In his outstanding work Orientalism, Edward Said presented a staggering impact on further exploration of the Middle East studies since the 1970s with the contending Arab and Muslim worlds. The author provides an in-depth understanding of the often controversial issues on the Middle East political owing to his direct engagement in the political processes of the1970s. The solid personal background enabled him to harshly condemn the ways Western media portrayed Arabs and Muslims. The major associations were with “filthy-rich oil sheiks or terrorists” (Lockman 183). By reiterating the major themes of Orientalism, Said criticized the way US media covered the Iranian revolution of 1978–79 and the threat imposed by Islam.
Compared to the previous works on the subject of Orientalism, Said’s book reached a far wider readership both within and outside academic circles. Ultimately, the work received a great deal of polarized criticisms. The work presents an intellectual quest challenging the conservative ways of perceiving the situation in the Middle East. Even the critics acclaimed the book’s electrifying impact on the literary studies and Middle East (Lockman 183). Many associated the book with a “bombshell” for it generated unprecedented controversies and shifts in the Middle East studies. Notably, the substantive critique of Said’s Orientalism took place long before the book’s actual publication. The major portion of criticism was derived from the marginalized political-economy perspective.
Orientalism is rather ambiguous in terms of objective judgments. The outcome subjectively depends on the readership embracing absolutely different audiences. Many take the book as an attempt to disrupt the opposing stance, whatsoever. At that, the author primarily targets Orientalism broadly defined by Said as a worldview embracing ontological ‘the Orient’ and epistemological ‘the Occident.’ This way, Said dichotomizes the Orient into the ‘Islamic world,’ on the one hand and ‘the West’ on the other hand. The author clearly distinguishes these opposing worldview paradigms. This means that the methods of exploring Orientalism are multifaceted unlike those of the Western world that are more or less unilateral. In retrospect, Said forwards his own comprehension of the concept: “Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (as cited in Lockman 184). Said perceives Orientalism as the mirror reflecting “the Orient.” This approach differs from any outside depiction of Orientalism elsewhere in the world.
With a broad depiction and deep analysis of Orientalism, Said refers to Foucault’s postmodernism. Further, Said grounds his research on the interdependence of knowledge and power. Striving to achieve objective truth, Foucault emphasized Enlightenment as a particular “way of seeing.” Encouraged by Foucault’s discourse, Said perceives Orientalism as a specific form of knowledge, prioritizing the Orient as its own object of study seeking truth. To Said, Orientalism, as a form of knowledge, is a mixed product of the Western world and the Orient. Said insists on the importance of self-criticism to challenge still unanswered questions associated with Orientalism. In his book, Said asks uneasy questions about the essence of other and distinct cultures and their representatives. Eventually, the author draws a conclusion that the essence of Orientalism is beyond Occidentalism: “If the knowledge of Orientalism has any meaning, it is in being a reminder of the seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at any time. Now perhaps more than ever” (as cited in Lockman 190).
The major criticism came from Lewis, the author of “The Question of Orientalism,” where he accused Said of offending the scholars who studied Islam and the Middle East. Lewis blamed Said for his ungrounded attacks on respectable scholars who researched the Orient. According to Lewis, in his book Said dared to ignore major scholarly contributions to the study of Orientalism and forward few absurdly inadequate arguments.