Global ‘foreign’ without regard for what separated and

Global history takes into consideration the development of
societies, people and technology over time regardless of the trappings of
borders defining nations with singular narratives. This is imperative as to why
Orientalism is relevant in the consideration of Global History. The history of
the Middle East is of global importance, the goings on in the region having
global ramifications. However, a point that this essay will discuss is that the
perceived ‘Middle East’ is a vaguely defined region based on Eurocentric ideas,
grouping nations and people for the convenience of western governments.
Consequently, this has led to the vilification of the Arab people over time, as
it has been manipulated to suit western narratives and justify their actions which would have
otherwise been seen as plainly immoral. As a result, this has smeared the image
and esteem of ancient and illustrious cultures, religions and ethnic
identities. Global history is also constantly evolving, being made every day.
The creation of Orientalism by past generations reverberates into the present.
The resentment bred on both sides of the prejudice is omnipresent in the media,
examples and consequences arising daily. This is the striking significance of
the question. Orientalism is a process, one which started long ago and now is
an inescapable part of western and perhaps global society. It has continued
seamlessly from past to present, transcending nations to become an ingrained way
of thinking. This is of importance even more so as it is a form of
discrimination that remains largely unchallenged, manifesting itself as
manufactured thoughts that western society (largely) mindlessly accepts just as
its origins intended.

 

Orientalism is based around the concept of the Middle East.
The concept however was created by Western powers. The reference to the area of
North Africa, Persia and the Arabian Peninsula is a grouping that was and
remains to be a convenience for the West. In fact, this was at first more
explicit as “over the course of the nineteenth century, Europeans and Americans
would increasingly come to see the orient as divided into two distinct units”
with the present Middle east being referred to as the “Near East” (Lockman,
2004, p. 66).
This blanket term is indicative of how ignorantly the West viewed the region.
It had no understanding of the ethnicities and identities which existed within.
They saw the people of the region as simply ‘foreign’ without regard for what
separated and defined them. This was unfounded and based upon assumption.
Ventura writes with reference to Edward Said’s definition of Orientalism that it
“disregards concrete historical contexts and produces abstract and even
“mythical” images of the “Orientals” and of the “other” in general. The
tendency to generalize and the lack of critical and historical considerations
are among the most striking marks of the Orientalist attitude towards the
non-western world.” (Ventura, 2017, p. 284). This disregard for
a foreign way of life was applied broadly, with the general view being the way
of life was ‘uncivilised’. It was seen as undeveloped, judged by western
standards. This is something that is even evident in the modern day. With
regard to Montesquieu’s account of ‘Oriental Despotism’ “Irrespective of
whether Arab countries include aspects of “modern” states, according to the
western representation, they appear fixed in the “sultanistic” past. It is for
this reason that – inside this picture – they appear static.” (Ventura,
2017, p. 289).
Disregard for the Arab way of life is exemplified by Napoleon Bonaparte’s
invasion of Egypt. It could be taken as far as to say the French saw their
presence as a gift, “bringing science and civilisation to the benighted Orient”
(Lockman, 2004, p. 71). This demonstrates
why orientalism is so crucial to Global History. Orientalism shaped the image
of the Middle East and Arab cultures that we have used to develop our
understanding of the region and over time has largely migrated from a
perception to accepted fact. Therefore, Orientalism has shaped aspects of Global
History.

 

Orientalism is also relevant in the creation of the structure
of the current Middle East. Orientalism was perhaps at its peak during post
World War One negotiations. This is significant to the extent that J.L.Gelvin
goes as far as to say that “World War One was the most important political
event in the history of the modern Middle East” (Gelvin, 2007, p. 77). This is of great
significance in reference to Global History as a war started in the bureaucracy
of Europe, could ripple across the globe to change the face and fate of an
entire region and its people. Orientalism views the Arab as uneducated,
uncivilised and undeveloped and the effects of this mean that there was no
remorse in the division of the region. The infamous and covert Sykes-Picot
agreement of 1916 demonstrates this, the British and French (assuming victory)
mercilessly carved up the Middle East for their own mandates. Even publicly
once the war had ended, at Versailles and San Remo Arab lobbying for
independence or even input in their future fell on deaf ears. E. Rogan suggests
the reasons for this was that ” (Rogan, 2016, p. 40)”.  Therefore, despite European claims of lack of
civilisation in the Middle East, it was in fact the post war powers that
stunted development of Arab nations after the war. This is a prime example of Orientalism,
as defined by Edward Said, in that unfounded prejudice against Arab people has
shaped their history (Said, 1978). However, this is
not the history of a single nation or moment in time. The effects of
Orientalism in post-World War 1 negotiations led to the exclusion of Arab
people in having any autonomy in choices that directly affected them.
Resultantly changing the shape and reputation of the Middle East on the global
stage and consequently Global History.

