The late Edward Said said that the West has an imagined, false picture of the East, which he called Orientalism.
Orientalism is a set of preconceived notions that the West has about the East. The West sees itself as rational, masculine and disciplined, while it sees the East as irrational, feminine and undisciplined. Even, he held, the Westerner making an honest effort to understand the East, the “other,” is still burdened by the ghost of Orientalism which persists in his subconscience. While Said addressed Orientalism as a feature of modern times, Carleton University Arts Dean John Osborne found the concept applicable even in his field of study, Byzantine history, wherein the Latin West looked at Byzantium in much the same way.
The presentations were many and varied, reflecting the many-faceted nature of Said’s thought, dealing with music and literature, philosophy, politics, architecture, cinema and more. Of course, Palestine was a constant preoccupation. Carleton University sociology professor Nahla Abdo addressed herself to the plight of Palestine, “one of the greatest tragedies of our time.” She contrasted the ahistorical perspective of the media about Palestine with Said’s insistence on Palestinian history. He also demanded a measured evaluation of the violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a very uneven violence pitting a powerful state against a people unarmed and dispossessed, refugees many times over, that the state would destroy. Said’s solution was the establishment of a single secular state with equal rights for all.
At the beginning of the conference, Said’s widow Mariam showed a documentary film about the work of the East-West Divan Workshop, which is an ongoing project of developing an orchestra made up of young Arabs and Israelis. The project was the undertaking jointly of Said and the Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, and Barenboim continues the work he began with Said.
While neither the film nor Mrs. Said directly discussed the underlying principle, intergroup relations theory and practice tells us that getting people from hostile groups to work as equals on a common endeavor is an effective way of promoting understanding and harmony. What the Workshop is doing is an exemplary demonstration of the validity of this approach. Interestingly, the barrier between Arabs and Israeli Jews was not the only one faced. Arabs had barriers among themselves, especially between Palestinians and other Arabs.
The orchestra performed in Weimar and Seville, but that was only the beginning. Barenboim moved the young musicians slowly and carefully to the idea of performing in Ramallah. There was considerable concern both on the part of the young musicians and of their families. Jews were especially concerned about safety, but so were the non-Palestinian Arabs. However, the orchestra pulled it off to great local acclaim. As Said said in the film, “Their lives have changed. Music is a bit subversive.” And Barenboim proved to be personally subversive as well. In accepting an honor from the Israeli Knesset, recognizing his pre-eminence in the field of music, he took the occasion to cite the liberty and equality enunciated in the Israeli declaration of independence and to contrast it with the treatment of the Palestinians, creating considerable consternation at the ceremony.
Orientalism: who promotes it?
Edward Said said that the West has an imagined, false picture of the East, which he called Orientalism. Ali Shehzad Zaidi, from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Canton, discussed the nature of this false picture at the Said conference in Ottawa.
There is a false objectivity in Orientalism, in which the observer denies and dismisses facts, with supposed objectivity, he said. Orientalism serves to hide the interests of the Orientalists, interests which amount to managing and owning “the other.” Among those devoted to Orientalism, he said, are the State Department, corporations, etc. They exhibit a paranoia about the objects of their distorted perceptions. Orientalism sees “the other” as unchanging. The pertinent verb tense is “the timeless eternal.”
Michael Fickess, of SUNY-Rockport, turned to examine a segment of Evangelical Christianity whose Orientalism is militantly anti-Islam. He entitled his presentation “‘America was founded to destroy Islam’: A Genealogy of Misguided Patriotic Fervor in Post-9/11 America.” These are the people who keep reminding us of Barack Obama’s middle name.
Muslim pioneer lawmaker dies
Larry Shaben, Canada’s first Muslim cabinet minister, served in Conservative Alberta cabinets under two premiers. He represented the northern constituency of Lesser Slave Lake, where he was a merchant, the grandson of Lebanese immigrants. When he was sworn in, he placed his hand on a Qur’an.
After retiring from politics in 1989, he moved to Edmonton, where he worked to unify Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, including Ismailis. As well, he promoted broader interfaith activities, involving himself in the founding of Edmonton’s Phoenix Multi-Faith Society for Harmony.
When tensions from the Middle East spilled over into Edmonton, with the 2000 fire-bombing of two synagogues, Sol Rolingher, a leader in the Jewish community, sought Shaben’s aid in finding the suspect, who had escaped custody. His escape created uneasiness among the city’s Jewish population. The next year, the Muslims found him and turned him in. Then, right after 9/11, Rolingher and Shaben held a joint press conference to defuse any possible local repercussions from that tragedy. It was Jewish reciprocity for the help that the Muslim community had provided.
Larry Shaben passed away on September 6 in Edmonton.
Canadian convicted on terrorism charges
The victory may yet prove to be Pyrrhic, as the sentencing on the seven remaining charges on which Khawaja was convicted could well get Greenspoon laughing on the other side of his face. His client could end up spending the rest of his life in prison. He has already spent four and a half years in jail awaiting the outcome of the trial.
There were many delays in the case due to challenges of provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act, including elements of secrecy and the broad sweep of the Act. The judge threw out part of the Act, relating to motive, as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but other provisions were upheld.
He was convicted even though the judge found a reasonable doubt that he actually knew of the specific plan in London. The charges that stuck included his construction of his Hi-Fi Digimonster, terrorist training in Pakistan, and involvement in financing terrorism. The defense had already conceded these facts, basing its case on challenging the charges related to knowing that his efforts were to be put to use in London. Greenspoon had little alternative, as the evidence against Khawaja on the other charges was overwhelming, including recordings made by British authorities of conversations between him and his British Muslim extremist contacts for whom he was developing the bomb trigger.
One aspect of the case that has concerned many observers is the fact that Khawaja is Canadian-born. His parents are from Pakistan.
Eurocentric international relations
The field of international relations (IR) is beset with what Edward Said called Orientalism, according to Samer Abboud of Susquehanna University, speaking at the recent Said conference in Ottawa. It is, he argues, Eurocentric. Those in the field tend to deny imperialism and colonialism and to deny differences, ignoring and marginalizing the non-Western world. The academic world is, he charged, becoming the creature of corporations and governments. Those in the field are becoming policy-makers and cheer leaders. In looking at the world, the field of IR focuses on world politics, leaving “the other” outside world politics.
There was a failure to recognize the implications of colonialism during the heyday of colonialism. It was thought during the times of colonial expansion that local indigenous people cold be turned into Europeans. The goal was a European uniformity as against what were seen as degenerate cultures. This pattern of thought has its counterpart in contemporary IR. Thus, we hear talk of a clash of civilizations, failed states, a need to catch up, and so on.
IR does not examine domination and resistance. There is a need for a new IR that addresses post-colonialism, and the experiences of “the other” need to be addressed in their own terms as well as in dialogue. There is a need to address not just world politics but also politics in the world, that is, to include “the other,” he maintained. And that politics in the world needs to consider power outside states as well as the more traditional relationships among states.