Orientalizing the Orientals

This is an article written by Fawwaz Traboulsi as a tribute to the late scholar Edward Said.  Traboulsi gives an analysis and critique on the thoughts and ideas of Said who gave a discourse between occidentalism and orientalism, two seemingly opposing poles in the socio-cultural and political spectrum.  In this case, Said had looked at both sides and made critiques for both which Traboulsi tacked in this article.  He looks at it from the point of view of Asians, particularly Muslims and Arabs who see the world through both perspectives.  Naturally, when one thinks of  Occidentalism,  if it is equated with the west, it would automatically connote imperialism as far as these people are concerned.  But the way he presents Saids ideas, one can see a series of ironies, paradoxes and contradictions that would boggle the mind, making it difficult to draw a definite conclusion to the topic.

The basis of this assumption can be found in a conspiracy theory Muslims and Arabs subscribe to, especially those whose beliefs border on the extreme in connection to the creation of the state of Israel.  Arabs, in particular, have harbored a long deep-seated rancor against Israel for at least one reason that is grounded on this conspiracy theory.  That Israel serves as an extension of western imperialism in the Middle East as early as the late 19th century, even before the state of Israel was created.  Their basis for arriving at this conclusion is the fact that majority of Israels population is made up primarily of emigrants from Europe.  In their eyes, they are still westerners, that they were sent by their governments to create a sort of  colony  in the region, posing a threat to their own culture and way of life. Their common faith (Judaism) is what places them together in one group.  Events in the Middle East, prior to and following the creation of Israel had somewhat reinforced that  conspiracy.   Traboulsi cited at least two examples to support this idea the Sykes-Picot Accords of 1916 and the 1956 Arab-Israeli War which included the participation of Britain and France (Traboulsi, 2007 4-5).

In this appears to be a divide and conquer tactic.  The former event saw the partition of regions in the Middle East as protectorates of Britain and France.  But in a strange twist of fate, while dividing the region, it also unified smaller regions to form one nation such as Iraq ans Syria.  The former created out of three former provinces of the Ottoman Empire while the latter was split into five autonomous regions.  One would see here the paradox as there was division and unification happening at the same time.  This was done mainly for economic and political considerations in the interests of the British and the French.  In 1956, this was apparent when the British and the French appeared to have joined the war on Israels side though its only goal was to retake the Suez Canal seized and nationalized by egypt under Nassers regime.  Looking at at from a bigger picture, it would appear this was a ploy, as well as other subsequent but relevant events, either to divert attention away from Israel or divert attention away from western imperialism.

At this point, Muslim (Arabs) are caugght between two opposing poles.  One one hand they strongly assert their  orientalism  and want the west out of their lives.  However, a part of them want the west to be part of their lives because they being with them modernity that they need to better their own lives.  This is because they tend to look at themselves through a western perspective.  The challenge for them is to reorient themselves and see themselves from their own oriental perspective without subscribing to the extremist views of the Islamists who resort to violence.

Regarding the Use of Torture
Susan Sontag wrote an article in the New York Times titled  Regarding the Use of Torture  in 2004.  This was a reaction to the shocking abuses committed by Allied coalition forces on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Gharib Prison which used to be a prison used by deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to torture his opponents.  The pictures showed the soldiers putting the prisoners in very humiliating and demeaning positions and having been photographed.  Somehow, the pictures were leaked and made public.  The photographs also sent political shockwaves to Washington which quickly acted to control the damage but came a little too late.

If one ever wonders why people are tortured, there are at least two reasons I can think of.  One is the need to get information.  This is the harshest form of interrogation used when the prisoner refuses to talk.  Pain is inflicted, not too much to cause damage or death but sufficient to make even the toughest-minded person yield to pressure as the torture is calculated to make the victim feel the pain is too much though it is not.  The other one is done just for the fun of it.  The torture is inflicted for no reason at all except to enjoy seeing another person suffer.  Psychologically, it gives a feeling of superiority to the torturer and to break down the humanity of the victim, making them feel less than human.  In the case of the Abu Gharib incident, the pictures seem to tell that the torture was done for the fun of it judging from the humiliation the prisoners have to go through (Sontag, 2004).

Nevertheless, as people of high moral values, torture is something that should not be tolerated by any society that considers itself civil, most specially one so advanced like the United States which is supposed to be a leader in all aspects, including moral in nature.  The sight of American soldiers inflicting torture on a defeated enemy further adds insult to injury.  Though it may be understandable that perhaps these soldiers are getting even with the Arabs for the numerous terrorist attacks they have made towards the United States, this still does not give them the right to return the favor on the Arabs.  What they did carries greater consequences to the United States in its relationship with the Muslim world.  In the eyes of the Muslims, especially the very conservative ones, their fears about the United States are justified that they are truly  barbaric  and  evil  and this further validates the jihad declaration of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden (Sontag, 2004).

Torture is inherently evil, regardless of the reasons for doing it.  Sontag has a point when she said it is so appalling and the memories (for the victims) are indelibly etched in ones  minds.  There is no moral justification in inflicting pain on another whether physical or psychological. Their physical wounds may heal but they would never be the same again.  It is quite rare for anyone to move on with one s life after being subjected to torture.  On the part of the United States, they prosecuted the war from the moral  high ground,  just as they have done in previous wars.  But this incident (as well as those said to have taken place in Guantanamo) has somewhat ruined America s moral credibility.  No amount of justification can exempt them from using torture.  This incident has also revealed the ugly side of the Americans the rest of the world suspected   of being racist and arrogant, showing contempt to those of the  Third World.

No amount of justification or policy can justify torture if its intention is to inflict harm on another human being, especially when done for the pleasure of the tormentor.  No one benefits except the latter.  Yet, one can say torture is necessary because one needs to look at the higher purpose rather than limit oneself to the act itself.

1.  Orientalizing the Orientals
a. Overview
-Who was Edward Said
b.  What was his point
-Occidentalism vs. Orientalism
How is it understood
Why is it misunderstood
How is it understood
Why is it misunderstood
-Conspiracy Theories
The Sykes-Picot Syndrome
Why are conspiracy theories unacceptable
What are conspiracy theories  believed  (Whom do Conspiracy Theories Serve)
-Democracy or Imperialism
Do MuslimsArabs have a choice
Which is the  lesser evil  for them
-Talking to the  other
What problem did SaidTraboulsi see among the ArabsMuslims
What is the problem see with regards to how they view Zionism
What is the relationship between Zionism and Comminism
-The Politcal Economy of Envy
What is the Alexandria Document
Although it looks good on paper, what are the  flaws  in it
What difficulties to ArabsMuslims face
b. Conclusion

2. Regarding the Use of Torture
a. Overview
-What is torture
-What are the different forms of torture
-Why do people torture other people
To get information
For  the fun of it
b. Analysis
-Review on what is torture
-Can torture be justified
Can torture be  right
Why will torture be always wrong
-The  big picture
How is this related to the ongoing war on terrorism
How could people or states consent to torture
c. Conclusion


Post a Comment