Orientalism and European Cultural Imperialism

Western Christians have, for many generations, appeared to share with the Jews not only a cultural antipathy toward Palestinians in particular but also pejorative political assumptions about Arabs generally.224 Edward Said claims this prejudice, or 'Orientalism' is representative of a peculiarly European way of dealing with foreigners. In his book, Orientalism,225 he eloquently demystifies romantic European notions of the Orient, exposing the reality and intensity of European hostility and cultural imperialism toward the East in which the strengths of the West are magnified and contrasted with the supposed weaknesses of the Orient.

Such bias and contrived generalisations have had the effect of polarising West from East, limiting the 'human encounter between different cultures, traditions and societies.' 226 At its most mundane it surfaces in views and phrases that highlight the fact that Arabs are different from Europeans, whether in skin colour, dietary preferences or personal habits. At a more profound level Orientalism has also had a profound and lasting impact upon American and European foreign policy.

Kinglake, in his unorthodox and frank impressions of the Middle East, Eothen, first published in 1844, contains an early example of Orientalism.

A man coming freshly from Europe is at first proof against the nonsense with which he is assailed; but often it happens that after a little while the social atmosphere of Asia will begin to infect him, and, if he has been unaccustomed to the cunning of fence by which reason prepares the means of guarding herself against fallacy, he will yield himself at last to the faith of those around him; and this he will do by sympathy, it would seem, rather than from conviction.227

Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, written nearly a century later, contains 'perhaps the most famous Arabist analysis of the Arab mind, considered brilliant by some and racist by others.' 228

In the very outset, at the first meeting with them, was found a universal clearness or hardness of belief, almost mathematical in its limitation, and repellent in its unsympathetic form... They were a people of primary colours, or rather of black and white, who saw the world always in contour. They were a dogmatic people, despising doubt, our modern crown of thorns. They did not understand our metaphysical difficulties, our introspective questionings... They were at ease only in extremes. They inhabited superlatives by choice... they never compromised, they pursued the logic of several incompatible opinions to absurd ends, without perceiving the incongruity... They steered their course between the idols of the tribe and the cave.229

The perceptions of the Revd John Holmes is another good example of this. Following a visit to Palestine in 1929 he wrote with admiration for the Jewish pioneer settlers,

As I met and talked with these toilers on the land, I could think of nothing but the early English settlers who came to the bleak shores of Massachusetts, and there amid winter's cold in an untilled soil, among an unfriendly native population, laid firm and sure the foundations of our American Republic. For this reason I was not surprised later, when I read Josiah Wedgewood's 'The Seventh Dominion' to find this distinguished Gentile Zionist of Britain speaking of these Jewish pioneers as 'the Pilgrim Fathers of Palestine'. Here is the same heroism dedicated to the same ends... It is obvious that the native Arabs while no less stubborn and savage than the American Indians, cannot be removed from the scene.230

Edward Said offers more recent evidence from an essay by Dr Henry Kissinger entitled 'Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy'. In it Kissinger relies on what linguists refer to as 'binary opposition', in which, like Orientalists, he divides the world into two halves, the developed post-Newtonian and the developing pre-Newtonian world.

And like Orientalism's distinction Kissinger's was not value-free, despite the apparent neutrality of his tone. Thus such words as 'prophetic,' 'accurate,' 'internal,' 'empirical reality,' and 'order' are scattered throughout his description, and they characterise either attractive, familiar, desirable virtues or menacing, peculiar, disorderly defects. Both the traditional Orientalist... and Kissinger conceive of the difference between cultures, first, as creating a battle front that separates them, and second, as inviting the West to control, contain, and otherwise govern (through superior knowledge and accommodating power) the Other. 231

Said gives further examples of 'respectable' Orientalism in the writings of Harold Glidden, an advisor on American foreign policy to the United States Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research, whose views were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in February 1972.

