Occidentalism versus Orientalism ~ (الاستشراق) و(الاستغراب)

أ. د. منى العلوان

هو موضوع كتب عنه الكثير وألفت عنه العديد من الدراسات الأكاديميةالرصينة. وهذه المقالة هي محاولة لتلخيص الأفكار الأساسية في هذين المجالين من الدراسة لصالح القارئ الذي لديه القليل من المعرفة بهذه الاتجاهات الفكرية المعروفة دوليًا. ولفهم مصطلح “الاستغراب”، من الضروري البدء بسرد موجز لمصطلح “الاستشراق” كما استخدمه الرائد في هذا المجال من الدراسات،إدوارد سعيد. تقدم المقالة أيضاً مقارنة بين مفهوم الاستشراق ومفهوم الاستغراب مشيرة الى بعض الدراسات المعروفة في هذه المجالات وتختمها بنبذة عن ما يسمى “الاستغراب العربي” وعن استخداماته بالأدب العربي مشيرة الى بعض الأعمال الأدبية الحديثة.
أود الاشارة الى أن مصطلح “الاستغراب” يطلق على الفكر الموازي والمناهض لفكر “الاستشراق” كما يظهر في الكثير من الدراسات الأكاديمية.

Muna Al Alwan

“Orientalism and Occidentalism” is a topic which has been explored in details in many scholarly studies. The present article is an attempt to summarise the basic ideas in these two fields of study for the benefit of the reader who has little knowledge of these internationally well known trends of thought. In order to understand the term “Occidentalism”, it is necessary to start with a brief account of the term “Orientalism” as it is used by the pioneer in this field of studies, Edward Said.
 Edward Said’s book, Orientalism (1978), is considered to be his most influential work and has been translated into at least 36 languages. It is a foundation text of the academic field of Postcolonial studies, wherein the denotations and connotations of the term “Orientalism” are expanded to accurately describe the false cultural assumptions of the “Western World”, which produced the cultural misrepresentation of the “The Orient”, in general, and of the Middle East, in particular.

The term ‘Orientalism’ describes, in Said’s words, the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo–Islamic peoples and their culture”; these cultural prejudices are derived from a long tradition of romanticised images of Asia and of the Middle East as illustrated in A Thousand and One Nights and other works and which, in practice, functioned as implicit justifications for the colonial and the imperial ambitions of the European powers and the U.S. Since its publication in the late 20th century, the book Orientalism proved to be an intellectual document central to the field of Postcolonial studies because its thesis remains historically factual, true, and accurate for the periods studied, and especially regarding the cultural representations of “Orientals” and “The Orient” presented in the mass communication media of the West. A central idea of Orientalism is that Western knowledge about the East is not generated from facts or reality, but from preconceived archetypes that present all “Eastern” societies as fundamentally similar to one another, and fundamentally dissimilar to “Western” societies. Orientalism concludes that Western writing about the Orient describes it as an irrational, weak, and feminised “Other” greatly contrasted with the rational, strong, and masculine West, to create a “difference” of cultural inequality, between The West and The East. (Orientalism, chapter 1)
In 1980, Edward Said presented a summary of how Orientalism regards the Arab peoples, the Middle East, and Islamic culture today:
“So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Muslims and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab–Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have, instead, is a series of crude, essentialised caricatures of the Islamic world, presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.” (Quoted in “Edward Said”, The Nation: https://www.thenation.com/authors/edward-w-said/)
In Covering Islam (1981), Said analyses the relations between the Islamic world and the West, specially France, Great Britain and the United States. It is about how the world views Islam and how the Western media has speculated on the realities of Islamic life. Said questions the objectivity of the media, and discusses the relations between knowledge, power and the Western media. He claims that the media has determined very selectively what Westerners should and should not know about Islam and the Muslim world.
The term “ Occidentalism” is an inversion of “Orientalism”, the label Edward Said used for stereotyped Western views of the East. It was largely due to the influence of Edward Said’s Orientalism that “the discussion and use of the term Occidentalism gradually from the 1990s on gained currency in academic circles. Occidentalism refers primarily to the many ways in which non-Western intellectuals, artists, and the general public perceive and present the West. Though it seems to be an inversion of Orientalism, it has acquired some unique aspects defying a simple definition. In fact, the practices and discourses of Occidentalism vary a great deal, from time to time and region to region.” Moreover, “the two discourses not only juxtapose but also overlap with one another, in that the non-Western people do not perceive the West solely on their own cultural terms; rather, given the presence of Western discursive hegemony, they present the West either as a contrast, or an exemplar, reminding one of the principal practices of Orientalism among the Westerners. Different from the Orientalist discourse, which is mostly made by and for the Westerners, however, the Occidentalist discourse is made by non-Westerners for both Westerners and themselves.” (New Dictionary of the History of Ideas) 

Hasan Hanafi’s article, “From Orientalism to Occidentalism”, clearly and simply explains the difference between the two: “Orientalism as a field of research (orientalist studies) emerged in the West in modern times, since the renaissance. It reached its peak in the 19th century, and paralleled the development of other Western schools of thought such as rationalism, historicism, and structuralism. Occidentalism is thus a counter-field of research which can be developed in the Orient in order to study the West from a non-Western World point of view.” 
In order to understand these two interrelated schools of thought, Hanafi sheds light on certain essential concepts which loom largely in both. Orientalism
 expresses the “searching subject” more than it describes the “object of research”. It reveals Western mentality and is motivated by the desire of gathering the maximum of useful information about countries, peoples and cultures of the Orient. The West, in its expansion outside its geographic borders, tried to understand better in order to dominate better. Knowledge is power. “The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a compex hegemony.” Classical Orientalism belongs for the most part to similar aspects of colonial culture in the West such as Imperialism, Racism, Nazism, Fascism, a package of hegemonic ideologies and European supremacy. 

