Western Styles Of The Orientalist Cultural Studies Essay

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I think we should know what orientalism means, before we discuss the political, cultural and social representation of Muslim women in historical and contemporary literary and media; and how Muslim women are connected to various relation of power.

"Orientalism is a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." (Edward Said, Orientalism,1979, p.3). Or in other words, Western misrepresentations of islam and this distortions widespread from mass media, whether in academic publications, newspapers, magazines, movies or on television to portray wrong image to world to colonize and conquer for their own benefits and gain justification for waging war.

At least since the Middle ages, Islam and Muslim women have been archaic and severely misunderstood in the West. Arab and specifically Muslim women take a great share of the European colonizers attention. Stereotypically Muslim women are viewed as hopelessly, painfully oppressed, inferior, backward, traditional, silent, passive and hidden behind the veil. Without knowing or understanding the true meaning of veil, without their own autonomy, will or individual rights. Colonizer view the veil as a means of oppression, passivity, and connect it to ignorance and fanaticism. Therefore, orientalism became the tool to manufacture consent for the domination and control of the muslim world and its wealth, resource and imperial power which represented a threat and nemesis to the western world.

We can analyze the few texts that mentioned that the idea of emancipating women were put to use by colonists to disparage and attack native practices such as veiling in the name of civilizing and maintaing colonial rule over the Middle East.

Such as French sociologist Juliette Minces, in her book "The House of Obedience: Women in Arab Society," portrays Muslim women as subjugated, hopeless silent victims of the Islamic patriarchy, Minces see that Islam is a patriarchal religion and refers to Arabs as the "others" and Westerners as "us," by telling that she tried to show the superiority of the West and considered West as liberal and modern while Arab need to adopt the westernization to show liberty, modernity and progress. Minces think that Muslim women should free themselves from their own nature to not be oppressed in future but Minces does not realize that adopting the western norm, removing veil or changing the own nature is not a real liberation, real liberation is a freedom of speech and education which she never mention in her book.

Another writer Alev Lytle Croutier in her book "Harem: the World behind the Veil" depended on the Orientalist fantasies of women who "existed" in the Ottoman harems. While in truth harem was a place of sanctuary for women, but in western media and art its misrepresented as a place where the maidens locked up for sultans. She debases the true meaning of veil and called veil as a "mask" under which Muslim women hide their sexual exploits with lovers.

Western media and art have history of presenting muslim women as being ghost or erotic because western men was enable to gawp at muslim women therefore they undressed veiled muslim women in their minds and paraded their works to the west. They described their imagined body and painted them naked to show her exhibition for western penetration and knowledge. Furthermore, to degrade and conquer the mind of East, orientals art depicted the Middle eastern women as a sensual creatures whose only use was to be sexual slaves to men. Such as Turkish baths having sexual orgies or preparing themselves in sexual positions, or Algerian women recling on woven mats with their breasts exposed, and framing muslim women in postcard in the veil, but with her breasts showing through the folds. I think that obsession with veil was fuelled by western sexual desire for the pure women of the East.

On the other side, from western point of view they shown the muslim women as a victimized, powerless, voiceless, silenced, veiled, secluded, oppressed and need help to be rescue. As West always tried to built the negative image of the muslim world in opposite position to exercise the power over muslim world for civilization. I think criticizing the women veil, polygamy, seclusion and easy male divorce in islamic countries is the method to subjugate muslim and create the images of extreme repression and violence, and used Western media to build a homogenous identity of Muslim women as oppressed and in need of being saved from their violent, patriarchal religion and culture. West never realized or understand that veil is a women's dignity not a oppression. Therefore, representation of the muslim women then revolves around a dual narrative that portray her as the sexually exotic and subjugated victims, and is consistently balanced with parallel construct of the misogynist Muslim man who mistreats the muslim women.

As long as there is media, Muslim have been used as "a blank canvas" to project fears, lustful, villains, and repressed emotions of Westerners spectators and muslim women are either shown oppressed, overtly sexualized or worse in recent films, oriental women have become terrorist, like their male counterparts who represented as lecherous sadist, bomber and bloodthirsty mob. After 9/11 everyone know that most of the american movies plot line uses muslim as terrorist and America is alway under islamic terrorist attack. Of course, these television series and movies are fiction but these fiction has the power to shape perceptions about muslim religion and culture. In reality people tend to accept fiction as fact and believe as a truth.

There were always social, economic and political level encounter between muslim world and west. West never ceased to insult and slander Islam in order to find justification for waging war on it. I think the growing importance of the Arab-Islamic countries in the world's great political and economic affairs, have served to arouse the growing interest of the Islam in the West, today there are many Westerners for whom Islam can be reduced to three ideas: fanaticism, fatalism and polygamy.

Current american invasion in Iraq and afghanistan is so called civilization mission as american thinks that Orientals knew nothing about democracy and were essentially passive and required modernization to transform orient into nice replica of the west. While from Rudyard Kipling's "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." ( Barrack-room Ballads (1892).

American used women's rights as an excuse to legitimate their colonial presence and occupations in Afghanistan and depicted war as to restore human rights to Afghan women and retaliating against Taliban and capture Osama Bin Laden. I think the historical familiarity of americans from orientalism (which is just not projected for colonial domination by physical invasion, but involved in creating imagined orient through literature and writing) of muslim women as veiled, hidden and submissive, the Americans depicted muslim women as subjugated and evoked sympathy from public to attack on Afghanistan, therefore a way to establish authority and rule over it and offered a solution to numerous problems throughout the islamic world, and the orientalist feminism advocates and support these foreign policies toward Middle East. Misrepresentation of the muslim by western or american journalists, academics and politicians is not a new thing as it can be located in historical and scholarly works. Women inequality is a big topic that always give excuse to call orients inferior in contrast to westerns

Such as Ella Shohat used terms a "rescue fantasy" for Western men (cited in Al-Solaylee, 2001, p. R3; also see Khan, 1995, p. 149). This fantasy of taking the Muslim woman away from her repressive lifestyle is hardly new but they really don't know the real culture, historical context and family structure of the muslim society and also do not consider a commitment to muslim religion. Therefore So-called american rescue missions for Muslim women problematized.

In conclusion, to justify the devastating effects of the bombing, invasion and occupation on Afghanistan, liberation of Afghan women cause were propagated across the world. unilateralist American government has not understood the complexity of the Afghan political, social, and economic contexts. America media is just showing the afghanistan Muslim women are free from their male oppressor and lifting the burqa and showing as free as Western women and moving in public places freely which enabled the West to celebrate its victory but not showing the economic motives behind the invasion and ignoring the fact that the abuses of women's human rights continued. America or other Western countries are not concern who is fundamentalist or who treats women nicely. American issue is who is more likely to ensure the safety of the oil resources that US or its corporations could control in Muslim countries. West inherited the Orientalist legacy, and uncritically employed it in its universities, mass media, popular culture, imperial policy and civilization mission toward muslim world. Or otherwise we should ask, are these civilization mission able to change the thinking of the men that have deep root culture and traditions, where Women are forced to remain invisible by government manipulated religious traditions for their own purpose.


Croutier, Alev Lytle. "Harem: the World behind the Veil" 1991

Minces, Juliette. "The House of Obedience: Women in Arab Society" (London: Zed Press, 1982).

Said, Edward. "Orientalism" 1979

Zine, Jasmin. 2002. "Muslim Women and the Politics of Representation" American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences Vol. 19, No. 4 (pp. 1-22)