The Concept Of Orientalism In The Colonial Perspective

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Orientalism is a key concept that provides a new perspective on the study of the impact of colonialism in the Middle East and the relationship of the region with the rest of the world, mainly Europe and North America. Edward Said’s definition of orientalism was to bring attention to the false narrative built by western scholars when talking about the orient. Europeans divided the world into two parts, the east and the west or the civilized and uncivilized. They also used orientalism to define themselves as the superior race compared to the Orientals, justified their colonization by this concept as well as stating that it was their duty towards the world to civilize the uncivilized world. The issues arose when the Europeans started generalizing the attributes they associated with Orientals and started portraying these artificial characteristics associated with Orientals in their western world through sources such as the media and literature. This has created a certain image about the Orientals in the European mind and this infused a bias opinion in the European attitude towards the Orientals. Orientalists such as Edward Said have found this bias and influence in their research. In this essay I will discuss and evaluate how the theory of orientalism helps us understand the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US used Liberation as a reason for the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The invasion of Afghanistan was to capture Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks although there was no evidence connecting the group to the attacks. According to George W. Bush, this would prevent future terrorist attacks in the West and liberate Afghanistan from a terrorist group. Additionally, the Iraq invasion happened due to the suspicion that the country was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. However, despite no weapons being found, the US still continued its attack until the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown. It can be argued that America’s aim for these attacks was to promote democracy in the Middle East. Liberal democracy is seen as western mind-set by orientalists. Said argues that the West sees the Middle East negatively and want to impose their values into the region in order to improve it. This has not been possible to achieve and one of the reasons for this is because in the Middle East most countries do not have a sense of nationhood and they function through a system of family which means that the idea of liberal democracy will not work. Thus, the promotion of the Western democracy into the Middle Eastern values is a reason for the US led war on terror.

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The concept “Good West versus bad Islamic world” was constructed by the western society. A modern day example of this concept is the perception that the West has of the East in regards to terrorism. The majority of Western people associate acts of terrorism with those who are part of the Islamic religion and Muslim community. The Western government has created a moral panic amongst its society, making them believe that there is a high level of danger. They have used this as a justification to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Several governments in the West also have aims to reduce immigration and the media has intensified this view by promoting the Western as a Christian society. It can be assumed that those in West are afraid that Christianity will eventually disappear due to secularisation and it the West will be predominantly Muslim. According to Said, most of these views have been deeply influenced by assumptions of the Islamic culture. The news of Muslims and the Middle East only gained a large amount of attention after the 9/11 attacks and recent terrorist attacks in the west. This media coverage frames Muslim men as terrorists. This shows bias towards the Islamic society as when a terrorist attack is carried out by Christians, the media rarely portrays the attacker as a terrorist but takes a softer approach to the situation by using other factors such as mental health or interviewing their families, however when the perpetrators are Muslim the attack is immediately labelled as terrorism. Thus, orientalists believe that the western society has created a negative and violent image of the Islamic and middle east society. The media and government, mainly in Europe and North America have stigmatised Islam as a fearful community which justifies the invasions of the West in the Middle East.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration used the liberation of Muslim women as a reason for invading Afghanistan and Iraq. The emancipation of Muslim women from their violent men was a main concern at the time. This was used to justify the military response as well as promoting democracy. According to Neo-orientalists Behdad and Williams, the Islamic veil “sanctions a paternalistic and neo-imperial relation between the West and Muslim societies by enabling a discourse of rescue”. This orientalist perspective focuses on gender and believes that Muslim women are oppressed by their religion whilst men possess violent tendencies and fundamentalist religiosity. The French government has also banned the use of Burqas in the country as they believed it oppresses women and their liberation. It can be assumed that this was used as a justification to invade the Middle East and the US assumed that Muslim women were being oppressed by the religion and men. Therefore, the liberation of women was used as a reason to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

The orientalist view can also be criticised. One of its main critics is Bernard Lewis who believed that Said portrayed western scholars as evil. He argues that Said did not included the Italian, Dutch and German contribution to his study of orientalism as these nations are deemed more important than the French and. This shows a bias of the people that have been studied as it does not show a representation of the majority in western society.

To conclude, Orientalism explains the US led war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan as it explains the views the West has over the Middle East which in turn justify the invasions as it can be seen that the West wants to install its values in the Middle Eastern society.


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