Tag Archives: Orientalism

Fictional writing as Western resistance: How two writers challenged Western Orientalist depictions of the Arab “other”

The publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978 led to a deluge of writing on Western representations of the Orient. Of the recent scholarship that deals with nineteenth and early twentieth-century Orientalism, most either focus on the works of Western scholars of the Orient, or on cultural and literary productions from the time. Said’s scholarship cast new light on past writings by Arab academics, such as Anouar Abdel-MalikA.L. Tibawi, and Abdallah Laroui, who had already critiqued Western tropes of the Orient. The tropes Said and others were criticizing had several things in common: they depicted Arabs as less moral and intelligent, and often less human than the Westerner. Although Said’s argument in Orientalism was perceived as groundbreaking, he was not the first to write such criticism, nor was his research necessarily unique. While Arab intellectuals from the nineteenth and early twentieth century are rarely considered critics of Orientalist narratives, when studying texts from this period it becomes apparent that many were critical of the Western projects in the region.

Two Nahḍa[1] Writers’ Responses to European Orientalism: Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq and Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī

Two Arab intellectuals that wrote works that were highly critical of Europe’s interference in the region were Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq and Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī. Their responses to the West were complex, as they were not only critical of the military or political aspects of the colonial encounter, but also the problematic language used in Europe to discuss the people and cultures of the Middle East.

The focus on Arab intellectuals’ responses to Orientalist tropes from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is important, as such investigations are sorely lacking from the existing literature that examines the wide-ranging use of such tropes. This is particularly problematic as it has the effect of further silencing the subjects of Orientalism, while intentionally or unintentionally portraying them as unable to speak up about the treatment they were receiving. The relationships between Orientalist scholars and Arab intellectuals took many different forms, and although I am highlighting two intellectuals who were highly critical of the West, this is of course not the case with all of their peers.

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Book Review: Orientalism, Terrorism, Indigenism, South Asian Readings in Postcolonialism by Pavan Kumar Malreddy

Reviewed by Sourav Banerjee

Orientalism, Terrorism...

 

Title: Orientalism, Terrorism, Indigenism, South Asian Readings in Postcolonialism
Author: Pavan Kumar Malreddy
Publisher: SAGE Publications India Private Limited
Pages: 170
Price: INR 795/-

The author of this book is Pavan Kumar Malreddy, a Researcher at the Institute for English and American Studies, Goethe University, Frankfurt. He is famous for his essays in various journals on radical issues affecting the world in the field of race, post-colonialism, terrorism, and indigenous politics. In this book, the author successfully contributes to the detailed aspect and conceptualization of contemporary subjects such as terrorism, orientalism and Dalit Bahujan movements and how the same is received in popular media along with academic literature. The author has taken excerpts from contemporary occurrences with regard to the efflux of postcolonial structure of terrorism and orientalism that has emerged in South Asian countries. The contradiction took place internally between South Asian approaches to post colonialism (Subaltern Studies) and its European counterparts along with the resistance produced by the indigenization of local literary traditions in the work of select South Asian literary figures.

In “Discourses: Orientalism, Terrorism and Popular Culture” the author illustrates how, as if the advent of the cold war and its impact on the world at large was not good enough, the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, famously known as 9/11, altered the landscape of western thought process, infusing notions of terrorism and religious intolerance as serious existential challenges, along with its approach to the Orient. While governmental issues quickly aligned to the changing world requirements, the vocabulary of the worldwide talks slurped up terms up to this point, sneaking in the shadowy interests of the Orient, as seen by the west. At the same time, with the collapse of communism in Europe, dialogues arrived at the decision to terminate ‘privatization’. The attack by ‘Al Qaeda’, headed then by Usama ibn Mohammed ibn Awad Ibn Ladin (popularly known as Osama Bin Laden) on 9/11, gave birth to phobias, suspicion, segregation, and furthermore, a still staggering nativism. It further narrates how the orientalists believed that Arabs are uncivilized and Islam was a religion meant to be followed by terrorists. Muslims in massive numbers propagated Islam and called for stability, unification, the only way for development and hope to sustain on this planet, carrying the slogan of ‘Islam is the solution.’ With the attack of 9/11, ‘Terror from the east’ emerged and the world’s supposedly most powerful nation, the United States of America, found itself in a fragile and vulnerable position as prey to religious extremism. The orientalists brought to light the lesser developed eastern countries to take an upper hand of their might over the rest.

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Same as it ever was: Orientalism 40 years later

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In addition to reading the classics like Edward Said and Jack Shaheen, I recommend exploring contemporary Arab and Arab American writers and scholars. There is no shortage of them, of us. For one place to start, check out the list of Arab American Book Award winners. In terms of scholarship, Evelyn Alsultany’s Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation After 9/11 (2012) updates Said to explore how contemporary media often deploy a “good Arab” to create the illusion of complex representation, what she calls a “simplified complex representation.” In terms of literature, Khaled Mattawa’s lyrical poems and translations have brought into English so much beauty and wisdom. Likewise the work of the indefatigable Marilyn Hacker, in her poems and translations. Marcia Lynx Qualey’s blog called Arabic Literature in English provides a constant reading list. Interlink Books deserves special mention, and there are at least three literary magazines devoted to Arab literature: MiznaBanipal, and Sukoon. For me, the existence of RAWI (the Radius of Arab American Writers) has made me feel a little more at home in the world, and at home in myself. RAWI is home to many prominent Arab American writers, including a core group with whom I regularly group-text: Hayan Charara, Marwa Helal, Randa Jarrar, Fady Joudah, Farid Matuk, Deema Shehabi.

In poetry, Hayan Charara is the master of dread, whose poems tip the earth beneath us, sliding into the unspeakable; on text, he shares goofy photos of his kids, usually dressed up in hilarious outfits. In poetry, Marwa Helal invented a new kind of poem, the Arabic, which reads right to left; on text, she’s the one who hearts us most, and keeps us hip to slang and people like DJ Khaled, whose embrace of the good life is equal parts hip hop and Arab. In her essays, stories, and Tweets, Jarrar’s drawn to the funny and provocative; one troll called her novel “a handbook on masturbation.” In group-text, she alternates between hilarity and sweetness. Fady Joudah’s just another award-winning poet and translator, whose surprising response to the Levinson affair and other grotesqueries, “Say It: I’m Arab and Beautiful,” ought to be read by everyone, vibrating as it is with the birth-pangs of something new. Farid Matuk’s baby girl pops up in group-text, as she does in his new and highly experimental poems, when he’s not going high-theory in voluminous and impeccable texts. Deema Shehabi’s two boys, and her kindness, radiating always, rhymes with her jasmine-scented and fierce poems. What does it mean to know her grandfather was once the mayor of Gaza?

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