 

Another way in which Orientalism is relevant in global
history is the profoundly negative consequences it has had for the religion of
Islam and Arabic ethnic identities. In the present day, a glance at the media
and rhetoric in public dialogue could suggest the negative connotations a
considerable amount of society hold against Muslims. This is a direct impact of
Orientalism. A common perception is that every Arab is a Muslim, and vice
versa. This is a huge shortfall in a way of thinking as the reality is far more
complex. But how do we judge if people are Arab or Muslim to cast these
negative assumptions? One may argue this is largely on appearance in the first
instance. This is critically flawed due to Orientalism as “looking Arab, which differs from actually being Arab, has come to stir evaluations of otherness an
inferiority” (Schmidt, 2014, p. 172). The view of Arabs
as outsiders has only been exacerbated by Islamic fundamental terrorism in the
twenty first century. As with all terrorism this only represents the views of
the extremists that carry out attacks but it can undoubtedly be said that
Muslims and Arabs in western societies have suffered increasing discrimination
as a result. One of the most significant examples of this is the tragic 9/11
attacks by Al-Qaeda on the World Trade Centre in New York. Following this there
was a severe rise in Islamophobia in the United States and President Bush
declared a ‘War on terror’. But this declaration seemingly didn’t just act on
terror but on the ideology of Islam itself and how it differs from western
societal norms. An example of this is the role of women. As Nyak explains
“After 9/11, the US government, the media and ‘experts’ collaborated to signify
the oppression of Arab/Muslim women as the categorical proof of Islamic terror,
and women accordingly became a central point of the war on terror. Despite US
involvement in the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, the USA suddenly
turned the long-term persecution of women in Afghanistan and Iraq into a
spectacle for public consumption and justification for military intervention.”  (Nyak, 2006, p. 49). Focus on the divisions
in way of life in the media and by the government in this case had a
detrimental effect for Muslim and Arab communities, worsening existing racism. Again
this is mindless grouping of people based on perception – “Any reduction of
this whole immense mass of history, societies, individuals and realities to
“Arab society” is therefore a mythification.” (Said, 1975, p. 410)This exemplifies the
evolution of Orientalism. It shows the unfounded prejudice of the British and
French in early colonial times has spread globally to America and into the
present day proving itself a prominent effector of Global History.

 

An overwhelming aspect of Orientalism is its use by western governments
to justify actions and participation in conflicts. This was evident in the Balfour
Declaration of 1917. This declaration promised the support of a Jewish homeland
in Palestine by the British, promising away land that was not rightfully theirs
to give. By doing this it also contradicted the previous McMahon-Hussein
correspondence which promised Palestinian independence. As J.L.Gelvin explains
“This support virtually guaranteed that the Zionist movement would not go the
way of hundreds of other nationalist movements that had appeared briefly during
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, then faded into obscurity.” (Gelvin, 2007, p. 78). This shows
increased sympathy towards Jewish needs perhaps because they felt more
familiar, seeming the safer more obvious group to support and champion. The
Palestinian Arabs were perhaps easier to disregard and neglect their needs as
they were insistently seen as the ‘other’, almost inhuman. Orientalism is based
on the ongoing major and minor in the relationship between the West and the
Middle East as “Orientalist images and ideas are linked to a context made of
concrete economic and strategic interests and of power relationships between
hegemonic and subaltern cultures” (Ventura, 2017, p. 296). This lowly view of
Arab cultures as reason to disregard and interfere, casting judgement has
continued to the present day. The Arab Spring beginning in 2010 was hailed as a
positive wave in the West, battling ‘Oriental despotism’. “The Arab revolts
appeared to have been understood by the western public as not only attempts to
modernize but also as a kind of “jump” into the western coordinates and system
of values” (Ventura, 2017, p. 290). This undermined the
struggle of the Arab people and automatically assumed all aspects of the revolt
to be ‘good’ without comprehensive understanding of the situation. For many in
Europe and America it was seem as a shift towards the long-standing rhetoric
that ‘West is best’. Upon the entry of news of the spring into mainstream media
there were “instant claims that western influence shaped much of the
discourse (as though Arab people were incapable of having their own
revolutions)” (Shihade, et al., 2012). This point
demonstrates how Orientalism not only shapes the course of history but alters
the lens in which it’s viewed through.

 

Overall since its conception Orientalism has continued to be
relevant in Global History. It has shaped the perception of the ‘Middle East’
and the area which people regard as thus. It has such a profound affect it has
not only shaped the narrative of specific nations and moments in time but even
the geography of borders and population demographic of the region. It has also
affected Arab and Muslim people as creating an image of inferiority and
‘backwardness’. Pigeon holing them as the ‘other’ and undeveloped in comparison
to the West in the context of Global History. Orientalism also has affected the
ability of Arab nations and individuals to change the course of history that
would have a global affect, such as their exclusion from post-world war 1
negotiations which extensively altered the Middle East. Therefore, one may
conclude that Orientalism is of vast importance in the context of Global
History. This is as Orientalism has created an opinion of the Middle East and
Arab people that creates a distorted lens through which people all over the
globe view the region and its history. This continues to be relevant as it is
evident in recent, current and on-going events.

Bibliography

Gelvin, J. L., 2007. The
Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
 
Lockman, Z., 2004. Contending Visions of the Middle East
: The History and Politics of Orientalism.. New York: Cambridge
University Press.
 
Nyak, M., 2006. Orientalism and ‘saving’ US state identity
after 9/11. International Feminist Journal of Politics , 8(1), pp.
42-61.
 
Rogan, E., 2016. The Emergence of the Middle East into the
Modern State System. In: International Relations of the Middle East. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
 
Said, E., 1975. Shattered Myths. Middle East Crucible:
Studies on the Arab–Israeli War of October 1973, pp. 408-447.
 
Said, E., 1978. Orientalism. London : Penguin .
 
Schmidt, S., 2014. (Re-)Framing the Arab/Muslim
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Shihade, M., Flesher Fominaya, C. & Cox, L., 2012. The
season of revolution: the Arab Spring and European mobilizations. Interface:
a journal for and about social movements, 4(1), pp. 1-16.
 
Ventura, L., 2017. The “Arab Spring” and Orientalist
Stereotypes: The Role of Orientalism in the Narration of the Revolts in the
Arab World. Interventions International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 19(2),
pp. 282-297.