Study Guide

Edward Saïd Quotes

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The Orient that appears in Orientalism, then, is a system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western empire. […] The Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined. On this stage will appear the figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe. [From Orientalism]

Orientalism was my Full Monty. I really lay it all out there in this puppy—all my scholarly and political opinions, tracing a history of domination in which people in power have assumed the right to define people who didn't have power. Plus I handily prove that Western views of the East have been used to rationalize tyranny.

Now, I want you, dear reader, to think carefully about how even today the West represents the East as devious, sensual, corrupt, tyrannical, and backward. Today, when people use phrases like "Arab stereotypes," they are really referring to Orientalism. These are all reductive and demeaning clichés dreamed up by the Western imagination. Let's put a stop to all the nonsense, shall we?

Let me make something clear about this quotation of mine: there's a big difference between reality and representation. The West—as I see it—has no idea what the East is actually like. They just came up with a bunch of ideas ("representations") and then ran with them. Let me throw a few your way: harems, belly dancers, women with veils, a mysterious world of sand and scimitars, that horror of American filmmaking known as the animated film Aladdin, and don't even get me started on Sheiks, kidnappers, rapists, greedy oil-rich men in robes, or any movie in which Arab terrorists threaten Western society and are conquered by a handsome white western male (my hero!).

Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings. [From Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1994, p. 7]

It wasn't easy to follow up my groundbreaking work Orientalism. But with my 1993 book, Culture and Imperialism, I really rattled some cages because I got together a bunch of 19th- and 20th-century British writers and looked at them through a scrutinizing political lens. It turns out people get pretty prickly when you look at that sweet Jane Austen and accuse her of writing work that made excuses for colonial domination. Plus this book throws some shade at E. M. Forster, Joseph Conrad, and Rudyard Kipling—but more on those empire-lovers later.

What I'm talking about in this quotation is that we are all trapped in the scuffle over geography and empire—even if we are sitting in leather armchairs in private clubs in London, blissfully removed from the battleground. My big thing is that the wars being waged over land and countries aren't just about boots on the ground, they're about winning the hearts and minds of people. And if winning doesn't work, forcing does.

When the British Empire colonized India, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, Canada, the Sudan, Papua New Guinea—well, you get the point—it imported all sorts of nasty ideas about what "those people" were like and what they should be like. In that sense, they didn't just control bodies and resources, they controlled human beings by making them feel inferior so they wouldn't rise up and throw 'em out. That's what imperialism is all about.

Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate. [From "Blind Imperial Arrogance," Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2003]

I can't tell you how tired I get about countries saying they are helping get rid of a dictator or are bringing democracy to a bunch of poor, oppressed people. Occupation, colonization, intervention, imperialism—it's all the same—and it's always there to benefit large, greedy empires.

They never think, "hey, maybe people don't want to be liberated and educated by Western standards." These fat cat empires try to act like they're coming to the rescue, and that their gracious presence in any given country is necessary and bighearted and awesomely amazingly awesome.

Ugh, and don't get me started on American interests in the Middle East. See, there's this little thing called oil interests and Israel as a strategic territory. I'm fed up with Arabs being seen as religious fanatics and terrorists in the making. It's all blind arrogance.

You cannot continue to victimize somebody else just because you yourself were a victim once. There has to be a limit. [From "The Myth of 'The Clash of Civilizations'" Lecture for Media Education Foundation, 1998]

Here's the thing. I know the Jewish people suffered horrible atrocities in the concentration camps. I am not a Holocaust denier. So after World War II all these war refugees wanted out of Europe. Fine.

But the British—who were in charge of Palestine at the time—let the United Nations go ahead and divvy up the land into an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem. That's when the whole Arab-Israeli battle began. And it's been raging ever since, and destroying a lot of lives in the process.

Now a lot of people defend Israelis because the Jewish people suffered at the hands of the Nazis—but that's no justification for the way they treat Palestinians. It's just a cycle of abuse. I say they that if they truly understand the horrors of victimization, the shouldn't use it as an excuse to defend their territory to the death. But that's just me.

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