...it is a notable fact that while the Arab value system demands absolute solidarity within the group, it at the same time encourages among its members a kind of rivalry that is destructive of that very solidarity; in Arab society only 'success counts' and 'the end justifies the means'; Arabs live 'naturally' in a world 'characterised by anxiety expressed in generalised suspicion and distrust, which has been labelled free-floating hostility'; 'the art of subterfuge is highly developed in Arab life, as well as in Islam itself'; the Arab need for vengeance overrides everything, otherwise the Arab would feel 'ego-destroying' shame. Therefore, if 'Westerners consider peace to be high on the scale of values' and if 'we have a highly developed consciousness of the value of time,' this is not true of Arabs. 'In fact,' we are told, 'in Arab tribal society, strife, not peace, was the normal state of affairs because raiding was one of the two main supports of the economy.' 232

Probably the most disastrous recent example of how Orientalist attitudes have influencfed foreign policy decisions would be the failure of the United States and the Western Alliance to take seriously Saddam Hussein's expansionist intentions prior to his annexation of Kuwait. April Glaspie, the US ambassador to Iraq, and significantly the first woman ambassador in the Middle East, made two fundamental errors, prior to Iraq's invasion which are inherent flaws common to Arabists, and yet ironically at the same time are typical of Western Orientalists.

..first, what was required in this situation was not so much tough talk as straight talk. She was not straight with Saddam. Whatever may have been Washington's official position at the time, an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was going to result in some sort of strong U.S. response-common sense would tell you that-and she failed to point this out to him. Second, here was an area specialist who completely misjudged the overall situation, as Gertrude Bell had misjudged it with King Feisal and as the missionaries had repeatedly misjudged it with the Sunni Arab nationalists, all misjudgements that stemmed from the hubris that allowed Westerners to think that they could modify the behaviour of another culture and shape it in their own perfect image. Saddam could be moderated if only he had the right incentives, like nonlethal military equipment...233

In April 1991, April Glaspie appeared in public for the first time following the invasion of Kuwait, to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sydney Blumenthal of the New Republic notes that she appeared 'without makeup or jewellery; her long grey hair was pulled back and her dress absolutely plain. Her puritan austerity suggested virtue.' Indeed, she looked every inch the missionary.'234

For the Orientalist the West is seen as liberal, peaceful, rational and capable of embracing 'real' values whereas the Oriental is not. Kenneth Cragg who has lived in the Middle East for many years, and has closely identified with the Arab culture, both Moslem and Christian, concurs with Said's criticism of Orientalism, for its 'crude stereotype imaging of the East', and for being,

a gross form of Western superiority complex, expressed in a literature and a scholarship that imposed its own false portrayal on the East and refused to care sensitively for the East's own evaluation of itself. By distortion it had its own way with its eastern versions and made these the instrument of control and, indeed, of denigration... 19th and 20th century Western Orientalism is thus found uniformly culpable, and a conniver with misrepresentation. 235

This indictment of the West falls as much upon the Church as it does upon politicians since it has contributed to the divisions among Protestant Christians in places like Jerusalem where Hebrew-Messianic believers and Zionist Christians gravitate toward Christ Church, Palestinians and their supporters to St George's, while pietistic Evangelicals invariably end up at the Garden Tomb. Each community tends to worship in isolation, attracting their own following in varying proportions from among pilgrims. Edward Said, although himself a nominal Anglican, crystallises the issue at a more profound level.

I consider Orientalism's failure to have been a human as much as an intellectual one; for in having to take up a position of irreducible opposition to a region of the world it considered alien to its own, Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience. 236

Eber concedes that it is perhaps inevitable that we find it hard to cope with the 'foreign' because of the weight of our emotional 'baggage' carried when travelling abroad, since we cannot avoid 'refining and redefining ourselves, confirming and reconfirming our individual and collective identities' in the light of this encounter. Nevertheless it is, she argues, ' only by examining and becoming aware of our own internal voice-overs and editing processes can we bring into sharper focus the images that we see.'237 Similarly Cragg calls unambiguously for 'imaginative, uninhibited and uninhibiting sympathy between Arab and Western Christians'

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