Since the publication of Edward Said's book in 1978, "Orientalism" has come to mean a series of largely prejudicial attitudes and judgments by Western writers and commentators about the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia as a whole. Said viewed these attitudes as distorted, condescending, and as a kind of projection of Western imperialism and the legacy of Europe's attempts to dominate "Eastern" cultures and societies.
Obviously, the arguments or controversies about Orientalism relate to the accuracy of Said's own perceptions of Western intellectuals' views of the "East." Is Said correct that Europeans have created a mythical, distorted, and unfair depiction of Asia and North Africa? Or, as some scholars such as Bernard Lewis have suggested, is it Said's own view that is distorted and incorrect?
In my opinion, much European and American fiction does present a somewhat romanticized and mythologized picture of the regions in question, as Said indicates. It is somewhat analogous, in a milder way, to the false manner in which both Native Americans and the sub-Saharan African peoples have often been depicted in Western lore as people living essentially in a state of "savagery" until the arrival of the white man. The attitude is a reflexive rationalization of imperialism and colonization. Even in the fiction of a progressive writer such as George Orwell, for instance, Asian people are sometimes depicted in a distorted and condescending way. This occurs despite Orwell's main point of the injustice of European colonialism throughout such works as Burmese Days, "Shooting an Elephant," and "A Hanging." Even after Orwell's time, we can see a patronizing view of the "natives" of the "East"; for example, in the 1960s films Lawrence of Arabia and Khartoum.
That said, some argue that Said overstates his case. Some commentators assert that Said views the "West" unobjectively, just as Europeans do the "East." Much of his position, however, is unassailable, as prejudice and exploitation have been all too common in history.