Orientalism Essay

991 words - 4 pages

Misunderstanding between East and West has become so common today that the clash between the two civilizations has become a cliché. In recent history, numerous wars and conflicts have erupted as a result of Occidental misperceptions of the Orient and vice versa. To the European mind, the Maghreb, Persia, the Levant, Arabia, Anatolia, and the adjacent lands are but a single entity evoking poetic visions of the Orient. While it may be true that among these regions, certain commonalities exist, diversity and the richness of several cultures more aptly describes the Orient. Edward Said’s “Introduction” to Orientalism aids readers in understanding the basis for Rhonda Vander Sluis’s companions – prejudice and stereotype – in her search for identity in Turkey.
More than anything else, in his “Introduction” to Orientalism Edward Said attempts to educate his readers about the flaws he sees in the European notion of Orientalism. He identifies generalization as the root cause of differences and misunderstanding between Europe and the Orient. As Said sees it, Orientalism is both an academic model and a poetic one (Said 2, 3). Europe created Orientalism politically, socially, and militarily, thus every European traveler and poet who has written about the Orient is tainted by this construct. Travelers such as François-René Chateaubriand and Gérard de Nerval are credited with helping to create the Orient as a European concept that explains North Africa, the Holy Lands, Persia, Turkey and the contiguous realms. These Romantics saw Turkey as an idyllic land, “voulant d'abord aller à Troie, par piété poétique”1 for they were enamored of the Orient’s poetic splendor (Chateaubriand). Though it is possible to write a more “coarse polemic” concerning the nature of the Orient just as easily as one can write in a manner “so detailed and atomistic,” neither is appropriate (Said 8). Whether general or specific, the West’s perception of the East is just that – a perception – it is the view of an outsider, not reality. The problem this creates is that the “Orient” is merely what the West has decided it is. The East is alien and therefore it can be studied with a pretense of objectivity and distance without the constraints of veracity.
It was the romantic images of an exotic Oriental civilization promulgated by European and American writers that prejudiced Vander Sluis upon her arrival in Turkey. However beautiful, the Orient was a backward place to Western sensibilities. She initially believes that Muslims of the Orient were “‘unreached people’” who can be evangelized and brought into the Western and Christian sphere (Vander Sluis 274). Rather than being unreached, the Turks Vander Sluis encounters are even more fervent in their religious convictions than she. Making such broad assumptions about people of another culture is not only unfair to the people who are judged, but also unnecessarily limits the opportunities and experiences of those who...

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