christian orWestern colonial intervention in large parts of Asia, saying it has modernized these regions.They minimize, or ignore, the devastating effects imperialism can have on rich cultures and focus instead on the benefits of foreign ideas, political systems, and lifestyles. They are inclined to generalize rather than explain the causes and consequences of each unique situation. In his essay “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” published in The Atlantic, orientalist historian Bernard Lewis wrote in 1990, For a long time now there has been a rising tide of rebellion against this Western paramountcy, and a desire to reassert Muslim values and restore Muslim greatness.The Muslim has suffered successive stages of defeat.The first was his loss of domination in the world, to the advancing power of Imperial Designs_13448.indd 51 3/12/13 2:44 PM 52   IMPERIAL DESIGNS Russia and the West.The second was the undermining of his authority in his own country, through an invasion of foreign ideas and laws and ways of life and sometimes even foreign rulers or settlers, and the enfranchisement of native non-Muslim elements.The third—the last straw—was the challenge to his mastery in his own house, from emancipated women and rebellious children. It was too much to endure, and the outbreak of rage against these alien, infidel, and incomprehensible forces that had subverted his dominance, disrupted his society, and finally violated the sanctuary of his home was inevitable. It was also natural that this rage should be directed primarily against the millennial enemy and should draw its strength from ancient beliefs and loyalties.2 The British East India Company arrived in the subcontinent to trade and then ruled large parts of India for a century until the 1857 rebellion.3 In the following year the British Crown assumed direct control of India.The Great Game for supremacy in Central Asia had been ongoing between the British and Russian Empires since the early nineteenth century.With the advent of the twentieth century came the discovery of oil in modern-day Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and smaller Gulf states. A certain body of scholarship and thought evolved in theWest. Philosophers,writers,and colonial administrators associated with these ideas came to be known as Orientalists. Orientalism caused the biggest wave of commercialization of knowledge and gave birth to the idea that knowledge is power. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake—the basis for ambitious, open-ended inquiry since ancient times—had had its day. The distinction Edward Said drew between pure and political knowledge is important here. Inquiry in an area of pure knowledge, he said, has no predetermined goal for overtly political and economic ends, even though its broader significance for such purposes may not be in dispute. However, political knowledge, directed and financed by powerful entities, for economic gain at the cost of someone else is different. Its aims are narrow, are often unjust, and lead to conflict.4 Colonialism and colonial behavior are often defended in Western arts, literature , films, and popular culture by assertions of the East’s “ignorance and darkness .”5 Intellectual and popular discourse clearly emphasizes the development of Eastern societies by colonial powers.The building of schools, hospitals, roads, and railways under colonial rule is celebrated. One-way flow of ideas and philosophy from the West to the East is emphasized. And, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, many Eastern societies, or significant sections of them, have been portrayed Imperial Designs_13448.indd 52 3/12/13 2:44 PM ARABIA AND THE WEST   53 as living in an uncivilized age. Political and social studies of the East have come to be dominated by terrorism in a...


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