'Orientalism' For Dummies
The psychological disease that imagines that Western cultures are somehow better than Arabic or Eastern cultures.
Editor’s note: Dr. Yasser Dasmabebi holds the Edward Said-Noam Chomsky Linguistics Chair at Abdul Abulbul Amir University in Cairo.
Being a renowned and brilliant linguist such as I am, on October 26, I innocently, and full of optimism and good-will, had published in Front Page Magazine – a war-mongering, racist site if ever there was one, judging from its unsavory readership and ignorant authors! – a glossary of useful terms and expressions meant to help delineate and define what speakers and writers mean when they use certain, shall we say, “explosive” words and phrases when describing so complex a circumstance as, as I wrote, “today’s (and yesterday’s and tomorrow’s) Mid- east.”
Inasmuch as it seems that your culture and mine are teetering on the edge of conflict, I believe that persons of good-will, such as myself, need to do what what we must to make certain that misunderstanding and miscommunication do not precipitate a disastrous war in which we will doubtlessly defeat you, not least since we, and in particular our youth, care so much and you and yours seem to care so little.
Perhaps the fact that we have raised a generation of very, very angry young men has something to do with the fact that that our young men are not allowed to have interaction with girls. (We tell them that attraction to young women is a Zionist plot hatched by evil Jews intent on capturing them in the snare of Shaytan. Talk about impressionable!)
Whatever you think of us, you have to admit that prohibition has been a sensational strategy for recruiting plenty of extremely devoted young men who actually volunteer to strap on explosives in hopes of finding unmutilated maidens waiting for them elsewhere. Pretty cool, huh?! Faith is a powerful incentivizer! And a culture that prohibits deduction certainly needs faith!
So, my only purpose was a peaceful one – to make certain that the reader would not be misled by ignorance or prejudice, or as my wise teacher and predecessor, Dr. Edward Said, coined it, “Orientalism,” the psychological disease or intellectual offense that imagines that the Western cultures are in some way “better than,” or “superior to,” as opposed to simply “different from,” Arabic or Eastern cultures.
In a nutshell, Dr. Said posited that Westerners, because they are not Orientals, can never know how Eastern people think or why they do what they do. They – Westerners – therefore must never interpret or judge the words, intentions or actions of Middle-Easterners, especially the leaders, all of whom are “Men of the People,” serving from the depths of the goodness of their hearts, what is called the Arab Street, which is nothing more than the communal roar for Divine Justice, or for the random murder of Jews or Christians or Hindus or Bahai or Sikhs or Sunnis or Shia or pigs or dogs depending on what’s cooking that day.
When Westerners do so – that is, when Westerners think they know what they’re talking about –, they are not merely mistaken, but also racist. And “racist” is the grand bugaboo of our era. We have learned that if we can persuade that you are racist, we can get you to do anything! Why, you people give money to Hamas and weapons to Hezbollah! What a world!
Dr. Said’s reasoning is that a person making a judgment is inherently arrogant because, by virtue of making any judgment, that person a priori believes that his judgment must be right. And since our judgments are different than yours, we must be wrong.
The Grand Flaw is that the Westerner does not realize that he does not and can know the workings of the Oriental mind, and he does not know that he does not know. In imagining that he is right, he is arrogant, which implies that he believes he is better than an Oriental (although how Arabs or Persians, rather than, say Chinese or Japanese, came to be called “Oriental” is beyond me, even if I am a brilliant linguist), and therefore racist. This is Dr. Said’s great insight with which he was able to bamboozle … oops…I mean persuade… Western academia!
For one example, when we hijack an airplane, Western right-wing hard-liners insist this is an aggressive, hostile act. We, the keepers of Oriental consciousness, know this is an act of love. We are just trying to get passengers to their ultimate – and I do mean ultimate! – destinations sooner rather than later!!! (Note: The more exclamations points, the better the argument.)
As you must surely realize by now, we Arabs know that we are never right, or more to the point, we Arabs are right because we know that we are wrong. So, Arabs can never be thought of as “Occidentalist” or racist. We get to be the “Victims of Racism!,” which means we win!
For yet another example of such small-minded, wrongful Orientalist thinking, when Mr. Ahmadinejad says that “The Zionist entity must be wiped off the map,” Westerners and Israelis, in their sad ignorance, imagine that he is advancing the idea of a nuclear holocaust being brought down upon the heads of Israel. This is purely ignorant Orientalist hogwash. (You should excuse the expression!)
What he is really saying is that “We (‘Humanity’) are one divine entity united by the divine spark which we all share in common. Therefore, let us light a large flame – a really LARGE flame – that represents the inherent brotherhood of man.” “Wiped off the map,” in this instance, merely refers to the day when peoples will no longer be divided into nations. And since there will be no nations, we will no longer have need of boundaries and borders, and we therefore will no longer need maps. We will all be one. (Or is that, “We will have won?”)
But the point is that even though it is sad that such an idea is so difficult for the robber barons of Wall Street and their CEO cronies, and the imperialistic power mongers of the US political machine to grasp, it is not surprising. After all, what do they have to gain from peace, mutual well-being, free flow of goods, friendship, and all that stuff?
But that Dr. Said’s central tenet has been accepted so readily among the great minds of Western academia is one of the astonishing successes in the history of East - West relations. And now these professors are busy inculcating Orientalism – the concoction of such a word is sheer(ia) genius, is it not?! – into the minds of their students so that pretty soon, they’ll have to wear a kefiya on campus if they want a passing grade!
Now we are at work at getting Israeli academics to buy into this doctrine. And thus far, we are having far greater success than we ever dreamed possible. Now we are planning an Anti-Israel Apartheid Week on campuses in Israel! Imagine Jewish and Muslim and Christian students, White, Brown and Black, gay and straight, men and women, all marching hand-in-hand protesting Apartheid! How heart-warming! How inspiring!
Mysterious indeed are the ways of Allah!
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