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Americans Bias Against Muslims Essay

Orientalism, simply put, is the perception the West has of the East. The concept was mapped out by Edward Said in his book Orientalism, where he explores the concept, its origin, and how it functions. Said states that Orientalism is “the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, [and] ruling over it” (3). However, Said points out that even if Orientalism from the beginning was not “a creation with no corresponding reality” the concept he studies in the book is that of “the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient … despite or beyond any correspondence” with the “real” Orient (5).

What Said is saying is that the characteristics drawn up about the Orient within Orientalism ar not necessarily compatible with reality. The Western eagerness to characterize the Oriental came from the desire to put a face to the unknown, becoming “a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between” East and West, them and us, “the familiar and the strange” (43). Orientalism became a dictionary displaying the characteristics of the Oriental subject, characteristics that were fixed and unchangeable (42, 70).

The attributes given to the Oriental helped strengthen the image of Western superiority and justified colonialism. The West was seen as superior to the East, meaning that it had the right to dominate the “subject race”, since it did not know what was good for it (Said 35).

“Irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, [and] different,,4 (40) were words used to describe Orientals. Europeans then became “rational, virtuous, mature, [and] normal” (40), and the line between the two parts of the world was set; Europe (or the West) as the strong one and Asia (or the East) as the weak one (57). The Orientals were given the role of the “Other,” ruled by their emotions rather than sense, which made them crueller than the enlightened Western man (Barry 186). The role of the “Other” made ruling over them justified. The same method is still used by Orientalists today (Said 60), so the hegemony that makes the West believe itself to be superior to the East stays alive in both Western and Eastern cultures.

Orientalism is written to explore how and why these ideas have such a central and fixed part in the mentality of the West (and East). In the preface to the 2003 issue of the book Said writes about 9111 and the following “War on Terror” in this way: “Without a well-organized sense that these people over there were not like ‘us’ and didn’t appreciate ‘our’ values – the very core of Orientalism … there would have been no war” (xv). In this quote it is evident that the Oriental stereotype is still very much present in today’s society and is affecting events in the world; Said even argues that the war in Afghanistan and Iraq would not be a fact if it was not for this stereotype.

Although the role of the suppressed was given to the East, it was still, and is still, surrounded by mystery and exoticism because it was/is something so different from the West. Its exoticism made it hard to grasp and understand for Western society (Barry 186). It could be suggest that the contrasting images of the exotic Orient and the dangerous Orient are both images that exist in an attempt to make the ungraspable graspable. Even if these images are different they are sticking around because they provide an explanation.

Said also points out that Orientalism is a “three-way force” that affects both “the Orient, the Orientalists and the Western ‘consumer’ of Orientalism” (Said 67). Since the ideas of the Orient within Orientalism affect all three stages it makes it almost impossible to erase the stereotype that has been erected. The only way would be to embrace hybridity, which means accepting each other’s differences and looking beyond the “man-made” distinction between East and West (Said 5). After the 9/11 attacks it became even more evident that the stereotype evoked in Orientalism was not about to disappear, despite the new global society.

Said gives an example of how an Arab is typically portrayed as a bloodthirsty, deceiving slave trader, who is a sadist and so on, in movies and on television (287). This image was not far away when the media, and politicians for that matter, started portraying all Easterners as bloodthirsty terrorists driven by non-rational thoughts (Scanlan 274). The fear of the unknown, of the suppressed rising and gaining power, of the “Other” speaking up, is as scary today as it was hundreds of years ago. These images of the East are what The Reluctant Fundamentalist explores, showing how deeply rooted they are in society and how they blossomed after 9/11. The novel tries to make the reader reflect upon this stereotype, how it might be wrong and why it exists.

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