The Origins Of Occidentalism Essay

2648 words - 11 pages

To answer the question posed it necessary to first consider the development of, and what constitutes the West. Once this is achieved, we are than able to discuss occidentalism. However, the concept of orientalism, and what constitutes the orient, will first be considered as, arguably, orientalism provoked occidentalism. Thereafter, the four key features of occidentalism, identified by Buruma and Margalit (2004) will be discussed. Contemporary notions of ociddentalism, more specifically Islamic extremism will also be studied; of must importance here is if, or how, Buruma’s and Margalit’s (2004) theory of occidentalism aids our understanding of the perspective of those in resistance to the west.

From 1815 to 1914 the European direct colonial dominion expanded from about 35 per cent of the earths’ surface to about 85 per cent of it. Every continent was affected, none more so than Africa and Asia (Said in Hall and Gieben 1992:329). During the age of exploration and conquest, Western countries discovered a growing internal cohesion developed by the conflicts and contrasts with the external world. In reinforcing one another, they forged a new sense of identity, the West (Hall and Gieben 1992:289).

Gradually, despite their many internal differences, the countries of Western Europe began to conceive of themselves as a single civilization, known as the West (Hall and Gieben 1992:289). The challenge from Islam was an important factor in shaping Europe and developing the idea of the West. Europe’s cultural identity was originally characterized by religion and civilisation, eventually, Europe developed a sharper geographical, political and economic definition; closer to the modern secular concept of the West (Hall and Gieben 1992:290). Notably, in regards to Occidentalism it is not only the geographical West that is despised. America is incorporated under the term, the West. More simplistically, the West should be viewed as inclusive of all modern first world countries.

Orientalism refers to Edward Said’s critique of the way European scholars portrayed what used to be called ‘the Orient’ (Observer). Western culture gains strength and identity by setting itself off against ‘the Orient’ (Said 1985 in Hall and Gieben 1992:296). The concept, orientalism developed in the post-enlightenment period. Occidentalism can be viewed as part of the counter enlightenment process; occidentalism tries to dislodge post-enlightenment philosophical discourse (Buruma 2004). As a concept orientalism describes how the West constructs the-none West or ‘the Orient’: politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically and scientifically (Said 1985 in Hall and Gieben 1992:296).
“The essence of orientalism is the ineradicable distinction between western superiority and oriental inferiority.”
(Said 1985:42 in Hall and Gieben 1992:303)

There is a tendency to include the Far East for example, China, in the use of the word orient. However, Said (in...

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