Edward Said’s book “Orientalism” has been profoundly influential in a diverse range of disciplines since its publication in 1978.
In this engaging (and lavishly illustrated) interview he talks about the context within which the book was conceived, its main themes and how its original thesis relates to the contemporary understanding of “the Orient.”
Said argues that the Western (especially American) understanding of the Middle East as a place full of villains and terrorists ruled by Islamic fundamentalism produces a deeply distorted image of the diversity and complexity of millions of Arab peoples.
Director: Sut Jhally, 1998.
Jan Oberg comments
TFF and I pay tribute to this extraordinary intellectual who so sadly died only 67 years old in 2003 – perhaps most known for his book about Orientalism published in 1978, i.e. 40 years ago. Said could know, neither in 1978 nor up to his death, how much more destructive this Western domain view of the Orient would become and what wars it would be used to underpin.
The element of Western racism – the habit of judging, with contempt, others as morally and intellectually weaker – should not be forgotten in the debate that tends to focus on more tangible issues such as geopolitics, oil and gas, regional relations, Israeli apartheid.
The way people think – what they take for granted without reflecting, their worldviews – is often a much stronger driving force of imperialism and militarism than some of the other elements. We should be grateful to Said for his pioneering work that – truly regrettably – is as important (if not more) today than it was when he wrote the book.