- “Hyperculturization” after September 11:The Arab-Muslim World and the West
Celui qui se connaît lui-même et les autres Reconnaîtra aussi ceci : L'Orient et l'Occident Ne peuvent plus être séparés.— Goethe, Le Divan occidental-oriental, 1819.
The worst enemy of truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, continued, dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and realistic.— John F. Kennedy
With respect to the relationship between the Arab-Muslim world and the West, little has changed in the discourse of Western and American politicians and pundits since September 11, 2001. Their vision of the "Orient" is a continuation and intensification of the representation of the Arab-Muslim in terms of an alterity that is more absolute than ever. This is a result both of the history of confrontation between the two entities and of a narcissism that can be traced to the European Enlightenment. This narcissism derives from the post-Enlightenment generalization of the Western social and political model, which amalgamates the advent of industrialization, economic development, and military domination with the West's discourse of rationality and civilization. Indeed, positing its model as the universal norm and identifying itself with the notion of civilization per se, the West implicitly relegates other societies and alternative cultural models to a hierarchically inferior position.
The association and identification of the terrorists of September 11 with Islam contribute to the already prevalent demonization of the Arab-Muslim that Europe first and then the US have promoted since the emergence of Islam. This process of demonization started with the economic, political, and cultural conflicts between the Muslims and the Christian kingdoms beginning in the seventh century, and has been reinforced continually ever since.1 In the current situation, the [End Page 98] "hyperculturization" of economic problems and political conflicts, on both sides, in the West and the Orient, is a dangerous development. Political powers have always used religion to justify their actions and to lend legitimacy to things that do not proceed from the religious or cultural domains.
Orientalism AND Occidentalism
Nowadays, in light of their being dominated both militarily and economically by Western powers, Arabs and Muslims tend to explain their situation through a blind criticism of the West. Although they have real and serious grounds on which to condemn the hegemonic imperialism of powers such as Britain, France, and the United States, they should also acknowledge their own responsibility for their social problems and for the failures of their economic choices and political systems. In this respect, and particularly from a scholarly point of view, a reevaluation of Edward Said's major contribution to the understanding of the relations between East and West, namely in his seminal works Orientalism2 and Culture and Imperialism,3 is urgently needed. This reevaluation should not be made from a revisionist perspective, as is the case with many of his detractors, but from a progressive and constructive angle. It is clear that Said's sometimes monolithic views (at least in his early essays, though this is not the case in his later writings) were in part determined by the need to produce a counter-discourse to the largely reactionary views and biases of the majority of Western scholars concerning the Arab-Muslim world. It is also true that, as a Palestinian-American, Said was in part reacting against the uniformly anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab attitudes and policies of most of the Western media, governments, and especially the US Administration—and this is even truer today than when Said was writing his first important essays. The disastrous policies and decisions of the Bush Administration—whether in Iraq or in its treatment of Israeli-Palestinian relations—are, unfortunately, an ongoing evidence of this reality. If Said's views, like those of all scholars, are to be scrutinized, they should be critiqued from a scholarly, analytical, or political perspective, and not from the point of view of mercantile media clients or mercenary voices.
If the West has had a general tendency to demonize the Arab-Muslim world, the Arab-Muslims have, in return, generally had a similar tendency to diabolize Western civilization. In this statement, the...