Sunday, August 5, 2007

The trouble with Orientalists

Commenting on what P wrote on Orientalism and Edward Said
I think Edward Said has a problem with the "others" and within himself. He seems to be a person with fixed ideas and that scares me a lot
He had his fixed ideas on orientalism which I think was mixed with a lot of unripe political ideas and theories of misunderstanding of his opposition to be "mo'alem" in the old meaning of the word and a political Guru.
His obsession with anti-Arafat policies especially after Camp David was an example of his misunderstanding of the movement of Palestinian politics and it's pragmatic way of people who live day by day under constant threat from Arabs and Israelis.
There is more than one issue - in my view of the mental concept and the understanding of scholars and amateurs who are interested in Arabs and the Orient.
All of them have a sort of Christian background (they are westerners) so they have these aggressive hostile ideas about Islam, like Bernard Lewis, and others, who think Islam is so fanatical and the Muslims are to be blamed for not being able to understand it!
This is the background and it is misleading, because Islam is not a religion - only - but a way of life: five times a day the Mo'azen would call for prayers, Ramadan and the craziness of it, all the Eids, the laziness, the siestas, the Insah'allhs, the Boukaras, and so on
Other 'young, inexperienced' orientalists are sensitive to how the Arabs are looking at and receiving them, because when they come face to face the first time with the language and the people they are disappointed, because they are rejected and scorned!
They come with the same ideas of the tradesman-missionary: Humble and pretending to want to learn from the natives, but at the same time they belive they are doing them a great favour by coming to them and living like they live.
I was astonished what P wrote about her knowledge of some sentences in Arabic: the insults.
I have followed some sad and frustrating experiences of young "orientalists"; how they exchange bad vibrations with the "natives" and return home empty handed except for bitterness and a feeling of emptiness.
Some Egyptian scholar - I think it was Hasan Hanfy - tried half seriously to invent the expression "westernalist el moustagrebon or El Estegrab, but it did not work, because the West is not only colonialism and imperialism and the hamburger .. it is more than that: it is music and its history connected with the church and the aristocratic classes and all the other things such as paintings, sculpture architecture and hundreds of big and small details.
Let me ask this aggressive question:
The Bush administration's ideas about 'democracy' - and enforcing it on the Arabs - as he understands is from his bible: and the secret hidden ideas of a lot of young people who spent years trying to study Arabic and THE ARABS; How much difference is there between them and Bush's ideas?!
I do not consider myself an "expert" on the West because I know some English which helps me to read and write, and I have lived many years in the West but cannot and do not want to claim any special knowledge about it (though my wife is from the west and my kids were borne in the west).
Does any Arab who masters the Arabic language become a reference on the Arabic culture or its people? no!!
So what is the problem then !
Can any person answer me ? Raouf

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