Orientalism by Edward W Said is an exceptional piece of work with very positive intentions in heart and mind. If we take freedom to simplify (or over simplify) this term this can used synonymously with term ‘East’. In Urdu/Arabic or Persian the word would be مشرق.
Who needs information on East? It’s the Western reader, Western scholar and Western researcher. Said starts on page one with the quotation, “they need to be represented because they cannot present themselves” and then goes ahead painstakingly sharing the extract of his lifelong hard work where he offers the excerpts, information, essence, derivations and understandings of dozens of writers in the West and the East who wrote about Orient and Orientalism.
Now sitting in the West in post renaissance period, once we start the journey to understand Orient we cannot do it without understanding Colonialism in particular British and French colonialism. During pre and post colonial period the writings, approach and descriptions of the orient by the Western writers were serving a purpose that usually was not impartial or even unbiased. Said shares multiple examples of this.
He then leaves the ambition of exploring the entire orient and focused on, for most of the book on Arabs and Islam. The negative, bleak and unhealthy picture depicted by most of Western writers had far reaching consequences that continue to impact the understandings of a common man in the West. Said doesn’t challenge them but shares his findings with ordinary readers and invites them to think and reflect if they would really agree for what has been said, how it is said and the context that it is said in?
Said himself feels that negativity about Arabs and Islam has been achieved systematically over a period of many centuries and it is time now to (at least) question and challenge such stock and over generalised opinions without any satisfactory foundations. The overall message of book is that of love that Westerns need to look at Arabs and Islam without wearing the lenses of past history and opinions of those who were depicting and presenting a negative picture of these two with not very healthy aims in mind. It’s a nice read for any honest reader whether in East or in West. If you are interested in the subject then I strongly suggest this book.