Origins

Roy, Esposito books.Edward Said's 1978 book Orientalism launched what was by far the most resonant and effective critique of orientalism. Said, a Palestinian Christian professor of English and Comparative Literature, analyzed orientalist scholarship and argued that it serves as a body of hegemonic discourse. Echoing Tibawi, Said discussed in great detail the failure of orientalist scholarship to adhere to such core intellectual virtues as rationality and objectivity. What orientalist scholarship does is create stereotypes through which power over Muslims peoples is asserted and justified. Roy, Esposito books. Instead of approaching the study of Islam or Muslims in terms of specific questions about local circumstances and historical influences, orientalism carelessly portrays all Muslims in an undifferentiated mass, describing them as irrational, backward, despotic, inferior, and so forth. The West is then by extension stereotyped as rational, progressive, humane, superior, and so forth. Other orientalist stereotypes include such untenable concepts as the so-called "Arab mind" and "Islamic society." Echoing Abdel-Malek, Said argued that whether consciously or not, the orientalists had created a discourse that serves to justify European, and subsequently American, imperialism.

Said's critique of the power exercised by scholarly discourse about "the Other" (those who are not us) sent shockwaves through academia, permanently altering the dynamics of such established disciplines as anthropology, history, sociology, and comparative religions. Many now seek to study Islam and Muslims with careful sensitivity to their own inherited assumptions. While Said has been rightly criticized from a number of positions, the majority of his critics accept his conclusions in principle.

Edward Said. Source: Public DomainOthers, less interested in entering the debate over the validity of Said's claims, have taken his argument into the field to conduct fresh analyses of Islamic cultures and histories, and of the colonial empires that sought to subjugate the Muslims. Through this fresh and original scholarship, the richness and density of our shared knowledge on Islam and Muslims is increasing. For excellent examples of studies of the diversity and complexity to be found within specific localities and historical moments, see Yann Richard's Shi'ite Islam: Polity, Ideology, and Creed (Blackwell 1995), Peter Lamborn Wilson's Scandal: Essays in Islamic Heresy (Autonomedia 1988), or Lisa Lowe's Critical Terrains: French and British Orientalisms (Cornell 1991).


Study Questions:
1.     What contributed to the identity of Muslims as “anti-Western”?
2.     Describe the relationship of the media and Islam in the West.
3.     Who is Edward Said and what does his book Orientalism contribute to the discourse of the creation of Islamic identity?

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