"Orientalism" was a neutral term referring to the study of the Middle East and Asia by Western scholars, until Edward W. Said published his book, Orientalism , in 1978. This single work turned "Orientalism" into a pejorative word in academic circles, since Said argued that Western depictions of...
"Orientalism" was a neutral term referring to the study of the Middle East and Asia by Western scholars, until Edward W. Said published his book, Orientalism, in 1978. This single work turned "Orientalism" into a pejorative word in academic circles, since Said argued that Western depictions of "the East" (his principal focus is on the Islamic Middle East) have typically been condescending, ignorant, and focused on a notion of "the exotic" and "the other," which defines Middle Eastern culture only in Western terms. This was true even of authors generally considered liberal or progressive, such as George Orwell, who produced work in which only Western characters were permitted to be complex, while those from the East were relegated to the status of comic sidekicks or pasteboard villains.
Said's book attracted great controversy as soon as it was released. Early critics included Bernard Lewis and Albert Hourani. Lewis accused Said of combing the work of serious scholars for a few discreditable sentences while ignoring their life's work. He cites the case of Edward Lane, whose multi-volume Arabic English lexicon is completely ignored, while comments from minor works on Egypt are cited. The most common allegation by Said's critics is that of cherry-picking his evidence to find expressions of prejudice or contempt here and there in the work of writers and scholars who spent their lives in serious studies of Middle Eastern culture, in some cases culturally assimilating and converting to Islam in the process.
More recently, Ibn Warraq's Defending the West (2007) offers a book-length critique of Said's thesis. The book accuses Said of using meaningless and pretentious Postmodernist jargon to mount a self-pitying attack on Western values. Everyone, Ibn Warraq argues, writes from within a particular culture, and Said's complaints about Western writers having Western values are merely naive. He also points to various historical inaccuracies in Orientalism and accuses Said of dishonestly interpreting many of the texts he quotes.