One point of suggests that the difficulty in the region stems from cultural reasons. Orientalists contend that the culture of the people in the Middle East which is predominantly Islamic is one of the reasons for the developing conflicts. The purpose of this paper is to survey existing views on this perspective and to assess the validity of the arguments presented. In doing so, the paper will be able to define how culture affects the peace, order and development in the Middle East based on historical and current studies of the region.
Perspectives of Orientalism The term orientalism was coined to delineate the geographical divide between the Europe and the Americas with Asia. This reflects the more recent use of the west to refer to the occident and east to refer to the orient particularly during the colonial expansion in the 20th century. Though the term was originally developed as a geographical term, the more significant application is in its use to imply a cultural divide that in turn is the core of conflicts held against the west.
In Coles review of Bernard Lewis What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, he cites that Lewis uses orientalism to characterize and develop his insights regarding the Middle Easts situation . Lewis uses the west as a standard to define what is wrong with the policies in the region. The approach is not just used to assess the current state of affairs in the region but reaches back historically with the study of the Ottoman Empire versus Central and Western Europe.
According to Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, orientalist perspectives have had resurgence after the September 11th attacks. He considers that development an effort to understand the reasons behind the tragedy and at the same time an effort to develop the protagonists and antagonists of what was to be the war against terrorism. In this light, the Middle East and Afghanistan were modeled according to their difference with the Allies and the most distinct difference being the culture of the region .
Stefan Lovgren reflects that this view of the Middle East is steeped and history as evidenced as far back by the Crusades . Ideologically, there are significant similarities: in the middle ages, the focus was to deliver the region from the domination of Arabs of Christendoms birthplace and today, the objective to liberate the region from the supporters of terrorism. Evaluating Orientalism In Edward W. Saids review of Samuel Huntingtons article The Clash of Civilizations he criticizes the War of the Worlds scenario presentation of the cultural and religious conflicts .
Huntingtons approach is distinctively orientalist because of his use of cultural or civilizations to illustrate his theories. Saids view is that Huntington is only reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time . One of the key difficulties in orientalism is that there seems to be too much focus on superficial differences. This is not to imply that cultural differences have to be considered but rather, there is little historical perspective given to the economic, political and strategic factors.
For example, Nanda Shrestha and Kenneth Gray reflect that the current conflicts between the West and the Middle East and all other conflict in recent history belie a two hundred years of good relations in terms . Using an orientalist approach, one culture or group is evaluated based on what is considered a more superior culture. In such a scenario, one group ultimately is considered to be superior to another thus its use as a standard.
This then leads to conflict because either of the perception that a culture is being judged as inferior or because of the action on enforcing judgment or the will of the superior nation to the other in what is seen as in consideration of the interest of the other. It should be noted that this is not the motive of orientalism but is often used as the justification of extraterritorial action not just in the Middle East but the rest of the world as well. Conflict and Orientalism
Cole points out that one of the difficulties in orientalism is that it tends to lumps together issues and then gives it a cultural or ethnic label that rarely represents all the individuals involved in the issue. According to him, when the terms Middle East is used the connotation is of Islamic insurgency which does not represent the majority of the countries in the region in either religion or sentiment . Bernard Lewis considers the current points out that this has lead for Moslems to fell that they are being persecuted and has led to resentment and mistrust of the west, particularly the United States .
The cycle then continues on with Middle Eastern leaning towards orientalist views in dealing with other countries. Which, to be expected only further encourages conflict and misunderstanding among the parties involved. In Shrestha and Grays evaluation of Huntingtons article clash of civilization theory is that it should be considered as an ideological work underpinning a neoconservative agenda for a global American Empire than a work of scholarship or accurate representation of historical reality .
Evaluating the Conflicts Lewis suggests that the evaluation of the conflicts should not focus so much on the disparities suggested by orientalist but rather on the competition because of common interests in terms of economy, politics and security . His view is supported by Lovgren whose study of the city of Jerusalem, one of the most contested cities in history and a goof microcosm of the region, reflect that history has shown that various cultures and civilization have co-existed well enough.
He cites that most conflict has developed from territorial, economic and political disputes rather than from cultural differences . Furthermore, Kunihiko Imai that there has been greater tension not only in the Middle East but in the world as a whole because of greater exposure and interdependence among nations . Common stakes and conflicting interests are considered as one of the main causes of conflict. The discrepancies between the developed and lesser developed countries is creating tension and brings to the surface questions regarding the fairness of todays global economics and politics .
At the same time, J. J. Nance points out that there is also realization that issues like terrorism are global issues that have gained the attention of the international community that may not necessarily be in the interest of some countrys sovereignty . Nance uses as an example the aviation industry which has been among the hardest hit after the September 11th attacks: the aviation industry is typically one the highest grossing industries of any country, generating billions of dollars in tax revenue.
Educator Henry A. Giroux also points out that the conflicts that develop can also be attributed to the lack of cultural literacy which is the development of context and understanding of other cultures which has created politics of difference that gives little margin for real communication . Hossein-Zadeh supports this view: he believes that there has been little effort in addressing the root of the conflicts and religion and culture are used as a convenient scapegoat for the conflicts . There is no denying the impact of culture and civilization. It affects all aspects of society, creating the dimensions and forces that shape individuals .
Orientalists perspectives have merit in that societies have their own motivations and capacities that either allows them to become more developed than another. However, considering communication and technology today which has created unprecedented channels for global interaction the distinction of what the West and Middle East encompasses is becoming blurred. As much as one would want to consider the Middle East as a far off and alien region to the West, the irony is that most recent leaders of the region have been educated in the West .
Conclusion It is easy, if not convenient, to use cultural or regional characterizations to explain conflicts but this provides little option for the creation of satisfactory solutions. The real albeit more difficult issues to deal is whether there is fairness in economic policies; whether there is basis of foreign military presence; whether there is religious, racial and social discrimination; whether there tolerance for differences; and whether issues are not being misconstrued because of differences in perspective or objectives.
There is little consideration of the underlying issues that was created the existing status quo and leaves too much to speculation and assumption. Therefore, any attempt to tackle with the issues in the Middle East must not be limited to this perspective and if used, should not consider it as indicative for the region. In conclusion, issues can not be fully assessed and solution can not be fully developed from orientalist perspectives alone. These perspectives consider only a snapshot of the issues that have to be dealt with.