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Constructing and naturalizing the middle east essay

The effect of this move is to orientalize the Middle Ages in much the same way Said claims the West orientalizes the East, projecting onto an imagined Medieval past all that the modern world claims to reject. Like the West, the modern is scientific, rational, and enlightened, while like the Orient, the Medieval is superstitious, irrational, and dark — requiring specialized knowledge and philological skills to understand.

  • He invited them to settle on the island of Delma;
  • If Said had described Orientalism simply as a discourse that emerged within a particular Medieval religious climate and evolved as scholarship evolved in the Enlightenment, altering with shifting geo-political realities, it would be too easy for his readers, academics, and statesmen simply to disavow his interpretation of their representations;
  • A widely circulated 1894 speech by the future president Theodore Roosevelt evinces this important shift;
  • In contrast, they see the coastal villages in Iran as undeveloped and poor, but rich in nature.

Thus Islam is an object of religious discourse, and only secondarily an object of Orientalist discourse; Christian representations of Islam are better explained as simple products of interreligious conflict than as manifestations of Orientalism. For Hart, the rupture between Medieval and modern is not wide enough and the solution is to create an even bigger fissure between the two. I disagree, and to explain why, we need to consider what work the rupture does for Said in the first place.

Why does Said take such pains then to emphasize this break?

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I think Said describes modern Orientalism as essentially and necessarily secular for political reasons. If Said had described Orientalism simply as a discourse that emerged within a particular Medieval religious climate and evolved as scholarship evolved in the Enlightenment, altering with shifting geo-political realities, it would be too easy for his readers, academics, and statesmen simply to disavow his interpretation of their representations.

This is well worth doing. At the same time, beginning the conversation about Orientalism only in the 18th century not only takes away from medievalists a useful analytic tool but also, of more general interest and concern, weakens our conversation about the very modern phenomena Said intends to describe. Nor is religious language and symbolism confined to American Orientalism.

The Danish anti-Islamic cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005 are an area where we can understand more fully the significance of representations of Muhammad and Muslims when we admit that the Orientalist discourse that the cartoonists participate in originates first in the Middle Ages, not the Enlightenment.

Western international reaction to the cartoons has tended to see them as bigoted, perhaps, but as exemplifying valuable and worthy post-Enlightenment ideals of free speech. But foreshortening the historical context of the cartoons to merely the Enlightenment conceals the degree constructing and naturalizing the middle east essay which, far from being a bold and innovative defence of Western values, they are instead the latest manifestation of a long medieval European tradition of seeking out martyrdom by deliberately insulting Islam in general and the Prophet Muhammad in particular.

There were also similar activities by 13th century Franciscans and Ramon Llull, who agonized about whether his destiny was to convert Muslims or to die a martyr. Finally, and most recently, we find Nicholas Sarkozy wishing to restrict Muslim practice in the name of secularism, Muslim women in France from wearing the burqa out in public. But are his objectives as secular as he claims? It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.

Said had good reasons for stressing the secular side of modern Orientalism. But it is past time to recognize that this is just one side, albeit a crucial one. By reincorporating religious discourse as a mode among others of contemporary Orientalizing discourses, we can better understand both our past and our present. Edward Said, Orientalism New York: Random, 1978reprinted with a new afterword, 1994, pp. Pick, Conflict and Coexistence: University of Michigan Press, 2004pp.

Cambridge University Press, 2000p.