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The Term Orientalism and Its Differences on the East and the West Essay


The term orientalism originates from the Latin term oriens that refers to “east” and this is in contrast to the Latin occidens that refers to “west”; therefore, the term has been employed for the imitation and representation of different aspects Eastern cultures in the west by authors and artists.

It is important to note that the idea of the differences in culture between the East and the West can be traced back to the early Roman times in which there was an increasing opinion of the differences between Asia and Europe in terms of various aspects such as religious practices and artistic preferences.

Although the East and the West associated from early Roman times through trade activities, voyages, cultural and intellectual exchange, and although they had many things in common, the idea of orientalism got increased recognition during the late Middle Ages in which the East and the West increased their relations and endeavored to exploit one another’s territory through various exchange activities. Nonetheless, the field of orientalism underwent a drastic transformation in 1978 when Edward W. Said, a Palestinian-American scholar, exposed orientalism as a colonialist enterprise in his book Orientalism.

Even though Said study was centered only on the Islamic Middle East, he criticized orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (Said, 15). His investigations have resulted in an enormous impact on the field of cultural studies. More so, various researchers in the other fields of traditional orientalist studies from various parts of the world have utilized his findings in undertaking their analysis.

In the famous book, Said holds that orientalism is a collection of false assumptions lying beneath Western attitudes toward the East and he asserts that it is “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture”(Pryce-Jones, middle section).

Thus, he used the word to refer to the ubiquitous Western tradition, both scholarly and artistic, of bigotry understandings of the East, formed through the mindset of European imperialism that was common during the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, and he was critical both of this scholarly tradition and of some modern scholars who held the traditional opinion on orientalism.

Said maintained that the long culture of deceptive and romantic impressions of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had played a pivotal role in justifying the Europeans as well as the Americans colonial and imperial pursuits, and he sternly objected to the practice of some Arab elites who internalized the western orientalists’ views concerning the Arabic culture.

Said takes note of the stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims that exists in the western world in that, “the Moslems and the Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers of potential terrorists and this has resulted to a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world that has been portrayed in such as manner to make the world vulnerable to military aggression” (Said, para.1).

According to Said, the U.S. and the British investigation of Islamic civilization was rooted in political intellectualism bent on self-assertion instead of objective investigation; thus, he maintained that western ideologies on the orient, having opinions of the East provided in them, are suspect, and cannot be accepted without further scrutiny.

He views western investigation on Islamic civilization as a type of racial discrimination as well as a means of imposing imperialist domination and that the history of European colonial rule and political domination over the East disfigures even the views of the most ardent western orientalists. “The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other” (Said, 1).

Said asserted that the U.S. and Britain had discriminated the Islamic world in both art and literature since ancient times, and that even in the modern times, their ideologies have dominated the Arabic world politically such that even the most superficially objective Western literature on the East have been pervaded with a unfairness that Western scholars cannot distinguish.

He points out that Western researchers were tasked with the responsibility of investigating and representing Asia’s past from a perspective of their own. And, in doing this, they failed to recognize that the East also had the ability to represent its languages, history, and culture in a manner that suits it best without outside interference. The Western scholars have interpreted the East’s culture in a way that makes Europe to appear as the standard, from which the ”foreign” orient moves away.

According to Pryce-Jones, Said viewed the highly eclectic western scholars as engaging in a long-drawn plot, worldwide but not visible, “to establish the supremacy of the West by depicting an East not only inferior but static and incapable of change. And, at bottom, here was the vulgar Marxist concept that knowledge serves only the interest of the ruling class” (para. 11).

Works Cited

Pryce-Jones, David. “Enough Said.” Newcriterion.com. The New Criterion, 2008. Web.

Said, Edward W. “Islam through western eyes.” Nation.com. The Nation, 26 April 1980. Web.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York; London: Penguin, 1995. Print.

Williams, Patrick, ed. Edward Said, 4 volumes. Thousand Oaks, CA; London: Sage, 2001. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, May 27). The Term Orientalism and Its Differences on the East and the West. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/orientalism/

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"The Term Orientalism and Its Differences on the East and the West." IvyPanda, 27 May 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/orientalism/.

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IvyPanda. "The Term Orientalism and Its Differences on the East and the West." May 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/orientalism/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Term Orientalism and Its Differences on the East and the West." May 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/orientalism/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Term Orientalism and Its Differences on the East and the West'. 27 May.

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