Archive for Edward Said

Islam, Orientalism and the West

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by loonwatch
Edward SaidEdward Said

I’m writing a much longer piece on Orientalism and its ramifications on our society today, but I found this article in TIME magazine from 1979 very interesting. It is essentially a long review of Edward Said’s historic work “Orientalism,” less than a year after its initial publication.

One piece of information that struck out was the fact that between 1800 and 1950 some 60,000 works on “Islam and the Orient” were published:

As writing about Islam and the Orient burgeoned—60,000 books between 1800 and 1950—European powers occupied large swatches of “Islamic” territory, arguing that since Orientals knew nothing about democracy and were essentially passive, it was the “civilizing mission” of the Occident, expressed in the strict programs of despotic modernization, to finally transform the Orient into a nice replica of the West.

Post 9/11, with the Iraq and Afghan invasions and the rise of Islamophobia to endemic levels I think its a safe bet that there have been thousands of publications about ‘Islam and Muslims in the Orient and the Occident.’

Special Report: Islam, Orientalism And the West

(TIME Magazine)

An attack on learned ignorance

In an angry, provocative new book called Orientalism (Pantheon; $15), Edward Said, 43, Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, argues that the West has tended to define Islam in terms of the alien categories imposed on it by Orientalist scholars. Professor Said is a member of the Palestine National Council, a broadly based, informal parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He summarized the thesis of Orientalism in this article for TIME.

One of the strangest, least examined and most persistent of human habits is the absolute division made between East and West, Orient and Occident. Almost entirely “Western” in origin, this imaginative geography that splits the world into two unequal, fundamentally opposite spheres has brought forth more myths, more detailed ignorance and more ambitions than any other perception of difference. For centuries Europeans and Americans have spellbound themselves with Oriental mysticism, Oriental passivity, Oriental mentalities. Translated into policy, displayed as knowledge, presented as entertainment in travelers’ reports, novels, paintings, music or films, this “Orientalism” has existed virtually unchanged as a kind of daydream that could often justify Western colonial adventures or military conquest. On the “Marvels of the East” (as the Orient was known in the Middle Ages) a fantastic edifice was constructed, invested heavily with Western fear, desire, dreams of power and, of course, a very partial knowledge. And placed in this structure has been “Islam,” a great religion and a culture certainly, but also an Occidental myth, part of what Disraeli once called “the great Asiatic mystery.”

As represented for Europe by Muhammad and his followers, Islam appeared out of Arabia in the 7th century and rapidly spread in all directions. For almost a millennium Christian Europe felt itself challenged (as indeed it was) by this last monotheistic religion, which claimed to complete its two predecessors. Perplexingly grand and “Oriental,” incorporating elements of Judeo-Christianity, Islam never fully submitted to the West’s power. Its various states and empires always provided the West with formidable political and cultural contestants—and with opportunities to affirm a “superior” Occidental identity. Thus, for the West, to understand Islam has meant trying to convert its variety into a monolithic undeveloping essence, its originality into a debased copy of Christian culture, its people into fearsome caricatures.

Early Christian polemicists against Islam used the Prophet’s human person as their butt, accusing him of whoring, sedition, charlatanry. As writing about Islam and the Orient burgeoned—60,000 books between 1800 and 1950—European powers occupied large swatches of “Islamic” territory, arguing that since Orientals knew nothing about democracy and were essentially passive, it was the “civilizing mission” of the Occident, expressed in the strict programs of despotic modernization, to finally transform the Orient into a nice replica of the West. Even Marx seems to have believed this. Read more

Daniel Barenboim: Peace Concert in Gaza

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2011 by loonwatch

Peace through Music and justice.

Barenboim to conduct ‘peace concert’ in Gaza

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim will on Tuesday lead an orchestra of European musicians in a peace concert in Gaza, in the first-ever performance there by such a prestigious international ensemble.

The rare concert, which will take place at lunchtime at the Al-Mathaf Cultural House, was announced on Monday by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process (UNSCO).

It will be the first time that Barenboim, an outspoken proponent of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, has visited the coastal territory, a spokeswoman for the chamber orchestra told AFP.

“It is the first time,” Judith Neuhoff confirmed, saying that the ensemble, which is made up of 25 musicians and known as the “Orchestra for Gaza,” had been put together especially for the visit.

In a statement released by UNSCO, Barenboim said he was “very happy” to be coming to Gaza. “We are playing this concert as a sign of our solidarity and friendship with the civil society of Gaza,” he said.

The musicians, who belong to five prestigious European orchestras, were expected to enter Gaza from Egypt on Tuesday, via the southern Rafah border crossing, a UNSCO spokesman said.

They will travel directly to the venue where they will play a programme of pieces by Mozart including Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and the G minor symphony to an audience of between 300 to 400 people, which will include music students and other members of Gaza’s civil society.

“The concert is to try and bring something to the people of Gaza,” he said. “It is not a political event in any sense.”

Ibrahim al-Najjar, director of Al-Qattan Music School, the only such establishment in Gaza, told AFP that he and a group of his students would greet the 68-year-old maestro and his delegation, which numbers around 50 people, at the Rafah border.

“This visit is very important to us for many reasons, both cultural and civil,” he told AFP.

Although a handful of musicians had visited Gaza in recent months to support the school and to teach classes, it was the first time such a large group of so many prestigious players was coming, he said.

The ensemble includes players from the Berlin Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Berlin, the Vienna Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris and the Orchestra of La Scala di Milano.

“We love culture, and music is a way of expressing peace and showing that we Palestinians are civilised,” Najjar said, adding that it was important that people had a chance to meet the orchestra and get to know different musical instruments.

“And from a political perspective, it is important to show that Gaza is a safe place,” he said.

Israelis are forbidden by law to venture into Palestinian territory. Barenboim has previously been refused entry to Gaza by the Israeli army — most recently in April 2010 — meaning the only way for him to enter the Hamas-run territory is via Rafah.

The legendary conductor, who lives in Berlin and holds Argentine, Israeli and Spanish citizenship, also accepted honorary Palestinian citizenship in 2008, saying he hoped the move would be an example of the “everlasting bond” between Israelis and Palestinians.

He has long used his fame as a conductor and pianist to promote the cause of peace between Israel and its neighbours, and in 1999 co-founded a “peace orchestra” with his friend Edward W. Said, a Palestinian-American scholar who died in 2003.

Known as the East-West Divan orchestra, it brings together Israeli, Arab and international musicians, and in 2005 it performed in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Barenboim performs regularly in the West Bank, but has never performed in Gaza, which has been subjected to a crippling Israeli blockade since 2006, which was eased somewhat last year following international pressure.