Orientalism Questions and Answers
by Edward W. Said

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Comment on the significance of the title of Edward Said's essay Crisis in Orientalism.

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The late Edward Said (1935-2003) held in complete and total disdain Western scholarship of the region known as “the Middle East” and “the Near East,”  basically, the vast expanse of territory stretching from the northwest coast of Africa to the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf to the east.  Said is credited with originating the term “orientalism” to describe the Western academic perception of Arabs and Arabia born of a condescending prejudiced view of people who happen to reflect a different history and culture.  Orientalism, to Said, encompassed Western colonization of the Middle East, as the dehumanizing perception of Arabs held by Western scholars and politicians and the natural wealth the region held were coveted and seen as legitimate targets of European imperialism.  In his seminal 1978 text on the subject, Orientalism, Said expanded upon the concept of “orientalism” to encapsulate the totality of European studies of policies towards the Middle East, describing it “a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction between ‘the Orient’  and (most of the time) ‘the Occident’.” 

While highly critical of the Western approach to Middle Eastern studies, Said did not see that phenomenon as surviving in perpetuity.  Decolonization, he argued, fundamentally undermined the orientalist notion of the Arab as a backwards, pliable, almost pathetic wimp ripe for subjugation.  As he wrote in his 1980 essay The Crisis of Orientalism , describing the colonial-era perception among Europeans, “[t]he West is the actor, the Orient a passive reactor.”  The post-World War II proliferation of “national liberation movements,” however, and growing pressure from within these “passive” arenas for release from the yoke of Western imperialism seriously contravened previously held notions of Arab passivity.  Expanding on the condescending...

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