Sun 09 May 2004 at 12:05 ·
Basically, he argues that the whole notion of the “Orient” or “Orientalism” is a body of culture, academic work and politics that tries to identify the East as “them” in terms that have evolved through Western imperialism.
To be more specific, in Said’s own words:
Think of the line that starts with Napoleon, continues with the rise of oriental studies and the takeover of North Africa, and goes on in similar undertakings in Vietnam, in Egypt, in Palestine and, during the entire 20th century, in the struggle over oil and strategic control in the Gulf, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Then think of the rise of anti-colonial nationalism, through the short period of liberal independence, the era of military coups, of insurgency, civil war, religious fanaticism, irrational struggle and uncompromising brutality against the latest bunch of “natives”. Each of these phases and eras produces its own distorted knowledge of the other, each its own reductive images, its own disputatious polemics.
So the Western conception of “Orientalism”, according to Said, has been a long time in the making. But could it have been even longer?
I ask this because, after watching Carthage: The Roman Holocaust, a fascinating documentary on the Roman destruction of the North African empire of Carthage over two millennia ago, I’m drawing parallels between the contemporary Western view of all things “Oriental”, and the vicious propaganda (and blatant rewriting of history) employed by Roman politicians to demonise the Carthaginians and their culture in the eyes of Ancient Roman society — which is, of course, the bedrock of European civilisation, and in turn, contemporary Western culture.
Maybe Said was too generous to the West in starting his line with Napoleon?
You were reading Remembering Carthage, a Macrolog entry by MacDara Conroy. It is filed under Culture, and was published in May 2004. If you liked what you read here, you can follow this site on Twitter @mcrlg or via reader feed, and find many more entries in the Archives.