Contrary to Orientalism, Occidentalism is a discipline constituted in Third World countries in order to complete the process of decolonisation. Military, economic and political decolonisation would be incomplete without scientific and cultural decolonisation. Insofar as colonised countries before or after liberation are objects of study, decolonisation will be incomplete. Decolonisation will not be completed until the liberation of “the object” to become “the subject” and the transformation of the “observed” to an “observer”. 

In other words, the “object of study” in Orientalism becomes the “studying subject” in Occidentalism, and the “studying subject” in Orientalism becomes an “object of study” in Occidentalism. It seems there is no lasting “studying subject” and no lasting “object of study”. It depends on the power relationship between peoples and cultures.
(Hanafi: https://trepo.tuni.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/68235/building_peace_by_intercultural_dialogue_2008.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y#page=258)

Occidentalism in Arabic literature

Occidentalism in Arabic literature deals with the theme of the representation of Europe in present-day Arabic narrative discourse.
A new tendency emerged in the Arabic narrative output of the 1990s where the relationship between the definition of the Self and the representation of Europe appears inverted with respect to Occidentalism. In this respect, Rasheed El-Enany’s extensive book (2006), Arab Representations of the Occident: East-West Encounters in Arabic Fiction is a remarkable path- breaking study that provides a rich survey of the representations of Europe and the United States in modern Arabic narrative. Some thirty years “after the furor caused by Said’s book”, Rasheed El-Enany’s study challenges Said’s theory, at least with respect toArabic literature. El-Enany claims that Said only presented the western perspective andignored the Oriental resistance to it.
The exceptional interest aroused by the publication of Edward Said’ Orientalism in 1978, and the many debates that have been inspired by the book in the following years, have brought many scholars with different academic backgrounds (anthropology, literary studies, political science) to attempt the reverse route of the one followed by Said, and research on specific conceptions/images/constructions of the Occident as examples of “Occidentalism”. In some cases the studies on Occidentalism have been concerned with the same topic as Said’Orientalism and have made use of its theoretical apparatus, but have widened the original scope of Said’s study by focusing on the way the representation/construction of the “Oriental Other” has been used to produce specific images of the “Occidental Self.”
Eid Mohammed’s book, Arab Occidentalism: Images of America in the Middle East (2015) is another significant more recent study highly praised for identifying and exploring a counter-discourse to American Orientalism, which he calls “Arab Occidentalism”. Mohammed “makes audible a diversity of Arab voices whose resistance to prevailing Orientalist narratives is varied, complex and crucial. In an increasingly polarised world, where Muslims, and particularly Arab Muslims, and often the very concept of Islam itself, are seen by the West as the ‘Other’ that threatens the very foundations of Western civilisation, this is a timely study that attempts to examine the situation from the other end of the perspective.”
Eid Mohamed’s book studies the representations of the United States of America in Arab cultural productions, especially Egyptian ones, since 2001. It focuses on the cinematic, fictional, poetic, and journalistic Arab responses to 9/11 and the war on terrorism. He makes sure he integrates the works of Arab immigrants in the USA, to complement those of Arabs in the Middle East. The fraught relationships between the USA and the Middle East have been the object of several studies, but this work succeeds at presenting a new argument, thanks to its nuanced approach of the topic, its focus on culture, and its restricted timeframe.

Here’s a summary of the main ideas in Eid Mohammed’s book:

In the first chapter, Mohamed discusses the texts of Alaa al-Aswany and Amani Abul Fadl as examples of moderate voices that do not give fixed definitions of “self” and “other”.

In the second chapter he studies the media representations of two incidents engaging the USA and the Arab world: the shoe-throwing incident at Bush in Iraq and the election of President Obama. He analyses texts and cartoons from Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Ahram as well as Al Jazeera.

In the third chapter, he analyses Arab and especially Egyptian films, some being occidentalist in the sense of stereotyping the West and scripting America as essentially colonialist, and some contesting the idea of a clash of civilizations and providing a fluid discourse on the Arab-American encounter. Mohamed focuses on films dealing with 9/11, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the American involvement in the Middle East.

In the fourth chapter, he analyses two novels by post-9/11 Arab-American women writers: Mohja Kahf’s Emails from Scheherazad and its discourse on the independent Arab-American woman, as well as Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land which interrogates the ability of tradition to protect Arab-American subjects.

Recommended Readings:

Edward Said, Orientalism (1978)
Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (1993)

Rasheed El-Enany, Arab Representations of the Occident: East-West Encounters in Arabic Fiction (2006).

Eid Mohamed, Arab Occidentalism: Images of America in the Middle East (2015. London & New York)

Mohammed Chabi, “Orientalism vs Occidentalism”

Hanss Hanis, “Orietalism, Occidentalism and Arabic literature”

Ian Buruma, Avishai Margalit, “Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes
of its Enemies”
Mohja Kahf, “Emails from Shehrezade” (2004) and “The Girl with the Tangerine Scarf” (2008)

Laila Halabi, Once in a Promised Land (Beacon Press 2007)

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