"Sie konnen sich nicht vertreten, sie mussen vertreten warden"
(They themselves cannot represent, so they should be represented)
In this series, I would like to examine, briefly, the profound impact
that Edward Said's Orientalism has in shaping the perception of the
Orient and its increasing relevance in modern context.
Edward Said's Orientalism is, perhaps, the most influential text that
extensively deals with the idea of the Orient and profoundly influenced
the intelligentsia throughout the world. For Westerners, the Orient has
always been associated with exoticism in the same manner West is for the
Orientals. Marx's idea about the orients is central to the understanding
of the complex matrix of Orientalism and the stereotype ideas about
colonial cultural hegemony.
Idea of Orientalism
Edward Said commenced his monumental thesis with a speech of colonial
administrator Arthur James Balfour at the House of Commons on "the
problems with which we have to deal in Egypt." As Edward Said pointed
out, Balfour's speech, among other things, expressed the core ideas
which justified the colonial presence in Egypt.
"You may look through the whole history of the Orientals in what is
called, broadly speaking, the East, and you never find traces of
self-government. All their great centuries-and they have been very great
-have been passed under despotism, under absolute government. All their
great contribution to civilisation -and they have been great-have been
made under that form of government. Conquerer has succeeded conqueror;
one domination has followed another; but never in all the revolutions of
fate and fortune have you seen one of these nations of its own motion
establish what we, from a Western point of view, call self-government.
This is the fact. It is not a question of superiority or inferiority.
I supposed a true Eastern sage would say that the working government
which we have taken upon ourselves in Egypt and elsewhere is not a work
worthy of a philosopher -that it is the dirty work, the inferior work,
of carrying on the necessary labour. It is good thing for these great
nations-I admit their greatness-that this absolute government exercised
by us? "
Said points out, "For Egypt was not just another colony: it was the
vindication of Western imperialism; it was until its annexation by
England, an almost academic example of Oriental backwardness; it was to
be the triumph of English knowledge and power. Between 1882, the year in
which England occupied Egypt and put an end to the nationalist rebellion
of Colonel Arabi, 1907, England's representative of Egypt, Egypt's
master, was Evelyn Baring, (also known as "Over-baring"), Lord Cromer.
On July 30, 1907, it was Balfour in the Commons who had supported the
project to give Cromer a retirement prize of fifty-thousand pounds as a
reward for what he had done in Egypt, Cromer made Egypt, said Balfour;
Lord Cromer's services during the past quarter of a century have raised
Egypt from a lowest pitch of social and economic degradation until it
now stands among Oriental nations, I believe, absolutely alone in its
prosperity, financial and moral. "
What is important in the Egyptian case is that it was 'the unbroken,
all-embracing Western tutelage of an Oriental country, from the
scholars, missionaries,businessmen,soldiers and teachers who prepared
and then implemented the occupation to the high functionaries like
Cromer and Balfour who saw themselves as providing for, directing, and
sometimes even forcing Egypt's rise from Oriental neglect to its present
lonely eminence. " With knowledge about and of the Orientals, their
race, character, culture, history, traditions, society, and
possibilities, Said observes Cromer in his two-volume magisterial work
Modern Egypt puts down a sort of personal cannon of Oriental Wisdom;
"Sir Alfred Lyall once said to me; 'Accuracy is abhorrent to Oriental
mind. Every Anglo-Indian should always remember that maxim. Want of
accuracy, which easily degenerates into untruthfulness, is in fact the
main characteristics of the Oriental mind."
Then Cromer makes a comparison between European and Oriental
(Easterner) as ," The European is a close reasoned; his statement of
facts are devoid of ambiguity; he is a natural logician, albeit he may
not have studied logic; he is by nature sceptical and requires proof
before he can accept the truth of any proposition; his trained
intelligence works like a piece of mechanism. The mind of the Oriental,
on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in
symmetry. His reasoning is of the most slipshod description.
Although the ancient Arabs acquired in a somewhat higher degree the
science of dialectics, their descendents are singularly deficient in
logical faculty. They are often incapable of drawing the most obvious
conclusions from any simple premises of which they may admit the truth.
Endeavor to elicit a plain statement of facts from any ordinary
Egyptian. His explanation will generally be lengthy, and wanting in
lucidity. He will probably contradict himself half-a-dozen times before
he has finished his story. He will often breakdown under the mildest
process of cross-examination. "
Said observes, " Orientals or Arabs are thereafter shown to be
gullible 'devoid of energy and initiative' much given to 'fulsome
flattery', intrigue, cunning, and unkindness to animals; Orientals
cannot walk on either a road or a pavement (their disordered minds fail
to understand what the clever Europeans grasps immediately, that roads
and pavements are made for walking); Orientals are inveterate liars,
they are 'lethargic and suspicious' and in everything oppose the
clarity, directness, and nobility of the Anglo-Saxon race."
What is interesting to observe even after decades following the
construction of stereo perceptions about the Orient and of Orientals is
that a very little has been changed as far as prototype perceptions of
the West concerning the East or the Orient and of Orientals. Said
observes, "In short, from its earliest modern history to the present,
Orientalism as a form of thought for dealing with the foreign has
typically shown the altogether regrettable tendency of any knowledge
based on such hard-and-fast distinctions as 'East' and 'West'; to
channel thoughts into a West or an East compartment. Because this
tendency is right at the centre of Orientalist theory, practice, and
values found in the West, the sense of Western power over the Orient is
taken for granted as having the status of scientific truth."